With only three days to go until the London Mayoral elections, and cycling the hottest topic this year, the five main candidates attended a hustings today to discuss the issue.
Jointly hosted by The Times and Sustrans, the sustainable transport charity in Westminster, the rivals went head to head on the eight points of The Times's Cities Fit For Cycling manifesto.
During the debate, the candidates took questions from Sustrans and The Times, followed by comments from around 200 members of the public who attended the event, as well as questions received via Twitter under the #cyclesafe hashtag.
The mayor is also chairman of Transport for London, appoints its board, and formulates the city's transport policy, so cycling will be at the heart of policy-making for whichever candidate wins on Thursday.
All five London Mayoral candidates might have been at the same venue for the first time, but it was nevertheless a Boris and Ken show as incumbent mayor Boris Johnson and Labour candidate former Mayor Ken Livingstone traded verbal blows about the state of cycling in the capital.
Livingstone earned a big cheer from the crowd when he said, "You can't make London safer for cyclists if you've got fares so high that it is cheaper to get in your car."
BMr Johnson, who signed up to the LCC Love London, Go Dutch Campaign last week, pledged to “put in more cycle superhighways” saying there was “a huge opportunity to expand those". A returning Johnson administration would also review roundabouts, put Trixi mirrors along superhighways, and put in 68,000 Sheffield stands for bikes. "I can't guarantee this will all be done within two years, but it will be well on the way," said Mayor Johnson.
However, he was heckled when he went on to say that the number of cyclist fatalities had gone down in the last four years. Mr Johnson "humbly and respectfully" insisted that the TfL figures have fallen in the past four years as a proportion of cycling journeys taken. But said that was "no cause for complacency".
Cyclists have to "understand the dangers they are in," added the mayor. "It does I'm afraid mean some sometimes expensive interventions. You can't do these things with no cash. I cannot see how a Labour programme that involves cutting transport investment can deliver those improvements."
Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, who has also backed the LCC Go Dutch campaign, said his administration would immediately, “reinstate on the first day the order of priorities to make cyclists and pedestrians number one for Transport for London." Mr Livingstone added he would reinstate the London Cycle Network that was "so rudely interrupted four years ago" to bring cycling to all boroughs and would give cyclists priority at left-turns at junctions. He added that he planned to appoint Green Party candidate Jenny Jones to take charge of cycling within Transport For London.
Asked by The Times editor James Harding why he hadn't done more for cycling the last time he was mayor, Mr Livingstone said the whole focus of his mayorship was to get people "out of their cars". He claimed he had doubled cycling as a proportion of journeys taken in London and got a lot of boroughs, even the "recalcitrant ones" on board, "mainly Conservative ones, who wanted no interruption to people's right to drive whenever they want".
Brian Paddick, the Liberal Democrat candidate, called for “more safety measures on lorries,” and the implementation of “20mph limits in busy areas. I will start implementing those in the first year". Mr Paddick, who has previously told The Times’ Kaya Burgess he doesn’t ride in London because he doesn’t feel safe, added that he would put pressure on local authorities to review their own roads too and review junctions along London’s cycle superhighways.
Independent candidate Siobhan Benita travelled to the hustings in an HGV with a full set of safety mirrors and pulled a Brompton out of the cab. She would make improving conditions for cyclists “a priority," she said, adding that there was little provision for cyclists outside the city centre. Ms Benita promised a "complete, relentless focus" on junctions, putting in physically separated routes where possible and, where not possible, coming up with "creative ideas".
Green Party candidate Jenny Jones had a simple solution for London’s cycling problems: “Reduce the traffic and slow it down." She added that police should help enforce the law on the roads, for example, making sure advanced stop lines were enforced for the people who need to use them. She said it is "embarrassing" to talk about London to Green candidates from Europe.
Ms Jones called for a change in legal priorities on the road. “Motorists have to take responsibility. If you knock a cyclist over, it's your fault,” she said to loud applause.
As the hustings wound down to its conclusion with the professional politicians trading insults proceedings were galvanised once more by a series of what seemed to be spectacularly misjudged comments from Boris Johnson. In response to heckling in the room the Mayor embarked on one what observer described as "a meltdown rant" during which he told the audience that "Irresponsible cycling can kill pedestrians." and that "We should all deprecate irresponsible cycling." The mayor went on to praise his administration's spending on Cycle Superhighways before concluding to jeers from the crows "I may not conform to your stereotypical image of a cyclist. I do not have whippet-thin brown legs or dreadlocks or jump red lights."