London voters living in areas where active travel initiatives have been introduced in the past year, often in the face of vocal opposition, backed parties in favour of schemes such as low traffic neighbourhoods and cycle lanes in last month’s Mayoral elections, according to new analysis.
The analysis was based on first-preference votes in the election, where Labour’s Sadiq Khan secured a second term, comfortably beating Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey.
Ward-by-ward analysis of voters showed that parties such as Labour and the Green Party, which are pro-active travel interventions, did better than those including the Conservatives that were opposed to such initiatives, reports The Guardian.
The analysis was carried out by Julian Bell, until last month leader of Labour-run Ealing Council, which last year introduced a number of LTNs across the borough despite vocal opposition and, including from local Labour MP Dr Rupa Huq, with planters and bollards used to block residential areas to rat-running drivers vandalised and at times moved or overturned.
His analysis showed that while the overall Conservative vote rose by 0.64 per cent across the borough, in the five wards where LTNs were introduced the Tory share of the vote fell, as did that of the Liberal Democrats, who also campaigned against the measures.
And while Labour’s vote likewise well in those five wards, it did so by less than the borough average, with the party securing most first preference votes in each, and with more than half of voters there backing it or the Greens.
Bell also looked at voting in other boroughs, which revealed big swings away from the Tories towards Labour in areas where protected cycleways were introduced last year – namely, the Chiswick Wards of Ealing’s neighbouring borough to the south, Labour-run Hounslow, and in wards along Kensington High Street in the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea.
Compared to the 2016 Mayoral election, the Conservative share of the vote was up by 1.2 percentage points, while Labour’s fell by 4 per cent.
However, in the three Tory-held wards in Chiswick in the west of the borough, where Cycleway 9 opened before Christmas and now runs from Kew Bridge along Chiswick High Road towards the boundary with Hammersmith & Fulham, the Conservative share of votes plummeted by between 10 and 12 percentage points, while Labour made a gain of 4.4 points.
The contrast was even starker in the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, where the borough-wide Tory vote fell 11 percentage points, with Labour’s share increasing by 2.2 percentage points.
However, within the four wards covering Kensington High Street – where, last December, the Conservative-controlled council ripped out protected cycle lanes less than two months after they had been installed – the Tory share fell by almost 17 percentage points, while Labour’s increased by 6.7 points.
In a column for the Guardian published alongside the findings of his research, Bell asked: “Are measures to make streets safe for walking and cycling unpopular? Are they vote-losers? Have we failed to take communities with us – and will we, as local politicians, pay the price?”
After explaining why, “as a former Labour leader of Ealing council … I was at the heart of this debate,” and how the LTNs in Ealing had “caused a row noisy even by the standards of cycling scheme rows,” he said that we have now had “the biggest imaginable consultation on these LTNs: we’ve had an election.”
He said that Conservative campaigns outside London based on opposition to active travel measures introduced by local councils had similarly failed to translate into winning votes.
“In contested cycle scheme wards of Manchester, Oxford, West Sussex, and Cambridgeshire, similar patterns of Tory underperformance were seen,” he explained.
“Clearly, bike schemes were not the only factor in any of these results. There were also a few exceptions to the rule – a pro-LTN councillor lost in Newcastle, for instance.”
One paradox of the supposed ‘debate’ surrounding LTNs and cycle lanes is that in the majority of cases, it is Conservative councillors leading opposition at local level – even though encouraging such active travel interventions is a key policy of central government.
Indeed, as transport journalist and author Carlton Reid points out in this article for Forbes.com, one of the conditions of the latest £1.08 billion funding package from the government to Transport for London (TfL) is that £100 million of that money must be set aside for the capital’s Healthy Streets initiative, including LTNs.
Nevertheless, opposition to such interventions is continuing, and in some cases continues to take extreme forms.
In London this week, cables used to take traffic counts in LTNs have been severed in Chiswick – by coincidence, just days after a local group opposed to them published their locations online – and in Southwark, planters used to prevent drivers seeking a rat run through Dulwich Village have also been vandalised.
— Jeremy Vine (@theJeremyVine) June 1, 2021
Meanwhile, the Essex county town, Chelmsford, seems set to be one of the latest battlegrounds in opposition to LTNs outside the capital, going by the not-so-subtle headline of this article in the Braintree & Witham Times, Concern over plans to transform Chelmsford to boost walking and cycling.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.