There was much outcry on the 7th December when Conservative Assembly Members walked out of a debate preventing the passing of a motion on cycle safety. This morning London Assembly Members managed to stay in their seats long enough to vote through the measures.
Green AM Jenny Jones, introducing the motion, said she was concerned that there was a “pattern of consultation reports” which were then ignored and that the “timing of the Bow roundabout review” left real questions about when recommendations would come forward, let alone implemented. Having looked at the figures she was concerned that under this administration cycling was becoming less safe despite the claims of the Mayor.
She urged Boris Johnson “not to ignore this motion as he ignores almost everything that comes out of this body.”
Andrew Boff for the Conservatives said that “there was no dispute that this group sends its condolences to the families of those killed” but he would still be “encouraging his group to vote against the motion.”
The conservative line appeared to be that focusing on junctions where people had lost their lives risked was “arbitrary” (Cleverly) relying on “coincidences” (Boff). They felt that the focus should be on “tipper trucks” vehicle design and driver training as they appeared to be responsible for a disproportionate number of cyclist deaths.
There seemed to be little explanation as to why reviewing junction safety was incompatible with looking at dangerous heavy vehicles.
While there was much talk from the Conservative AMs of working together, which others felt might be incompatible with their previous walk out, this is a genuinely positive sign that there may be a cross party consensus developing on acting on cycle safety.
Caroline Pidgeon on behalf of the Liberal Democrats moved an amendment to strengthen the main motion which was welcomed by the other three parties of the Assembly. In speaking to the amendment she promoted cycle training whilst concerned that people often did not know it was available. She also tackled the Cycle Super-highway saying we needed to “get the super-highway right so people don’t get a false sense of security.”
Labour’s John Biggs, in an emotional speech, raised his frustrations that he and others had been raising concerns on the Bow roundabout for years but had been ignored making it “an accident waiting to happen”. He denounced TfL as a “smug and complacent organisation” and Mayor Johnson as “a petrol head who enjoys cycling”.
He continued that cyclists “are being placed at risk at vulnerable junctions… we have a duty of care as elected representatives on this.”
Valerie Shawcross added that “TfL and the Mayor are not favouring cycle safety as they should be in this modern age. If the Mayor wants a cycling revolution he needs to give safety, facilities and space to cyclists. As we encourage more cyclists on to the roads it is becoming more apparent that it is not necessarily safe for them.”
When it came to the vote the Conservative amendment weakening the motion and focusing on design guides was voted down 12 to 9, the Liberal Democrat amendment was accepted by the proposers and the motion itself was passed by all but one member (who did not vote). The Conservative group, possibly stung by the nature o the debate, was hesitant to vote at first with a number of Assembly Members unsure what the group position was but the whips stepped forwards and they voted as a block in favour of the motion.
It makes electoral sense for the Conservatives to vote for the motion considering the body of evidence they had begun to build up among the cycling community that they do not care about the lives of cyclists. Handing their political opponents such an emotive issue in the run up to an election would not have been sensible. However, leaving aside why they voted the right way it is a step forwards that the Conservatives were willing to join with their colleagues in the Assembly in seeking to address this urgent issue.