COMMENT: will the London Mayor's plans to transform London's roads ever actually happen?

Is the billion pound Boris bike plan for London all hot air?

My heart was doing cartwheels, my head was rock-steady. On I wrote that, in the future, 7th March 2013 "could be seen as the date when everything changed, the tipping point that made it easier for planners and politicians to reshape cities for people, not cars." Note the "could be".

The £913m plan to reshape London and to normalise cyclise – to "deLycrafy" it, said Boris – sounds wonderful, a potential game-changer. But it’s not yet a given. In the BikeBiz story, which went viral, with 600 Facebook likes and the same number of tweets, I appeared gushing in my praise but I also wrote "If the plan is put into action (big if, and as always the devil is in the detail), London could become a world-class beacon city for active transport…" Note another "could" and two "if’s"

I really want to be wrong here. I want the Boris plan to be real. It wouldn’t be just good for London, it would be good for the whole of the UK, but Boris has a track record of announcing big stuff and then quietly shelving it. And Boris isn’t a dictator, he will have to negotiate with lots of interests to push through a plan of this magnitude. Transport for London only has power over 5 percent of London’s roads, the rest are taken care of by the boroughs. Some boroughs – such as Camden and Hackney are already bike-friendly; others – such as Westminster – are not. Plan dilution is a likely result of such complexity.

Despite the headline figure of £913m, the funding is not yet in place. Boris and TfL were using the announcement to pressure the UK Government into providing more money. It all depends on the settlement made from the Treasury via the Department for Transport. If the next ‘comprehensive spending review’ cuts funds to the Department for Transport – which is highly likely, except for a few high-profile road schemes – then inevitably London won’t get so much.

Boris and his staff may then turn around and say ‘look, we would have done this great bike plan, but central Government has stopped us from doing so by not giving us the lolly.’

Also, when these plans are actually put into practice (or, *if* these plans are put into practice) Boris will be no longer Mayor, it will be up to the next Mayor to make the decisions, and he or she may have different ideas about bicycles.

The plans are very ambitious and very welcome but they’re not a done deal, despite what many people may think. Looking on the bright side, just the fact such plans are being discussed – and seem to have agreement from all the major motoring organisations – is a radical step forward.

It will be interesting to see if the motoring organisations can be kept on board for long because, for any London plan to work, car access will have to be curtailed. World-class bike infrastructure – think Houten in the Netherlands – works best when planners make it less convenient to nip around in cars.

London seems to be have been shocked into action by the example of New York. If New York can get rid of motors, so can London. It’s great to see major cities competing with each other to see which can be most people-friendly. Perhaps Andrew Gilligan, Boris’s part-time cycling commissioner, will do for London what New York City’s transport commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan has done for the Big Apple?

I do hope so, but where politicians are concerned it pays to be cynical, it pays to keep on their case, it pays to make sure their grand announcements aren’t allowed to be obscures by their next grand announcement. The £913m bike plan for London is vaporware right now, pressure needs to be kept up to make sure as much of the plan as possible is brought to fruition. Cycling campaign organisations, bloggers, journalists, bike industry bodies, bicycle retailers, all have a part to play in keeping London’s plans in the limelight. If London is successfully made bicycle friendly, much of the rest of the UK might follow.

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