09 March 2013

What's the difference between London & Edinburgh?

Reading Boris' vision for cycling in London was a revelation.  Not because I believe it will all happen, or that funding's in place for it all, but because the tone was so different from what we have heard and seen elsewhere.  Edinburgh's put its money where its mouth is and committed 6% of the transport budget - capital and recurrent - to cycling.  And we've already seen the effect of this - particularly in the gritted cycle paths that made such a difference this year.

But Boris' vision simply felt different.  My husband described it as a 'wishlist' for cyclists. But it wasn't just that they bodged in all sorts of good stuff.  Rather, it felt joined-up as a policy.  Not just a tick-list but thinking about what was needed.  I have blogged before about the need to integrate cyclists into urban planning - this plan feels like it really does that, with a commitment to a properly funded junction review, redesign of town centres, and  revising design standards.  While the Scottish CAPS foregrounds 'training', the London vision sees it as merely an add-on to other important aspects of the scheme. We've asked for infrastructure to be joined up, but here not only is infrastructure joined up, but so is the policy.

Despite all that good stuff, the real difference in the London plan to Edinburgh's ATAP was one of tone, and that tone is at least in part a reflection of one important difference.  In London, it is accepted that the most efficient way to get somewhere is not necessarily a private motor vehicle.  And car-parking does not seem to be taken as the same sort of 'right' by residents - or at least that's how the local press portrays it.  I've seen so many more cyclists around - especially lots with child seats, that I think this is changing, but it's not reflected in our public discourse, or in our policy formulation.

London planners and politicians are starting from a different place, emotionally and strategically.  The census data in London showed very clearly that car ownership and use has fallen dramatically in recent years across all demographics and political orientations. Add to that, London's over-used and overcrowded public transport system - again used by every variety of commuter.  Boris' vision is compelling because he sells it as something that is good for everyone - this is a win-win policy.

A lot has been made of the role of cycle bloggers in pushing policy change.  But the other big difference between Edinburgh and London is that in London, the local media is on-board.  In Edinburgh, the politicians continue to run scared of the local media, which - with very few exceptions - is heavily pro-car and loves to bash the council.

I don't think these differences are unsurmountable, but the Council and its officials need to get their heads around the idea that Active Travel can be a 'vote-winner' (as I heard the Deputy Transport Convenor say recently), and, as residents, readers and consumers, we need to make sure that the incremental changes in how we travel are reflected in policy-making and public debates.


A Thomson said...

One key difference is the approach of the two cities' cycle campaign groups. One challenges its council, and demands top quality infrastructure. The other settles for mediocrity - the QBC.

Dave said...

Good post. As someone who lives just off the QBC I am reminded of the deeply disappointing failure of this project every single day. For instance, I wouldn't consider recommending anyone ride it with their kids.

In some sick way I see similarities between "liveable streets" and the trams. Both are politically courageous but will (in the fullness of time) make whoever takes the final credit for them very popular.

Hinds seems to constantly run scared from the Evening News, which is a shame because who better to drive infrastructure forwards in Edinburgh than someone who admits they won't do it because of the prevailing road conditions? It's just not working out that way however.

I think the final shape of Leith Walk will be a real litmus test. It's possible for the Council to wind up with a real winner on their hands if they can only commit to rebuilding the street for residents, pedestrians and cyclists rather than resurfacing the current expressway. (I wrote about this today, here and through video.)

Chdot said...

Ah the QBC -



Sara Dorman said...

I have now responded about the QBC/lobbying strategies in the next post.