At this month's Mayor's Question Time cycling was obviously high on the agenda; in fact the Assembly and Mayor spent around 50 minutes discussing the recent deaths and road safety.
In his opening speech, Boris repeated the phrase that he's been emphasising for over a week: one cycling death is one too many. He also repeated that the "spate of fatalities must be seen in the context of an overall decline in fatalities" and that London has seen an increase in the number of people cycling, while admitting there's still more to do and mentioned the plan to have all HGVs entering London properly equipped with safety features.
"We are not going to be deflected from the cycle superhighway programme," he continued, and said TfL will continue to invest in infrastructure. Caroline Pidgeon pointed out it took TfL 18 months to construct the segregated part of CS2 and insisted that's too long, and that everyone was talking about reviewing dangerous junctions two years ago. Boris said it's too easy to put in badly researched or substandard infrastructure and accused Caroline of trying to score political points.
John Biggs also said that he and the widow of one of the cyclists killed on CS2 met with Boris two years ago, but TfL keeps saying priority for motor vehicles can't be sacrificed to give time for more vulnerable road users. John asked Boris to shake up TfL; Boris said again that it's "easy to put in things that are inadequately researched" and, citing the new lights at Bow Roundabout and lanes that go round bus stops, wondered if "there's a risk of over-engineering these solutions" and producing a situation that's too confusing.
A fairly long exchange between Boris and Jenny Jones is illustrative of how depressing MQT can be at times. Jenny brought up the increase in cyclists being seriously injured, Boris accused her of scaremongering (TfL's own figures show an increase in people being seriously injured) then rather than addressing the question, attacked Jenny's record prior to 2008. We're not sure what sparked Jenny's later outburst against the Mayor; perhaps it's just the historical animosity between them, or Jenny felt Boris's slow - response - to - her - questions was an attempt to waste her allocated time? Whatever the reason, it's yet another opportunity to have a serious debate about serious issues lost.
The idea of flyovers was brought up by Boris, not in a particularly positive way. John Biggs advocates radical (though unspecified) changes at Bow Roundabout and Boris also agrees that change is needed, and said Quietways will be opened up in the area.
Richard Tracey asked about limiting HGV access to London at peak hours and fitting audio warnings to lorries, and also insurance for cyclists. Boris acknowledged that a disproportionate number of fatalities with cyclists involve HGVs and that's why City Hall is consulting on safety features. He's not instinctively against a peak hour HGV ban, but also pointed out that only a few of the cyclists recently killed had their accidents during rush hour.
Val Shawcross said that cyclists in London have sent around 10,000 emails to the Mayor's office asking for urgent attention on the cycle superhighways, refitting or making them less confusing. Boris said he's always receptive to ideas. He also explained that the purpose of the superhighways is not to create an "invisible forcefield" around cyclists, it's to alert motorists that this is a place where they're going to find cyclists in large numbers - which Val highlights as one of the confusing issues.
Boris then went on to say that TfL has done what the cycling community wanted, and put in cyclist-only traffic lights. "What you can't budget for," he continued, "is a decision by a cyclist not to use that lane or that traffic light", which won't endear him to cyclists.
Andrew Boff took up Jenny Jones's point about cyclists killed and seriously injured, saying the figures are, over the long term, more or less stable. "Londoners' expectation is that cycling should be safer, not be capped at current levels." For some reason Boris turned that into a rant at the BBC, but later accepted Andrew's point instead of bringing up the way KSIs and fatalities are coming down when compared to the number of cycling journeys. Andrew also suggests that the public wants to see a review of CS2 and be reassured that action is being taken, another point that Boris took graciously.
While it's good that Boris had a positive reaction, it's again slightly depressing that of similar points raised around the Chamber, it took someone on his own party to (eventually) drag out an acknowledgement that CS2 is being reviewed (along with the other superhighways, in a constant process of review, which isn't quite what Andrew wanted, but oh well). To be honest this is just as much an indictment of Britain's combative party political system as MQT, and sometimes when something as serious as cycling safety is under discussion Londonist wishes that party colours could be put to one side.
James Cleverly asked Boris to commission a piece of independent research into cycling accidents (injuries as well as fatalities) so there is an evidence base for the proportion of incidents involving HGVs, on cycle superhighways, experienced or inexperienced cyclists and so on. Boris said TfL has good information on fatalities but is less clear what data is held on injuries. We think either pulling existing data into an independent review or going out and finding it is a bloody good idea.
Boris then made another little impassioned speech about how fatalities are coming down, and how cyclists currently have less chance of dying on the road than they had five years ago. John Biggs responded to this saying: "with respect, we have a duty of care".
Stephen Knight asked how the Mayor will ensure enough homes are built for Londoners and that they're affordable. Boris answered with his usual 'build more' spiel, and also said the boroughs need to be allowed to borrow to build and raised the issued of property taxes. Boris is still plugging away at George Osborne to devolve stamp duty to London and says the GLA has made £3.5bn worth of land available for building. Boris also sees no reason to not have some kind of capital gains tax on foreign investors in housing. He also believes that homes in London should be marketed first to people in London, rather than sold off-plan in countries like Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia.
We've been wondering when next year's fares package (i.e., rises) will get announced. Last year it was 7 November, in 2011 it was September with a revision in December, in 2010 it was October. Asked by Andrew Dismore when he will meet his election pledge to "bear down on fares", Boris said he's looking at the package – while ensuring investment can continue. Is he trying to get some more money out of the Chancellor / TfL savings? Presumably we'll find out soon.
Onkar Sahota asked about the problems surrounding London's A&Es. Boris has asked the NHS for assurances that they'll be able to cope during winter and "to the best of [his] knowledge", the NHS is confident.
Fiona Twycross said ten boroughs have removed meals on wheels services and asked Boris to put his Food Board on the case of older Londoners and food poverty.
Richard Tracey wanted to know what the plans are for expanding bus network and capacity. Given the recent London Assembly report on bus overcrowding it's an issue du jour. Boris says there's an assumption the network will increase by 4% to 2021, and that what's needed is getting the funding in. Richard was then met with a lot of Boris bluster and misdirection and never really got an answer to real concerns about what TfL is doing.
Roger Evans was prompted by TfL's encouragement of people to not use the Northern line at peak times to ask about smarter ticketing: part-time travelcards or rebates on unused travelcards, if people take advice to cycle or avoid certain routes. Boris said the current idea is to cap one-day tickets rather than embark on more complicated season tickets. Caroline Pidgeon also asked about early bird fares. The Mayor's response was to ask which fares he should increase to pay for it.
Other snippets: waste heat from the tube will heat 500 homes in Islington, funding for local transport projects (the Local Implementation Programme) has been kept for the next three years, around 2,400 trees were lost in London because of the St Jude's storm and the Mayoral tree planting programme will prioritise areas that were particularly affected.
Photo by Byron Pickup from the Londonist Flickr pool