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Meeting with the Cycling Commissioner, Andrew Gilligan, and leading councillors

May 3, 2013 by David Arditti

On Monday 1 May 2013 Brent Cyclists held its biggest meeting to date. About 35 people turned up to the plush Sala Room in the Crown Moran Hotel, Cricklewood, for the launch of Brent Cyclists' Cycling Plan for Brent, and to hear London's Cycling Commissioner, Andrew Gilligan, talk about The Mayor's Vision for Cycling in London and answer questions.

Brent LCC members were joined by some members from Barnet, including the Vice Chair of LCC, some people from the Campaign for Better Transport and the Canal and River Trust, two Brent council officers, and four councillors: the Leader of Brent, Cllr Muhammed Butt, the Lead Member for Children and Families, Cllr. Mary Arnold, the Lead Member for Adults and Health, Cllr Krupesh Hirani, and the Chief Whip, Cllr Shafique Choudhary: a pretty impressive line-up.

Andrew Gilligan addresses the meeting

Andrew Gilligan said that he was almost worried at how well the Mayor's Vision, which he mostly wrote, had been received by cyclists. He was concerned that it should not raise expectations too high, that these expectations should be confined to what is actually promised in the plan, and not go beyond it. He emphasised that the plan was not mostly for the benefit of us, those who already cycle, but for the Londoners who were currently too worried about danger on the roads to cycle. He said he wanted to "de-lycrafy" cycling, to make it normal for non-enthusiasts, and spread it to all the currently under-represented groups of the population, such as women and the elderly. He said that the Vision was a departure from previous strategies, in that it recognised that little would change if we just continued to try to encourage people to cycle on the roads as they are, rather than really spent money on changing the conditions. Implicity he criticised earlier strategies, such as the Biking Borough programme, as being too much about promotion, and not enough about hard infrastructure change.

Of particular interest to this audience was the plan for "mini-Hollands" in Outer London, areas for intensive investment to bring cycling infrastructure up to continental standards. Gilligan stated there would be between two and four of these, and the deadline for applications from councils was the end of June. Councils were expected to have a target group amongst those currently under-represented in cycling for their bid, and he expected that Brent would choose ethnic minorities (but it would be up to them). They would be expected to choose one prinicpal town centre, and develop a comprehensive network of routes to connect it with its surroundings.  Radical plans that broke through existing infrastructural barriers (as we have many of in Brent) would be favoured. He did not reveal how many bids he thought he would get, though we did learn he had had no interest from Barnet (which was not a surprise).

He talked about the Quietways, routes mostly on minor roads, with segregated sections where they need to use main roads, and his aspiration for a Jubillee Line Quietway from Wembley to central London, "where you would be able to change onto a Circle Line Quietway". He also talked of how cyclists might be catered for on bus routes. He thought many roads would not allow separate bus lanes and cycle tracks, though some would, and in these cases he proposed segregating off a combined bus/cycle lane somehow.

He talked about how difficult it would be to turn previous trends around, and how many unsatisfactory schemes were still coming through TfL and borough machinery. We could help him, he said, by being his eyes and ears, and telling him of bad developments in our area. He referred a few times to the unsatisfactory situation with the Olympic Park, and also mentioned the Haymarket scheme, which is currenly attracting criticism from campaigners. He implied that he was working to improve these schemes.

Councillor Butt spoke after Mr Gilligan. He told us how he was a regular cyclist, and stated that Brent Council was fully committed to bidding for mini-Holland status. His officers had already studied Brent Cyclists' draft Cycling Plan, and were using it to develop their bid (at one stage during the meeting the Brent Cyclists' Plan was actually confused with council policy, which it is not!). He said that we would continue to keep us involved with the bid. Andrew Gilligan said that the impressive level of support from the council for this meeting "had not gone unnoticed".

Questions were addressed by the audience to Mr Gilligan and Cllrs. Butt, Arnold and Hirani. When and where would we get Cycle Superhighway 11? Gilligan said that the routes of the Superhighways were under review. He said that he was looking at Regents Park and Avenue Road for CS11, though after that "it would have to be on Finchley road, as there is no-where else for it to go". However, he seemed unsure how far it would go up Finchley Road. Beyond the Hendon Way junction the road becomes narrow, but he wondered if people wanted it to run up Hendon Way. Audience members suggested a routing on the A5. Gilligan had just cycled up that way to the meeting, and he didn't seem keen on the idea of putting CS11 on Kilburn High Road (which had in fact been TfL's original intentioin).

One member emphasised the chronic severace in Brent. She takes her children around by bike, and could safely take them from Cricklewood all the way across inner London, but could not take them a couple of miles north to see relations, because of the barrier of the North Circular Road with its terrible motorway-style junctions. It was hopeless to attempt to get more women and children cycling in Brent without addressing these. Gilligan stressed he was looking for plans from boroughs to address just these severance problems, which were not unique to Brent, though Brent seemed to have more than its fair share of them. I pointed out that the issue with Brent is particularly complex, and this was going to make the idea of a Jubilee Line Quietway impossible on minor roads beyond a certain point. There is not just the North Circular, but a whole nexus of road and railway barriers in the middle of the borough that make it impermeable to cycling, an issue dealt with on two pages of our Cycling Plan.

A question was addressded to Brent Council about ensuring that new developments had adequate cycle parking. Cllr Butt said he was already seeing to that. Another member said there was more of a bike storage problem for people living in flats in old developments. I pointed out that some councils had transferred car parking space on streets to bikes.

Cllr Hirani seemed very aware of the heath issues Brent residents are facing through inactivity and obseity. Asked whether there was a role for the health budget, now coming under council control, to contribute to measures to make it easier to cycle, he said there was.

The potential for under-used railway land to be appropriated for cycle routes was raised by Cllr Choudhary and another questioner. Gilligan wondered whether the North London freight line, that runs through Gladstone Park and Willesden, could be utiliesed for an orbital bike route, as it is a double-track line with little traffic. (There is, however, a campaign to develop it for a light passenger railway.) Developments on opposite sides of the borough were mentioned, the Old Oak Common railway lands development, and Brent Cross Cricklewood (in Barnet). Was Gilligan looking at these to ensure they had cycling built into them? He said he had not looked at all the developments in London. He could not, he had been too busy writing the Mayor's Vision and talking to the boroughs. But he hoped soon to have a team of two people to scrutinise new developments. We could help him by making him aware of what was happening and pointing out potential gains for cycling.

The Chairman, Ian Saville, brought the dicussion to an end at 9pm and the panel (and Brent Cyclists committee) were warmly applauded. Clearly all these issues are going to lead to far more discussion between these parties over the coming months and years. The meeting was a good start to the post-Vision dialogue between Brent Cyclists, the Cycling Commissioner, and the council, with a striking turn-out from the latter which would seem to indicate a new seriousness of intent towards cycling on their part, and a determined attempt to press Brent's need for serious infrastructure investment from the Mayor's cycling budget as well as other sources.

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