Sunday, 2 September 2012

Conservative Mark Field MP wilfully ignores cycling as a viable mode of transport

This post is an expansion on my last article examining Boris Johnson's cycling credentials. Here I would like to examine Conservative Mark Field MP (London and Westminster) - mentioned in my previous post - in more depth. Here's a photo of him looking suave but remaining ignorant:

Mark Field MP: "Cyclists are economically detrimental to Central London despite the fact they ease both a congested road and public transport network. I am also comically out of touch with my constituents, the majority of whom don't even have acces to a car. I am unaware of this fact because I'm regressive."

This is a man who represents the Parliamentary Constituency of the Cities of London & Westminster. This borough is in many ways the heart of London, an area through which cyclists from any part of London are likely to travel at some point during a normal week. These cyclists might use their own bikes, or they could very cheaply use one of the (estimated) 3,500 'Boris Bikes' in Mark Field's borough. Moreover, if Mr Johnson is serious about his speculative plans to build an East-West Cycle Superhighway - which, by the way, is an absolutely fantastic idea which would really raise the profile/accessibility/safety/numbers of cycling in London - then it will almost certainly have to run through Mr Field's Parliamentary Constituency for a significant section. In short, this man matters for cycling in London.

This is also a man who clearly cares about transport. If you look on is website you can find many articles on 'The Great Aviation Debate' that he's been writing about for the last 5 years at least. This man clearly understands the importance of giving Londoners - and those working in our city - safer, more direct, and more practical ways of getting from A to B; and, though it is irrelevant to this article, I, like Mr Johnson, fully support Mr Field on his advocacy of a Thames Hub airport.

However, unlike myself, or Mr Johnson, Mr Field does not seem to give two tenths of a crap about cycling as a form of transportation. If you search either 'cycle' or 'cycling' on his website, both words come up with zero articles whatsoever on the subject of cycling in London. This man is so oblivious to any benefits which increased cycling rates could bring to our capital that he can't even be bothered to mention cycling in any way whatsoever, let alone financially, politically, or even just publicly support anything which might improve the lot of London's cyclists. Mark Field even blocked some of TfL's planned Boris Bike racks in 2009 because of "the problems they might pose to traffic flow". There's nothing TfL can do to make cycling safer and more popular if there are complete idiots like Mark Field MP actively working against them.

Here is an extract from his revealing reply to a resident on being asked to support The Times completely reasonable Cities fit for cycling campaign:

...As you are already aware, the Times are running a campaign to see road safety improved for cyclists. I have read through the campaign asks in detail but have some concerns about their practical workings and their economic implications. I appreciate that in many respects one cannot put a price on accident prevention if lives are saved. However it is the job of government to balance the sometimes competing needs of all road users and to find a workable medium between safety, enforceability and what is desired by the public. Without a better understanding of the implications, therefore, I am afraid I am reluctant to give the aims of the campaign my wholehearted support.

What kind of politician cannot even promise support to a campaign to safe cyclists lives?

Which of the many positive economic implications of higher cycling rates is Mark so worried about?

Why on earth has Mr Field MP chosen to occupy this anti-cyclists position?

Space for a cycle lane on the Mall? YES. But I've got a better idea, lets reserve it for cars and taxis that only contain a driver. That is a far more efficient use of limited space available in London's congested road system! Plus it makes the whole area quieter and less polluted, and makes all the pedestrians in the area safer because cars only kill 500+ pedestrians in London each year! Mark Field MP also actively opposed putting in an off-road Boris Bike rack here.

Mr Field's behaviour seems downright idiotic. Boris Johnson is Mark Field's Conservative colleague and you would think that Mr Field would want to support Mr Johnson, even if all Mr Field chose to do was pay token lip-service to the idea of improving cycling in London without ever actually doing anything. But instead Mr Field explicitly withholds his support from The Times cycle campaign, actively blocks TfL's attempts to expand the Boris Bike scheme in his borough, and can't even be bothered to mention the issue of cycling ever on his website.

Moreover, being anti-cycling isn't even a viable 'Conservative' position in 2012.* There's can be no idea of Mr Field 'towing the (male) (white) party line' and 'ignoring all the (poor) (female) (immigrant) (European) cyclists' since a Transport for London (TfL) customer satisfaction survey from September 2011 revealed more than three-quarters of the Barclays Cycle Hire (BCH) scheme’s users are men and half earn upwards of £50,000 per year, while 88% are white. 

Mr Field is deliberately, and idiotically, ignoring all the rich white men in his constituency that would clearly appreciate some leadership from him on the issue of improving cycling infrastructure in the heart of London.

Furthermore, next door to Mr Field, the City of London as a borough is not only home to the UK's financial centre, but also to some of London's best cycling rates and conditions (in terms of cycle lanes, cycle parking, Boris Bike provision, etc.**). The rich businessmen that work in our big banks clearly love cycling. 

Mr Field is rightly trying to help these businessmen by supporting the massive aviation capacity increase that 'Boris Island' (a Thames Estuary Airport) would deliver, allowing better connections with crucially important emerging economies like Brazil. Yet that same Mr Field is also completely uninterested in doing anything to improve these same businessmen's (and, indeed, the rest of the population's) intra-London transport options with regard to cycling. It doesn't make sense. It literally makes no sense at all.


The kind of cycle lane that Mark Field MP and Westminster Council support in order to reduce cycling fatalities in Central London. Notice how this one is conveniently located directly inside the 'car-door-opening-space' for parked cars, putting both car doors and cyclists in danger. As can be seen, the road-surfacing standards are also exemplary [I'm being sarcastic] and mean cyclists no longer have to swerve into the middle of the street - and traffic behind them - in order to avoid potholes and other hazards.

If you put 'Boris Johnson cycling' into google you get thousands of results, including many pictures of the Mayor cycling himself. Yes, Boris may not be perfect. But he is at least a high profile Conservative politician who is repeatedly putting cycling on the agenda, putting himself on a bike on London's streets, and has undertaken a TfL review of 500 dangerous junctions. Moreover, if TfL keep to their deadlines, Boris Johnson will have delivered both a significant expansion of the Boris Bike scheme and 4 more Cycle Superhighways by 2013 (as he promised in his election manifesto).

By contrast, if you put 'Mark Field cycling' into google you get nothing of relevance. If you put 'Mark Field MP cycling' into google the only cycling related result is a post from February 2012 by a well-respected London cycling blog criticising Mr Field, among others, for being completely useless, in fact harmful, with regards to improving cycling in the Capital.

It is time that Mr Field MP, and the Westminster Council***, started listening to these criticisms by the proponents of utility cycling in London and sharpening up their act. Cycling does not have to be the political preserve of Labour, the Lib Dems, and the Greens, especially when one considers the astonishing dominance on our roads of white, male cyclists, and white, male, upper-middle-class BCH users.

More importantly, without the support of Conservative London MPs like Mr Field, and the Tory councillors who effectively run Central London constituencies like Westminster, there is much less that Mr Johnson - as a Conservative himself - can achieve in this area of London.

Indeed, I can't help feeling that the fact Mark Field is a fellow Conservative prevents Boris Johnson calling him out, as he would a Labour politician, on Mark Field's active opposition to cycling in the capital. 

So we can do it instead. 

If you cycle in London and think, like the author of this article, that Westminster could drastically improve its cycling infrastructure then why don't you drop Mr Field a quick email at FieldM@Parliament.uk? (If you're keener and fancy writing a letter then click here for full contact details. Moreover, if you are one of his constituents you can also contact Mr Field using: www.writetothem.com)

In response, I'd love to see or hear some kind of reply from Mr Mark Field MP detailing exactly why I am wrong in this article, and exactly what Mr Mark Field MP is going to be doing to improve the lot of London's cyclists between now and 2013 as part of London 2012's Olympic Legacy. That would be fantastic, Mr Field.

With a cycle friendly Conservative mayor, a highly successful £140 million cycle hire scheme which is the 2nd largest in Europe, a significant number of large parks that could - if managed correctly - provide direct, pleasant, traffic-free cycle routes, and an already strong population of cyclists regularly commuting to the heart of the City, Central London should be leading the way for the rest of Greater London (and the UK) with regards to improving cycling infrastructure. 

Instead, Conservative politicians like Mark Field MP are deliberately obstructing measures that will make cycling in London safer and more popular.

(comments welcomed. I'm not trying to pursue a party-political line in this blog - it's simply pro-cycling - but I can't help noticing that non-Conservative London MPs generally seem far more supportive of cycling in their constituencies; with notable exception, of course, for the cycle-toxic Labour disgrace that is Kate Hoey.)

Footnote

If you have Twitter then you can also tweet @MarkFieldMP, letting him know that completely ignoring cyclists in London's most central borough is NOT okay. Searching @MarkFieldMP on Twitter is also a great way of meeting other Twitter users who also want cycle provision in Westminster drastically improved!

* In my last post I wrote at length on the geopolitical and societal differences between the UK in the 80s and London in 2012 which no longer make a completely non-cycling transport policy tenable, even by Thatcherites.

** For those interested in these things check out the boundary-breaking (for London at least!) east-bound cycle lane on Beech Street which even has a chevroned area of road giving bike riders real protection by separating the traffic lane from the cycle lane (this google map image shows the road as the unnecessary two-lanes it was before). Also look at the cycle boxes in the City of London which are regularly packed to the rafters at rush hour.

*** It is a mark of how little Westminster Council care about cycling in London that cycle parking provision has actually decreased during the re-design of Leicester Square that that this cycling page of their website is now two years out of date: http://www.westminster.gov.uk/services/transportandstreets/cycling/london-cycle-hire-scheme/

EDIT: this article is now the first search result when you put 'Mark Field MP cycling' into google.