Friday 16 May 2014

Pedalling Politics in Brent - Support for Space for Cycling

Green Party Assembly Member Jenny Jones toured the boorough with Brent Cyclists to see issues for herself

Earlier this week I spoke to Brent Cyclists at a special hustings on the Londond Cycling Campaigns election initiative 'Space to Cycle'.

I told the meeting about my experience of cycle camping in the US. Breakfasting in a diner a truck driver came and sat with me asked if I was the guy on the bike. I confirmed I was the cyclist and he growled, 'We don't call them cyclists here. We call them donors ...organ donors.'

I said that I often remembered that when cycling in Brent, especially when I tried to negotiate the canyon beneath the North Circular Road at Neasden Shopping Centre/Neasden Lane North.

I was pleased to tell the meeting that all Green party candidates in Brent has signed up to the Space for Cycling campaign and backed the six themes (above).. We supported the proposals for the various wards in principle but would want to examine them in more detail of elected.

Greens had been fighting for safe cycling and comprehensive cycle routes in the London Assembly and were frustrated by Boris Johnson's underspend of the cycling fund and the delay in cycling superhighways.

The meeting was attended by Labour, Lib Dem and Green candidates. It was rumoured that the absent Conservatives had been unable to find a place to park their cars.

In fact there was a great deal of cross-party consensus on the main issues. We talked about how to encourage more people to cycle and the importance of work in schools, specific issues around women cyclists including sexual harassment from motorists, and about the differences between the south and north of the borough.

Cycle usage is much more common in the south of Brent with easy access to Central London. In the North the distance into Central london is much greater with the North Circular a physical barrier. Car ownership is much higher in the north with concreted over front gardens serving as parking for often large numbers of cars - 'a car park with house attached'.

I told the meeting that when I was a headteacher and cycled to work and to meetings I was often given the impresson that this was inappropriate to my status - cycling was something poor people did. Turning up at a Conference at the Holiday Inn at Brent Cross I asked reception where I could leave my bike. 'Sir,  it is only our staff who use bicycles.' This stereotype did not seem to exist in south Brent and this was confirmed by the Queen's Park Lib Dem candidate Virginia Bonham-Carter who wanted a cycle path for mothers in the streets around Queen's Park.

Muhammed Butt said that the attitude was linked to cultural issues and reflected that for some people cycling was seen in the context of 'back home' where it was the poor who cycled and the car was a status symbol. He said that members of his own family questioned why he cycled when he could 'use the car'. There was an issue abut changing attitudes as well as improving infrastructure.

On infrastructure several members of the audience expressed disappointment that a chance had been missed in the Wembley Regenration to build cycling into the plans, despite submissions in the early stages by Brent Cyclists and the Green Party.

The full details of proposals for Brent wards can be found HERE

Declaratio of Interest: I am a member of the London Cycling Campaign

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