Why opposing safer cycling is bad for candidates

The local elections on 5th May 2022 are rapidly approaching and campaigning is getting under way. As many Conservative candidates join the campaign trail, we explore why opposing safer cycling initiatives won’t be the key to success at the ballot box they’re hoping for.

1. Opposing cycle schemes loses votes

Analysis after the May 2021 elections concludes that candidates in London wards that supported cycling infrastructure saw an increase in support – whereas candidates that opposed the right for resident’s to cycle safely tended to fare more badly [1].

In five Ealing wards where LTNs had been created, campaigns against them by local Conservatives and Liberal Democrats led to a reduction in support for both parties in each of these wards.

Similarly in Kensington, the wards covering Kensington High Street, where a well-used new cycle lane was ripped weeks after it was installed, saw votes for Conservatives drop more than the local average. It was exactly the same story in Chiswick, where local Conservatives opposed the segregated cycle superhighway on Chiswick High Road.

2. Safe cycling schemes & Low Traffic Neighbourhoods are popular

Last year, polling in London showed just 16% of participants opposed Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs), whereas 47% supported them [2]. Most surprisingly it was found support for LTNs by car owners (49%) was even higher than for individuals who do not own a car (46%). However we should bear in mind though that many voters in urban areas do not have any access to a car, for instance just 26% of households in Islington have access to a car. [3]

YouGov found in late 2020 that three times more people had positive views of LTNs than negative views. They also found more than half of those asked supported UK government schemes, including new cycle lanes, to encourage people to cycle and walk more (56%), while a fifth opposed them (19%) and only a tenth strongly opposed them (10%) [4].

Research in Walton Forest found introducing LTNs led to a 10% decrease in street crime and this increased to 18% over 3 years – something that perfectly resonates with conservative values [5].

We must not fall into the trap of listening to the loudest voices in our party – or myths perpetuated by angry groups on Twitter – as reasons for scrapping or never implementing schemes that are popular with the majority of voters. 

3. Be constructive when there’s badly implemented schemes 

Wholly negative campaigns focused primarily on opposing cycling infrastructure & LTNs, are off-putting to many voters and are often an over-reaction to a few instances of poorly implemented schemes. Consider whether schemes could be improved with the valuable feedback from residents, instead of just resorting to completely ripping out schemes or opposing all future ones. Some poorly implemented schemes could quickly become a success with minor changes. This article based on a survey from a range of individuals impacted by LTNs, provides 10 excellent suggestions to ensure LTNs are a success.

It is vital that communities are properly consulted before introducing safe cycling infrastructure and LTNs. All too often at the start of the pandemic, Labour councils introduced temporary cycle lanes and LTNs overnight with minimal or no consultation. There has to be decent consultation with local residents to ensure schemes are successfully implemented and consider everyone’s needs.

It’s also worth debunking one particular myth around cycling infrastructure and ambulances. Freedom of Information requests to all England, Scotland and Wales ambulance trusts found no trusts opposed to cycle lanes and a third showing strong support due to the road safety and public health benefits [6].

4. Let’s build on the success of the government’s cycling initiatives at a local level

One of this government’s great successes is the positive impact they’ve had on cycling. There is a lot to shout about with the UK government setting up the £250 million Active Travel Fund for local authorities in 2020, making significant improvements to the Highway Code, launching the widely praised Gear Change document for local authorities and setting up Active Travel England (led by Chris Boardman).

We saw many Labour-led councils take credit for implementing safe cycling infrastructure using the government’s Active Travel Fund in May 2021. This was a missed opportunity for many Conservative-led councils who had not made bids and taken advantage of the fund.

Finally, we’ve seen Andy Street & Ben Houchen achieve success by campaigning with pro cycling policies and appointing tsars. Looking back a bit further we saw Boris Johnson achieve great success in the Labour stronghold that is London, successfully rolling out the “Boris bikes” scheme and countless Cycle Superhighways. It’s no surprise Boris Johnson & Andrew Gilligan have continued to back cycling in 10 Downing Street. 

5. Cycling makes for great news stories and tweets

In the short term, implementing good cycling infrastructure tends to generate positive news stories and are often well received on Twitter. We recently got over 800 retweets by praising new cycle lanes in Cambridge recently and Conservative Councillor Dan Watkins recently had some great news about a new cycle lane from Herne Bay to Whitstable. Longer term, it will be a fantastic legacy to look back on, knowing you’ve helped contribute to countless safe cycling journeys for decades to come.

As Conservatives, let’s give everyone the freedom to be able to choose to cycle safely and we can reap the rewards at the ballot box.

Further reading

[1] Low traffic neighbourhoods popular with London voters, analysis finds

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jun/02/cycling-schemes-popular-with-london-voters-analysis-finds

[2] Despite a loud opposing minority, low-traffic neighbourhoods are increasingly popular

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/bike-blog/2020/oct/22/despite-a-loud-opposing-minority-low-traffic-neighbourhoods-are-increasingly-popular

[3] Steady Support for Low Traffic Neighbourhoods in London

https://redfieldandwiltonstrategies.com/steady-support-for-for-low-traffic-neighbourhoods-in-london/

[4] New research finds public overestimates opposition to new bike lanes by 50%

https://www.cyclinguk.org/press-release/new-research-finds-public-overestimates-opposition-new-bike-lanes-50

[5] The Impact of Introducing a Low Traffic Neighbourhood on Street Crime, in Waltham Forest, London

https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/ftm8d/

[6] News release: New cycle lanes no barrier to ambulances

https://www.cyclinguk.org/press-release/news-release-new-cycle-lanes-no-barrier-ambulances

Essential reading: Gear Change: A bold vision for cycling and walking

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/904146/gear-change-a-bold-vision-for-cycling-and-walking.pdf