A couple of weeks ago news appeared suddenly that one of the taxi organisations in London, the London Taxi Driver Association was to apply for a judicial review into the East-West Cycle Superhighway.
BREAKING: Cabbies @TheLTDA launch judicial review against Mayor's embankment cycle superhighway. Claim should have had planning permission.
— Tom Edwards (@BBCTomEdwards) August 18, 2015
This was quite a surprise, not least as in May of this year the LTDA’s own General Secretary went on record as saying that all attempts at such a judicial review had been dropped. News had rumbled on for a while on the threat of such a review, but none appeared in the expected timescale. Steve McNamara used language that was far blunter than almost any campaigner I’ve known.
At the end of the day, does London need protected cycling? Yes it does.
What we don’t want to do is issue a judicial review and all we achieve is delaying that by a year, and some cyclist gets killed in Parliament Square.
I don’t want that. I don’t want blood on my hands.
This – strangely – was also something of a change in tone from earlier when Steve McNamara had labelled cyclists as the ISIS of London. A remark he almost immediately had to apologise for, whilst then insisting he had had death threats but that he wasn’t going to bother the police with them. All a bit strange, really. Frankly, if someone at the LTDA is getting death threats they should be reporting them to the police. And if they support the superhighway they can shout about it loud and proud, or if they don’t they can stand up and make their views clear. But they have done neither.
When the news of the judicial review was broken (perhaps briefed by TfL rather than the LTDA?) the comments from them were terse. Unlike their endless comments on minicab competitor Uber, their twitter account let a single retweet of Tom Edwards story pass.
We’re in favour of safe cycling like everybody else but we can’t quite understand what the mayor and TfL are trying to do by gridlocking the roads. It could have been done in a better way and kept traffic moving.
Generally, legal opinion (admittedly from TfL and other supportive voices) has not seen much prospect of a successful judicial review. The superhighway has had high profile consultation with widespread engagement, and the planning aspects highlighted by the LTDA’s application are normally covered within permitted development.
So it’s good that we now finally have the full view on this from the LTDA themselves in their latest newsletter (on page 6).
However, it raises far more questions than it answers. For a start the LTDA now claim to be opposing the Superhighway with all their might:
The superhighway plan will bring London to a standstill but we’re fighting it tooth and nail
The LTDA has opposed the East – West route consistently from the outset.
with other un-named organisations (largely presumed to be Canary Wharf Group)
We have worked with a number of other organisations, which share our concerns
The question I ask is this. If the LTDA is happily acting in the name of other groups and carrying their united concerns, can they tell us who? Other groups have been very open and clear on who supported them, such as Cycling Works who united over 160 businesses behind the superhighways. And more importantly they have united not just behind safe, but safe and segregated cycle lanes on busy roads. The embankment currently carries over 60,000 motor vehicles a day in official figures and 6,000 cycles. The LTDA instead continue to insist that:
We really cannot understand the Mayor’s business case for installing cycle lanes which result in reducing capacity on our roads for motor vehicles, there must be a better way of doing things. In the case of EWCS [East West Cycle Superhighway], surely two lanes of traffic in each direction could have been maintained along with suitable cycle lanes.
Who is we? And do they seriously believe that higher and higher levels of people cycling should be sharing with some of the heaviest volumes of traffic in London without segregation?
It’s really clear that especially given the level of heavy goods traffic on this road that paint will never be enough.
I really doubt LTDA’s application for judicial review will succeed but I do think it inevitable that the LTDA is taking serious and sustained reputation damage. Employers have made a clear choice to support safe segregated cycling in London and the LTDA is claiming that doesn’t matter. They have made it clear that they will represent others without ever saying who they are, and that they don’t fully engage with the debate on cycle safety. Meanwhile, TfL carries on building the superhighway, and provided there’s no successful challenge safe cycling will open to all in stages towards a full opening in April 2016.
The first section of the East-West Cycle Superhighway is now open westbound along Victoria Embankment. 1/2 pic.twitter.com/nmfwfhCOhH
— TfL (@TfL) August 27, 2015
In the unlikely event of a successful challenge the LTDA can win even longer delays for all Londoners from a protracted pause, debate on design and further years spent designing a single road in London. I don’t think they want the victory they claim, not least for their own stated concerns on possible deaths and injury but even other road users being subjected to construction impacts perhaps into 2018.
Cycling is getting world-class facilities in parts of London because of years of open and clear campaigning about a viable alternative to the status quo. LTDA needs to stop fighting against change and work out where to find their place within it. You cannot credibly say you believe in safer cycling whilst also saying you won’t reallocate space on main roads. And you cannot credibly claim to have been consistent when you’ve made as many conflicting statements as the LTDA.