Pedal Power, How Boris Failed London’s Cyclists, Sonia Purnell (2012)

A meticulous demolition of any claim that Boris Johnson has on the cyclists’ vote

Aurum Press 9781781310229 eBook £2.05

According to the latest YouGov opinion poll of Londoner’s voting intentions, Boris Johnson has a six point lead over Ken Livingston ahead of the Mayoral election on 3 May. It is fanciful to imagine that a single treatise, on one issue, will significantly affect the final result in this contest. If any thundering pamphlet ever deserved to turn an election, however, then surely this is it?

Purnell is a respected reporter and writer who once worked with BoJo on the Telegraph’s Brussels desk. In 2011, she published Just Boris, a widely acclaimed biography of the London Mayor.

Pedal Power devotes its 20 pages to just one area of the old Etonian’s mayoral program – cycling. And its critique, while meticulously balanced, is devastating.

Johnson has famously used his bicycle to create about him a sense of everyman ordinariness and modest eccentricity. He also committed himself to fostering a cycling revolution in the capital – saying: “In 1904 twenty per cent of journeys in London were made by bicycle, I want to see a figure like that again”. By alliterative luck, Boris also found his name inextricably bound to the London’s rental bikes, even though they had actually been initiated by the previous mayor.

Aside from that, however, Purnell makes a compelling case that he has used bluster and bonhomie to disguise a truly shocking record of cut budgets, half measures and most disturbing of all, an apparent antipathy to deal with the mounting evidence of huge and inexpensively preventable danger to cyclists posed by dangerous junctions and HGVs.

His tardy approach to cycle promotion and safety should have been obvious from The Times‘ decision to run its #Cyclesafe campaign four years into his administration. Why, other than Johnson’s abject failure, would a paper that had been generally supportive to him choose that moment to devote such space and energy to the issue?

Purnell delivers the granular evidence, from the grieving relatives, turned road-safety campaigners that Johnson has ignored, to the reports about dangerous junctions that he claims not to have read and to his attempt to axe the Met’s Lorry Safety Unit. The final blow comes from TfL itself, which predicts that, on current form, road traffic in London will increase by 43% by 2035. In Berlin, a 15% fall is expected over the same period.

This is an incendiary counterblast in the great old tradition and, available as it is via Kindle, can be distributed with a speed and efficiency of which Swift and Defoe could only dream. Cross your fingers and gift a copy to a friend. If Pedal Power gains wide enough circulation in the next fortnight, it might just make a difference.

TD Apr 12

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