Andy Street has been elected the first West Midlands metro mayor, with a slim majority of just 3,766 votes. With the next election due in 2020 (it will be every four years after that), he will need to show he can deliver some fast results in order to remain in office. He was the first mayoral candidate to sign up to the campaign asks that the Bike West Midlands Network and Cycling UK put forward, firstly to support the WM Cycling Charter, and secondly to actively seek funding of at least £10 per person per year to spend on cycling investment. He spoke robustly on the need to be radical in rethinking transport in the region, in order to tackle existing congestion while facilitating future growth.
This is a big challenge, and to be blunt, there is a long record in the West Midlands of politicians saying that they want to increase cycling rates and then failing to take the actions needed to achieve that. Reasons to be optimistic would be that we have a West Midlands Combined Authority that is finally saying the right things about cycling and has produced a solid (if not overly ambitious) vision (the WM Cycling Charter), and secondly we have, for the first time, a political leader who is directly accountable for whether that vision is delivered or not. Still, we must not forget there are some large obstacles: primarily, the WM metro mayor is 1 person in a cabinet made up from the heads of each local authority and Andy Street will have to balance competing demands in order to push policies through; and secondly, transport projects have often been notoriously slow to deliver and no politician likes dealing with the interim disruption.
So what are the next steps that Andy Street ought to take?
Firstly, he needs to appoint a "high-profile local cycling champion" to be a "spokesperson for the Cycling Charter".
In London, it has been the cycling champion who has been able to focus on delivering for cycling when the mayor has been busy elsewhere. It will be the same in the West Midlands - despite Andy Street's good intentions, he may find that the day-to-day demands of the job leave very little time to focus on cycling. In the West Midlands, we did have a cycling champion in Peter Lowe, the former leader of Dudley MBC, but this month control of Dudley MBC has changed hands, and so the post of cycling champion for WMCA has become vacant. It is important that it is filled with someone who will focus on promoting cycling.
Secondly, he has to get moving immediately on the West Midland's Strategic Cycle Network.
The WM Cycling Charter states an aim by 2023 of having all journeys possible for people who have achieved a Bikeability Level 2 competency. This means looking at the junctions on our main road network to provide safe space for cycle users to cross them, with reference to best practice found in the UK and the rest of Europe. But at the moment, the 10 year transport plan shows that there are only a few main road cycle schemes across the West Midlands, accounting for less than 30 km of the 592 km Key Route Network, which are in the 10 year pipeline. In order for the Cycling Charter's aims to be met, there has to be an explosion in cycling schemes across the whole of the West Midlands. And as the Cycling Charter says, we don't want any 'expensive retrofitting', so all highways schemes from now on must incorporate the appropriate cycling infrastructure.
Thirdly, he has to get local authorities to engage with the Local Cycling and Walking Investment Plans process.
This was launched by the national government just before the general election campaign started, so you may have missed it, but it is very important because having an LCWIP will be key to bidding for transport funding for cycling. This means the local council must have a network plan for cycling and a coherent strategy for targeting sections of that network to improve. And from that they should develop a prioritised set of projects that they then seek funding for. Birmingham City Council has already started on their LCWIP, but other West Midlands councils are at varying stages towards that - Sandwell have put a lot of work into their cycle network plan, but I'm not sure that Dudley or Walsall have a aspirational cycle network plan.
Open letter to Andy Street
Dear Andy Street,
Congratulations on winning the West Midlands mayoral election. We're pleased that you signed up to support the West Midlands Cycling Charter and to actively seek the funding necessary to implement it. Your pledge to seek a forty-fold increase in cycling funding to £10 per person per year is very encouraging, and we hope that you are successful in supercharging cycling in the West Midlands.
We are writing to you because Transport for the West Midlands is consulting on their 10 year delivery plan, and we are concerned by the lack of cycling projects in the pipeline around the West Midlands. We have gone through the plan and identified cycling-connected schemes, which total £133.05 million pounds of investment, amounting to at most £2.38 per person per year in the West Midlands over the next 10 years. If West Midlands councils do not have plans in the pipeline to spend money on, then even if you do increase cycling funding to £10 per person per year, you will not be able to supercharge cycling in the West Midlands.
There are 3 things that we would like you to do now:
(1) Appoint a new Cycling Champion.
Cllr Peter Lowe did have this position, but is no longer leader of Dudley MBC. The Cycling Charter calls for a Cycling Champion who can be a spokesperson - we understand that you will have many demands on your time as WM Mayor, and we feel that a dedicated Cycling Champion could provide the focus and attention that you won't be able to.
(2) Give a kickstart to the WM Strategic Cycle Network.
The Cycling Charter rightly says that "expensive retrofitting" is undesirable and getting all transport projects to deliver appropriate cycling infrastructure as well is vitally important. The 10 year delivery plan has many transport schemes lined up on roads where the WM Strategic Cycle Network should go - every single one of those schemes should have appropriate cycling measures built in, so that expensive retrofitting can be avoided.
(3) Encourage all local councils to develop a Local Cycling and Walking Investment Plan.
These will be essential for local councils to seek the funding necessary to build cycle infrastructure. Local councils should be required to have their LCWIP in place, and to assess all transport projects for what contribution they can make to delivering the local cycling network, before transport funds are allocated to projects.
We want to see the goals of the West Midlands Cycling Charter achieved, but that requires actions to be taken now to ensure that cycling is incorporated into the wider transport spend. Let's make sure that we do not build anything from now on that requires expensive retrofitting in 5 or 10 years time.
David Cox, Bike West Midlands Network
Christopher Lowe, Chair of Push Bikes
Shivaji Shiva, Colmore Row BUG
George Reeves, Sandwell Cycling UK representative