Independent candidate George Ferguson has just been elected the mayor of Bristol, a position that will have considerable sway over the future of cycling in the city. This is the first time the position has been directly elected.
An architect by profession, Ferguson won on a second count that used second preference votes in a direct head-to-head contest against the official Labour candidate Marvin Rees. The general media consensus before the election was that Rees was the favourite to win.
As we have seen with Boris Johnson in London, a ‘cycling mayor’ controls a significant budget and can introduce wide-ranging measures such as Boris Bikes and Cycling Superhighways (whatever your opinion of them).
Of Bristol’s £370m 2012-2013 budget, well over £20m is earmarked for highways and transport, so new mayor Ferguson should have a chance to direct considerable investment towards cycling, although Bristol City Council’s spending plans aren’t itemised.
Bristol had a budget of well over £20m for cycling measures from 2008 to 2010, as part of its status as a ‘Cycling City’. However, where the money was actually spent became a hugely controversial topic.
Ferguson has previously described himself as a “wobbler” in cycling terms, but has an impressive track record. He’s a Sustrans founder and has even travelled to Groningen, Holland, to explore their cycling culture, contributing to a short BBC film on the subject.
In an interview with Life Cycle UK, Ferguson said of cyclists: “Fit eco heroes! Apart from walkers they are the people who are most doing their bit to improve Bristol’s environment and help improve the degraded urban air quality that they suffer from. There is the odd idiot cyclist that gives cycling a bad name, but they are very much the exception.”
In the same interview he quoted thoughtless motorists and a failure to enforce cycle lanes by busy roads, plus the fear of muggings and theft on isolated routes, as the biggest problems faced by cyclists in Bristol.
Ferguson also quoted a desire to introduce a raft of further cycling measures. These included radial cycle routes into the centre, the encouragement of civilised space sharing by all modes of transport, and the introduction of measures to dissuade parents driving their children to school and incentives for businesses to promote cycling by employees.