Alan Robertson shares his thoughts on the recent removal of the cycle lane on West Derby Road, how it may affect the kids, and why it is a symptom of municipal short-sightedness…
It’s tough being a kid these days, I imagine. And here in Liverpool, it seems like it may be harder now than just a few weeks ago. First up was the apparently rather heavy handed, and at times gleeful, approach to containing limited instances of anti-social behaviour around the Pier Head via the liberal use of dispersal orders.
It seemed to raise questions around the extent to which spaces that form part of the public realm, as most people understand it, could be made off limits in practical terms at the whims of a small number of well connected, and well heeled residents, with the aid of a compliant suite of public officials of one sort or another.
And this week, for those around the city that might want to travel down there to soak up the atmosphere in an environmentally sustainable manner, the public official responsible for Climate, Transport and the Environment at Liverpool Council piled on the misery. In a display of ineptitude which seemed at odds with an (assumed) understanding of all three parts of the role, they decided to remove an experimental, segregated, cycle route into the city along West Derby Road.
This ended the possibility of building on the 100k trips recorded by LJMU’s counters over the last year since installation. The cherry on top being that the Combined Authority, who secured the money which brought the ill-fated lane to fruition, released their ambitious Corporate Plan which includes measures on cycling, walking and air quality barely a week prior, and were hosting the inaugural meeting of City Region Active Travel forum later that day. Timing is everything.
The social’s ratios grew, as they do, when the headlines write themselves, and incredibly included criticism from the City Region’s own cycling and walking commissioner and the Cllr responsible for delivering some of the provision that exists. The region’s Mayors kept out of it entirely, to their immense discredit, with Liverpool City’s office holder preferring to tweet about strategic failures elsewhere.
The risible spectacle of various elected members chiming in to explain why their support of ripping out a bike lane on a whim was not to be taken as a sign of their hostility to providing the type of infrastructure that the city badly lacks. It is something we could all frankly do without, especially when their support of such obviously atrocious moves will increasingly risk future investment from central Govt, something Liverpool hasn’t exactly been well furnished with in the past.
I know there are excellent members across all parties who have done transformational things in Liverpool who must be very annoyed about this. Even with my immense default superpower of being a bog-standard, able-bodied heterosexual white male, I’d still probably think twice about using that road now, and certainly the trip to the wonderful little oasis of St. John’s church garden in Tuebrook that me and my six-year-old completed last summer, utilising the provision, would be unthinkable. For shame.
So why does this matter for kids, and everyone else, in Liverpool? Broadly- the region has simply an atrocious record when it comes to maiming or killing its people with vehicles, and children bear the brunt of that, with more than 50 young Merseysiders per year seriously hurt or worse. This is double the UK average rate which is itself far behind the standards of the best.
Also, car miles driven in the city are up by over a third in a decade alone, with the various commensurate harms falling on those least able to resist. No one was consulted about any of that of course. Bluntly- if Liverpool is to give its citizens back some independence, a means of exploring their city and broadening their horizons in a safe, healthy, low cost way- which secures investment to enhance the wider public realm in a manner supported by the majority of the region – the status quo simply isn’t an option.
We adults have sacrificed an immense amount of kids’ freedoms, particularly impoverished ones, in pursuit of a very narrow slice of self-defeating personal convenience. The city is covered in vehicles.
Nominally progressive types are evidently struggling to find the right way up in all of this. Some elected officials have been keen to point to the fact they are simply representing the considerable amount of correspondence received from residents on this issue. The implications of this apparent enthusiasm among cabinet role holders for a “biggest negative shouty” approach to policy implementation are stark. It became blisteringly apparent that, despite being minded to get rid of this lane for some time, absolutely no effort has been expended in working on any immediately implementable alternative solution for the few hundred riders a day using it. Those who did will have been enabled by the feeling of relative safety, in itself a massive step forward in closing the various glaring equality gaps inherent with poor cycle and walking infrastructure.
This hasn’t gone unnoticed among elected Labour members in other parts of the country. Vague comments about putting things in a nearby park ignore a huge amount of potential issues around security, lighting, directness, segregation, equality obligations and how to implement quality provision on the connecting residential streets. The stuff that might have been considered prior to locating it where it was.
In short- these members may find at least as many angry voices buttonholing them over many aspects of future plans, should any actually emerge, and it’s not really clear if any will be pushing hard on that. The sheer lack of strategic thought is an overwhelming impression in all of this, and by implication, the conclusion that it just isn’t considered any sort of priority beyond warm words. What this means for the deliverability of other strategic aims is anyone’s guess, especially as the Combined Authority has a very ambitious investment wish list and question marks around basic ability to get stuff done, even good stuff, will be very unwelcome indeed.
Compare and contrast with the cycling and walking report from Waltham Forest released this week. It’s positivity and granularity are light years ahead of any of the sort of thinking evident around Liverpool, but there’s no reason at all why the City shouldn’t be committing to providing this type of reporting. Turns out that declaring a climate emergency isn’t sufficient to solve it.
Kids round here are already disadvantaged by us adults being unable to place their future above our convenience. If we screw this one up, they’ll really suffer, even if many of us shouting on social media in 2021 won’t be here to see it. Unless we get our act together, being a kid round here ain’t getting easier anytime soon.
Cover photo: @dideyeshutter