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Is Cycling the Future for More of us in the Capital?

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Even a year ago none of us could really have imagined that the final debate before London's mayoral elections would be focussed on making our capital city safer for cycling.

It's a really exciting time for those of us who like to get around on two wheels, but potentially even more exciting for many people who'd really like to but find our roads too scary.

Even if you don't cycle, and don't think you'll ever give it a go, what the candidates are discussing on Monday will have a major impact on the London we live in.

Take 20mph speed limits in residential areas. I'm about to become a parent, and I'd love my son to have the freedom to play outside his house. Sadly, too many of us are bringing up children on dangerous streets where traffic moves quickly, and our children aren't having all the fun we had back in the day, going outside and playing with our friends - be it cycling to the park, playing football (not really one I did a lot of!) or simply just messing around outside our homes.

Lower speeds could change all that, making our communities safer places for people first, not cars. Four of the leading candidates are talking about doing just that. Today they'll be saying, quite rightly, that safer streets will encourage more people to get out on the bikes as traffic moves more slowly, but it'll have a wider effect, too.

More people feeling able to cycle around will keep Londoners fitter, healthier and it'll cut pollution. In central London pollution levels are on the rise, more than twice the number of people killed each year in road traffic accidents are killed by pollution from cars. Do we want a London where we breathe in harmful gases as a matter of course everyday?

The debate comes amid a great deal of controversy caused by the owner of Addison Lee Cabs, a minicab firm. He wrote in his organisation's magazine implying that accidents involving cyclists were the fault of the cyclist themselves, and that those on bikes should "get trained and pay up" if they want to use London's roads.

His main point was that his firm, and other minicabs, should be able to use bus lanes, as black cabs currently do. It poses an interesting question, if minicabs can use the lanes then they will basically become another lane of traffic. At the moment, with a lack of separate cycle lanes in London, bus lanes are one of the few areas where cyclists feel a bit safer.

Ken Livingstone (Labour) and Jenny Jones (Green) are promising to fund even more greenways across the capital, routes on quiet back roads or traffic-free paths. The existing routes are making a big difference, not just in numbers cycling, but who is. 42% of greenway journeys are made by women, a huge increase compared to the proportion of women cycling on the rest of London's busy roads.

The great news is that some of the candidates are focussing on just that issue, too. While the 'Boris Bikes' have had a fantastic impact on cycling in London, they do seem to be a toy for middle-aged men in suits. Is that how cycling should be, or is getting around on two wheels something for everyone? It's one of the key issues Jenny Jones tackles in her recent blog - which really goes into detail on how to make London much more of a cycling city.

She also talks about London's outer boroughs, which is where most Londoners live. We want to support our local shops, high streets and communities, and policies than encourage cycling can do all this, too. She is joined by Brian Paddick (Lib Dem) in realising that the space that we live in and travel through is of huge importance. I know I'm more likely to visit a high street which is a pleasant place to be, where I can bump into friends and have a chat, or sit outside a café, rather than one which is just a road. I'll probably buy more things, too!

Who knows what the deciding factors will be this afternoon, or what some of the questions will be? Will Boris's cycle safety record really count against him? Will the fact that Ken doesn't cycle hurt his chances? Ultimately, this debate is positive; it means that all the candidates have to think long-term about cycling in London. And the policies of the successful candidate will have an impact on all our lives.

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