One thing that often sets Cardiff and cities with good cycle infrastructure apart is the presence of a directly elected mayor. A mayor has the power to make difficult and often unpopular decisions, without needing to get the majority of councillors onboard.
Bikes vs Cars
Currently running on Netflix is a film called Bikes vs Cars. It takes a look into the planning approaches and lobbying movements around the world. It’s definitely worth a watch while it is up there, but at the time of writing it is saddled with a 1-star rating, so it may not be there long.
However, it does demonstrate quite well the power a mayor can have, but also that this can be a double-edged sword. As we’ve seen in London, a mayor can get some impressive cycling infrastructure installed within a very short space of time –none of this half-witted tokenism that we see in Cardiff. Yet mayors are not forever and London is now facing the very real prospect of electing a mayor who could well undo a lot of the work that has been done on their “cycle superhighways”.
Something very similar happened in Toronto when it elected the late Rob Ford as mayor. He took a bulldozer to much of the infrastructure that existed, slashed vehicle taxes and cost the city a small fortune. Suffice to say, he didn’t do much for Toronto’s cycle community, nor their air quality for that matter. You can never rule out the possibility of someone who is intolerant of cycling or the environment running for office.
A mayor here too?
Cardiff does have a mayor, a lord mayor to be precise. Our current Lord Mayor is councillor David Walker, but it’s more of a ceremonial or ambassadorial role focussed on “civic functions” more than anything else. He lacks the power to instigate any real change.
However, there is currently a campaign (and a petition) to call for a referendum to establish an elected mayor for Cardiff.
We need 24,647 signatures by August to trigger a referendum in Autumn 2016.
If the city votes ‘yes’, a Mayoral election will then take place alongside the 2017 local council elections.
Against the backdrop of mediocrity we can expect from a council happy to always take the path of least resistance, a mayor for Cardiff could well be a great thing.
However, we can’t rule out the prospect of Cardiff electing a Zac Goldsmith or Rob Ford instead of a Boris and condemning us to a gridlocked, smog-filled hellhole. It’s a big gamble, but only you can decide if it is one worth taking.