Just two of the four invited mayoral candidates turned up at Hackney Cycling Campaign’s (HCC) mayoral hustings on Wednesday 1 November.
Organisers left empty chairs for the Conservative candidate Simche Steinberger and Labour’s Caroline Woodley, neither of whom attended.
Meanwhile, independent mayoral hopeful Peter Smorthit and Annoesjka Valent, the candidate for TUSC, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, were not afforded the opportunity to participate.
Explaining her absence, Woodley has said she is concentrating on campaigning on the doorstep ahead of the Thursday 9 November by-election and that she is not attending hustings.
Previously, Steinberger has previously said he agrees with some of Hackney Cycling Campaign policies, including road safety, but is opposed to Low Traffic Neighbourhoods.
In the absence of mayoral candidates Woodley and Steinberger, the audience put keen cyclists Green candidate Zoë Garbett and the Liberal Democrats’ Simon de Deney on the spot.
Parent Romain Savreux told them he was worried about children getting to school.
“Every day I fear an accident,” he said.
He explained he was worried about dangerous driving on Hackney’s roads and is worried about his nine-year-old daughter’s safety.
Parent Helen James told candidates she also feared for the future of school streets outside several primaries which are at risk of closure due to falling pupil numbers.
The candidates were quizzed as to whether they backed Hackney Cycling Campaign’s call to ensure children can walk or cycle to school safely.
Garbett said: “It’s incredibly important to have 100 per cent borough-wide walkability. It’s crucial to create safe spaces for children and families.”
De Deney told the audience: “If we design cycle lanes properly and place the bike first then there’s a feeling of safety that your child can ride to school.
“It feels as if the system has been created piecemeal. We need to completely rethink how it is done.”
In absentia, the Labour party candidate Cllr Woodley, who is cabinet member for families, parks and leisure, said in a statement that she backed HCC’s calls for safe ways to get to school.
The statement said she wanted school streets, which are closed to motor traffic and the start and end of the school day, at every eligible school.
Garbett outlined her vision of greener streets, “if Hackney’s roads were designed for people and not for cars, with cleaner air and safe healthy streets for every single resident”.
She wants to cut the traffic miles in Hackney by 40 per cent.
De Deney said: “What we need is a better infrastructure in the way cycle lanes are created.”
He wanted a safer option for cyclists with consistent and clear signs to guide traffic.
The hustings follow the deaths of two cyclists in Hackney who were in collisions with cars in Whiston Road and Kenworthy Road.
Residents have been calling for safety improvements for years and HCC wanted the candidates’ support.
Garbett said: “We must make cycling, walking, and wheeling so much safer. We have suffered horrific losses here in Hackney. Families have lost loved ones who had an absolute right to get home safely.”
Woodley pledged to work with Transport for London (TfL) on road safety.
De Deney would also lobby TfL.
“Improved safety does not have the attention it deserves.”
He said he would “make it a priority, saying ‘this is not good’ and with a campaign that focuses on everybody”.
The two candidates were asked if they would continue to roll out Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) across Hackney, which shut some side roads to through traffic.
De Deney supported the extension and said: “There has been some traffic displacement with LTNs. It needs to be done sensitively; it’s got to be done in consultation with people. Bring people along to make sure they understand why there’s a need for this.
“It’s not just about LTNs, it’s about other means as well, with a link between them. There’s no one size fits all.”
He added: “Once you introduce an LTN it’s not a done deal. You go back and you consult with people to find out if it is working the best it possibly can.”
Garbett said: “We want everyone to enjoy the benefits of living in Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, we want everyone to have clean air and children to play and we want people to be able to navigate safely and cyclists to move around and to have connected neighbourhoods.”
She added: “I think we need to talk about giving more space away from cars to residents, freeing up space for public transport as well as active travel.”
Garbett also stressed the importance of talking to residents and looking at exemptions for people with caring responsibilities and Blue Badge holders.
In a statement Woodley said she is committed to rolling out more LTNs, including schemes in Dalston and Hoxton.
Both candidates who attended the hustings supported HCC’s calls for more bike hangers to park bikes securely.
Garbett said she would push for cheaper bike storage.
De Deney said storage must be thief-proof.
Woodley told HCC the council has just provided a further 4,000 bike lockers.
HCC also wanted to see easier travel through the council’s estates.
De Deney said it was clear that residents are not happy with the way estates are set up and wanted to empower residents to suggest improvements.
Garbett said gated entrances to estates are not welcoming. “There’s no hope of cargo (delivery) bikes getting through them either.”
Woodley said she is committed to improving accessibility on housing estates.
The mayoral by-election takes place on Thursday 9 November.