Published on November 27, 2013 | by Hannah Lockley

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How many more cyclists will die?

ALN deputy news editor, Hannah Lockley [Aylin Elci]

After hearing about the sixth cyclist to die in London over two weeks, I haven’t even considered riding my bike. Chilling, angry and sickening are but a handful of words that come to mind after one cyclist is killed, so once the sixth was announced, it was overwhelming to say the least.

As a cyclist in the city, you try to steel yourself for the news of an innocent cyclist seriously injured, or even worse killed. But after the news of the young woman killed on the notorious Bow roundabout, the cycle fear factor grew like an elephant in the room.

This was the third death in Bow, and despite the fact that this infamous roundabout is flawed, it seems old Boris Johnson is not ready to admit this.

One of latest casualties involved a collision with a bus on Cycle Superhighway 2, otherwise known as CS2. These superhighways – cycle routes running from outer London into and across central London – were designed to provide a safe and direct journey for cyclists.

Notably recognised by the blue painted stretches of road earmarked for cyclists, these are quickly becoming death traps and are known by many as inherently dangerous pieces of infrastructure.

These deaths are an alarming reminder of the inadequacies and dangers of the blue cycling superhighways. Though tragic, the fatalities should be put into context. Annual deaths have stayed roughly the same over the past decade, despite a huge influx of cyclists.

It is proportionately safer than in the past, however this is a dangerous time of the year, with commuters riding in the dark and in bad weather conditions.

The most common killers are heavy good’s vehicles, or HGV’s. So far this year, there have been 14 deaths in London, and nine of those cyclists were hit by HGVs. This number is the same as the figure for the whole of 2012.

This death toll is completely intolerable. Why should the simple act of using a bicycle to travel to work, school or to get from A to B carry such a risk? No one would tolerate this if the same risks were attached to tube travel or driving, so why do a lot of cycling campaigners get ignored?

Last week, the London Cycling Campaign held a ‘flash protest’ in Bow, in response to yet another death at the roundabout. Around 1,000 cyclists joined the vigil to campaign for a safer London, proposing they introduce a more Dutch-style segregated cycle lane.

At the minute, cycling is a risky game, and being a total wimp myself, each time I take to the roads I have to be totally aware of every single object surrounding me – treating each motorist, pedestrian and even cyclist as a potential accident.

This really shouldn’t be the case; no one should fear riding a bloody bike. People often ask my why I ride my bike in London and I repeatedly tell them that I take the ‘quieter’ route, which I do, but now I fear even the milder roads make me anticipate reckless manoeuvres of buses, cars, lorries and motorbikes.

Why should the simple act of using a bicycle to travel to work, school or to get from A to B carry such a risk? No one would tolerate this if the same risks were attached to tube travel or driving, so why do a lot of cycling campaigners get ignored?

Cyclists in London experience less of the stresses and frustration than people who drive or take public transport, so surely London should be doing everything possible to enable more people to travel this way?

This month’s tragedies have put renewed pressure on Boris Johnson, who, let’s face it, is a guy with a kamikaze-like tolerance for risk on London roads.

However, Boris courted controversy with his prompt response to the recent death toll, telling a radio interviewer: “You cannot blame the victim in these circumstances. But what you can say is that when people make decisions on the road that are very risky – jumping red lights, cycling across fast-moving traffic to get to somewhere in a way that is completely unexpected by the motorist and without looking to see what traffic is doing – it’s very difficult for the traffic engineers to second-guess that.”

In my opinion, the Mayor has completely missed the point. The point being that very little of Boris’ “traffic engineering” is being implemented on the roads. Every time the question of cycling comes up, the Mayor seems to flounder something about cyclists running red lights, riding without helmets, or not riding according to the rules.

The Evening Standard hit the nail on the head last week, pointing out that London does have the potential to lead the way in becoming the cycling city of Europe; it all boils down to political aims:

“This is a question of political will, not physical road space: other changes to our roads once branded unthinkable, such as bus lanes and the congestion charge, are now accepted parts of the system. London is a working city with a multiplicity of road users — cyclists, pedestrians, car and lorry drivers. Yet it should be possible for all of us to share the roads, given decent provision and mutual consideration. We can be a cycling city to rival any other in Europe: we just have to want to make it happen.”

There is a rapidly evolving consensus that London has been culpably negligent in dealing with its fast-growing cycling numbers. London must be made safe in all seasons in order for it to be classed as a ‘ safe cycling city’, like Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Berlin. The Mayor has proposed to install CCTV at Bow to study problems, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

We should consider an independent review into cycle safety and plan to transform the city’s cycle lanes and junctions, making much more use of segregated pathways. At the end of this month, a mass ‘die-in’ is being planned outside TfL’s headquarters – on Blackfriars Road – to voice cyclists’ frustrations and I will be there, holding together what’s left of my hope for the future of cycling in the capital.

 

 

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