London cycling death toll is utterly intolerable
Opinion piece by LCC Chief Executive Ashok Sinha
(First appearead in the Guardian Bike Blog on 14th November 2013.)
Shocked. Appalled. Angry. As a cycling campaigner you steel yourself for the news of yet another cyclist being killed or seriously injured in a collision with a motor vehicle on London’s streets.
But the news of a woman being killed on the notorious Bow roundabout on Wednesday shook me. Maybe it was because it was the third such death at Bow. Maybe it was because the London Cycling Campaign has consistently warned the mayor that his ‘early start’ traffic lights are flawed. Or maybe it was because we have now seen five cyclists killed in collisions in our city in just over a week, with a spate of others being hit and now fighting for their lives in hospital.
Unusually, this morning I woke up wondering when the next fatal collision might be. It wasn’t long before I received a text saying another cyclist had been killed late last night in a collision with a bus on cycle superhighway 2.
This death toll is utterly intolerable. One struggles to imagine the pain of the bereaved family and friends. Why should the simple act of using a bicycle to travel to work, school or to meet friends carry with it such risk? Would we tolerate this if the same risks were attached to tube travel, or driving?
Last night, the London Cycling Campaign ran a ‘flash protest’ at Bow, in reponse to another death at the roundabout. During this sombre yet passionate gathering of around 1,000 cyclists who responded to our last minute callout I spoke to several cyclists who were waiting at the traffic lights to cross Bow roundabout. They hadn’t heard about our action; they weren’t there to protest: they were simply on their way home after a long day's work. It wasn't a scientific survey, but every single one of them I spoke to said that crossing that junction was a test of nerve and awareness.
Some said they found the new signals confusing. Others said they ignored them as the best way to protect themselves. Others said that after the latest death this would be the last time they used this route. One even said he’s had enough and would be mothballing his bike. Each individual was outraged that we, as a city, do not treat this death toll of cyclists – and indeed pedestrians – as a citywide emergency.
Mayor Boris Johnson has to answer some big questions. Londoners have given him the privilege of immense power and budgets, and we want to know when the dying will stop. To his credit, the mayor did heed the calls of our Love London, Go Dutch campaign, and has taken the first step to install properly protected lanes on the cycle superhighways (blue paint has had its chance) – as well as putting big money into better provision for cycling. But – and this is a big but – will he put safety ahead of his policy of ‘smoothing the flow’ of motor traffic?
Our proposals to install safe crossing for cyclists and pedestrians at Bow were rejected because they would delay motor traffic too much. This is the nub of the argument: until the mayor and all London’s politicians realise that a human life is worth more than a few extra seconds on a journey, we will not reach the goal of a civilised ‘cyclised’ city that the mayor wants, and which we support him in trying to reach.
Until this realisation happens, more parents will not come home to their children, and more parents will bury their children. All because the victims exercised their right to cycle on London’s roads but were not given the protection they deserve.
Johnson can send a crystalline signal to everyone that he 'gets this' by putting in safe crossings at Bow, removing Aldgate one-way system, and providing protected space in the section of superhighway 2 that connects them. This would transform this stretch of road into an example of the highest possible standards in cycling safety.
That would be the best way he can respond to the families of those who have so tragically lost their lives there and give confidence to everyone out there, cycling today on London’s streets.
LCC is running a petition called 'Tell the mayor to stop cycling deaths now'