What must be done to make sure there are no more cycling deaths in Aldgate and Holborn

Two cycling fatalities in central London the space of 10 days prompted thousands of Londoners to join the #space4cycling protests in Aldgate and Holborn this week and last.

So why exactly are we so angry about these fatalities, and why are we adamant that those deaths, and earlier ones in Bow, were avoidable?

The frightening street layouts around Aldgate and Holborn demonstrate amply how the safety and comfort of cyclists have been ignored (or given minimal priority) for years by those who design London's roads and traffic management schemes.

Holborn area one-way streets

Theobalds Road, running east to west just north of Holborn underground station, is London's busiest street for cycling: during in the morning rush hour cyclists make up an astonishing 64% of westbound vehicles on this street.

Yes, that's correct: we didn't mean to write "cyclists are 6.4% of traffic"; they genuinely make up nearly two-thirds of all the people using this road at peak times, according to figures from City Hall.

With such a vast quantity of cycling traffic, you might imagine there's an enormously wide segregated bike lane here – a bit like this: 

pic from Amsterdam

There isn't: there's nothing here to benefit cycling safety.

The fact is that none of the nearby side roads are quick or direct enough for commuters, and parallel main roads are even more unpleasant.

Londoners cycle along Theobalds Road in their droves because using their chosen mode of transport this route is the best of a bad bunch to travel from East London to the West End.

Nastily, for all those people, the western end of Theobalds Road leads into a horrendous one-way system comprising multi-lane roads that are busy with fast-moving and heavy vehicles often cutting across from right to left, or left to right.

Heading south down Procter Street is dangerous and unpleasant – indeed, if you choose to cycle this route, you'd better have "your wits about you", as Boris Johnson might quip.

No-one knows to what extent Alan Neve had his wits about him last Monday morning: did a moment's inattention on his part put him in lethal danger, or did a failure to look on the lorry driver's part cause them to collide?

Either way, the complete lack of separation of bicycle and lorry on this busy road, where conflict is designed into the carriageway, meant a minor error on either part would be fatal for Mr Neve.

The fatal crash happened at the point where Procter Street joins a one-way section of High Holborn, which is five lanes wide with nothing to make navigating by bicycle safe.

If you cycle through here, you'd better be prepared to jockey for position with motor vehicles – a lot of them, often going fast. 

These problems are nothing new, and we highlighted them most recently in 2009 for the study of London Cycle Network Link 50 (PDF download).

At the time, a westbound bus route was being planned to keep buses (including the very busy number 38) away from the Holborn one-way system via a contraflow bus lane on the western section of Theobalds Road and into Bloomsbury Way.

We supported the contraflow bus lane, but were alarmed that the plan excluded cyclists, who would continue to have to navigate the treacherous one-way system.

Our suggestions were ignored in the interests of (allegedly) speeding up bus journeys by a few seconds, and a minimum-width bus lane was put in place with a ban on cycling. 

Recently, the police have been ticketing cyclists who often use the bus lane illegally because they feel it's safer than cycling around Proctor Street and through Holborn.

The police argue they're doing cyclists a favour because they prevent them overtaking buses on the contraflow in a risky manner by cutting into the eastbound traffic flow.

In truth, both routes are insanely risky because of a failure to design anything here to benefit cycling. 

An immediate solution could involve putting a temporary barrier down Vernon Place and Bloomsbury Way, wide enough to allow cyclists to pass buses in the contraflow bus lane when they're stopped.

Doing this would take away road space from eastbound motor traffic, which is exactly what's required to start providing safe space for cycling.

Andrew Gilligan has expressed an interest in putting in temporary separation for cycling to experiment with road layouts, and this is a prime opportunity to take action in the wake of someone's death.

Making the contraflow bus lanes safe and accessible to cycling is something that could be done tomorrow, but the reality is that the whole one-way traffic system should be abandoned.

This one-way system is a relic of 1960s road design, which has no place in a modern city, especially in the heart of the metropolis, in an area packed with shops, offices, cafés and residential properties.

A relatively small amount of motor traffic is allowed to create unacceptable danger for the far higher numbers of cyclists and pedestrians that pass through the area.

By allocating so much road space to motor vehicles, the street design stifles demand for other modes and encourages more motor traffic journeys, creating the congestion it's intended to prevent.

If the Mayor is serious about delivering his Love London, Go Dutch promises, work should start today to provide safer passage for cycling through the contraflow bus lane, and plans should drawn up to remove the one-way system and create a genuinely people-friendly environment in Holborn.

Aldgate East and Whitechapel High Street.

After the death of Philipine de Gerin-Ricard at Aldgate, we felt tremendous anger and frustration our concerns over the design of Cycle Superhighway 2 (CS2) are still being ignored.

CS2 starts (or finishes) at this very spot, in the middle of the Inner London ring road.

The only safe way to provide for cycling on a street that is so busy with motor traffic road is to separate cyclists from those motor vehicles.

This absolutely requires separate cycle tracks and dedicated signal controls allowing cyclists to cross junctions without fear of being hit by motor vehicles, often lorries. 

From the moment we saw the designs for this "superhighway", we pointed out that it was desperately flawed, and that advisory blue paint – over which motor traffic is directed to drive – is worse than useless.

It's worse than useless because it can create a false sense of security for those very people who are being encouraged by the Mayor to take up cycling, and take advantage of the "new, safe routes" for cycle commuters.

The Mayor appears to be a believer in the 'safety in numbers' principle, and can often be heard telling the media that all we need is 'more people on bikes' and it'll all get a lot jolly safer.

Well, the fact is that Ms Gerin-Ricard took the Mayor's advice and was crushed to death just a few weeks later. 

How many of us, even seasoned cyclists, are aware of the particular dangers posed by lorries (or other vehicles) when we start cycling?

It's highly likely that Philippine de Gerin-Ricard was enticed on to this route by the promise of safe cycling infrastructure.

That promise, that contract of safety, between the Mayor and London's residents was a sham – since it was built, CS2 has never been a place of safety, and in truth only the most experienced cyclists should every ride along it. 

As well as opposing Superhighway 2, we have lobbied in the past for the one-way motor traffic system along the inner ring-road to be removed.

Cyclist safety was given zero consideration in the original design of these roads, yet as the number of cyclists has increased dramatically in the last decade, a major redesign of the entire road system has become an urgent priority.

Despite the recent deaths, the number of people using bicycles is likely to go up and up.

The temptation of cheap, fast, convenient, healthy urban travel is too great.

This is why the Mayor must go back to the drawing board and redesign the entire route from scratch.

There is space along the entire length for high-quality segregated tracks.

Most sections of the route will present very few problems because there's so much space.

Designing a route through Whitechapel market will require some thought, but the positive economic regeneration caused by having a safe and convenient bicycle route should be more than enough to keep the market traders onside. 

By signing our Love London, Go Dutch campaign in 2012, the Mayor promised to give safe space for cycling the highest priority in the Superhighways programme.

It's up to the Mayor to give the direction for this: many years ago he borrowed a phrase from ourselves when he called for a "Cycle-ised city".

Now it's time for him to deliver one, to the best Dutch standards.

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