In London more people are travelling by bike, but already this year 13 cyclists have died. Serious questions are now being asked about safety strategies, and in particular about cycle superhighways
It runs along 2.8 miles of crowded London road, from Aldgate in the City to the Bow roundabout in the east of the capital: a thin blue strip of tarmac frequently obscured by intruding buses, cars and lorries. Welcome to cycle superhighway 2, one of the most terrifying thoroughfares in Britain.
Venera Minakhmetova, 24, a Russian businesswoman, was killed on it, at Bow roundabout, by a truck last week – one of five cyclists to have died on the capital’s streets within the last two weeks.
So perhaps it was not surprising that at rush hour on Friday, London’s legions of cyclists seemed to have taken a collective decision to give CS2 a miss. In the space of half an hour at Bow roundabout, I saw only 11 brave the heavy eastward-bound traffic, while even fewer travelled west, towards central London.
Some cyclists took the flyover, others were, perhaps, using the criss-cross network of bridges and canal paths that run near or under the roundabout. Among flowers marking the spot where Minakhmetova died, there was a poignant notice that read: “Remember me. Svitlana Tereshchenko was killed here 11.11.11. She was 35.”
Tereshchenko, from Ukraine, was killed three weeks after the death of Brian Dorling, 58, at the opposite side of the same roundabout. Those two deaths prompted Transport for London (TfL) to introduce new safety measures on CS2. These, clearly, did not go far enough.
Next to plastic bollards and white tape printed with, “Police inner cordon”, one note reads: “RIP to the lady killed here this morning and thoughts go to her family. TfL, you are to blame for this … The CS2 is not safe and you have allowed cyclists to die needlessly!! Shame on you.”
The tragedies have put renewed pressure on Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, who has put the promotion of cycling and increasing road safety at the heart of his administration.
Johnson courted controversy with his immediate response to the recent tragedies, 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.”
Speaking to the Observer, Johnson was keen to emphasise his commitment to upgrading the capital’s network of cycle superhighways, saying: “Any death on London’s roads is a tragedy and my thoughts are with the families and friends of the cyclists who have lost their lives.
“In the past decade, the number of cyclists in the capital has almost trebled and it is absolutely vital that we continue to invest huge sums of money into improving cycling infrastructure and making it as safe as possible.”
But there is a growing consensus that Britain, and London in particular, has been culpably negligent in dealing with its booming cycling population. At the end of the month, a mass “die-in” is being planned outside TfL’s headquarters to voice cyclists’ anger. Christian Wolmar, a public transport specialist who hopes to be selected as Labour’s next candidate for mayor of London, said urgent action needed to be taken to save lives.
“All the deaths but one have been by trucks or buses. There’s a clear pattern. We need to provide better facilities and urgently before the next cyclist dies. We must do things quickly and not be afraid of experimenting. If something doesn’t work, it can be changed,” he said.
The dangers at the Bow roundabout are clear and easy to remedy. Cyclists congregate ahead of motor vehicles, waiting to move west. They have only a few seconds’ advantage to get clear of the junction before the motor vehicles catch up. If cyclists were segregated and given a separate system of lights, their safety would be dramatically improved.
Val Shawcross, who chairs the London Assembly transport committee, said that serious injuries and deaths among London cyclists rose 18% between 2011 and 2012. “It is terrible to hear that another young cyclist has been killed on cycle superhighway 2, which a coroner’s report recently said could pose a risk to life unless action was taken. While the mayor and TfL are taking steps to cut these serious incidents, it is vital they act swiftly to implement and review measures that will help to make cycling safer for all.
“We hope the mayor will make safety a priority in the months ahead and set out to Londoners his plan to help to reduce the number of needless deaths on London’s roads.”
Hours after the death of Minakhmetova, hundreds of cyclists congregated at Bow roundabout in a “flash ride”. They circled around the junction and lit candles for the dead woman.
Christy, from Mile End, who cycles to Hampstead Heath every day said that he had been alerted to the flash ride by Twitter.
“It’s just getting too much now. This is a roundabout that has had works done and still someone has died on it,” he told Road.CC website. “I try to go on the back roads as much as I can, but there’s about one quarter of my journey that’s unavoidable, I have to go on main roads and get around that way, it’s horrendous.
“Segregated cycling would be lovely, simple things like putting a few bollards across a few rat runs on the nasty stretch of my bit would be a simple solution to block off one end of the road.”
Hours after the protest finished, another cyclist was killed a few miles west on the same cycle route. Police have yet to release the name of the dead man who became the 13th cyclist to die in London this year.
• Those who have a passion for bikes and the role they can play in changing the shape and priorities of London but who are frustrated by the lack of a platform to air their views, may welcome a new website that launches on Sunday, change-london.org.uk (@Changing_Ldn).
Created by the community organiser David Robinson, its aim is to encourage individuals to contribute blogs to open up the debate about what kind of capital city Londoners might want – and the type of mayor who might be able to create it. The aim, after six months, is to produce a peoples’ manifesto.
Link to article: feeds.theguardian.com/c/34708/f/663879/s/33c531d0/sc/19/l/0L0Stheguardian0N0Cuk0Enews0C20A130Cnov0C170Ccyclists0Edead0Elondon0Eroads0Esafer/story01.htm