The last nine days have seen five cyclist deaths on London’s roads. On Tuesday last week a man died after colliding with a tipper truck on Mile End Road. The same day a coach and cyclist collided near Holborn; the man died of his injuries on Friday.

On Tuesday a man died after colliding with a bus in Croydon, and yesterday a woman died on Bow Roundabout following collision with a left turning lorry before last night a man died following a collision with a bus in Aldgate. This came amid a spate of serious injuries to cyclists around central London.

As an advocate of cycling what I have seen over the last nine days has shaken my belief in the notion that cycling in London is safe and I join with the frustration, anger and sadness of the thousand people at last night’s candlelit vigil at Bow Roundabout.

The fact is the new, largely segregated stretch of CS2 from Stratford to Bow, designed to encourage more people to cycle, still leaves cyclists with a hellish crossing at Bow thanks to a lose-lose cyclist priority light system. When the cyclist advanced light goes green, traffic from the right is already advancing at speed.

Cyclists who arrive at the junction later, for the main set of lights, risk conflict with left-turning vehicles from behind. It seems to me there is no safe option as it stands but to cross on foot, and I won’t go near it on a bike.

Andrew Gilligan, London’s cycling commissioner, responded to the fatalities telling BBC London we mustn’t rush into measures that make things worse. We need to change the infrastructure, and urgently in places like Bow roundabout, with time for cyclists to cross separate from traffic, and this can’t happen a moment too soon. We also need to change the behaviour of our traffic.

Yes, things are better than they were in London, but the fact is drivers still fail to understand the danger they put cyclists in by intimidating them. Some still try to ‘teach’ us not to take primary position by beeping or yelling and driving at us at speed.

It is enough to send a cyclist less sure of their right to be on the road into the gutter where they are more at risk from being invisible to the next driver. At least 70% of cyclists I see in London ride so close to parked cars they’re almost brushing wing mirrors. And who can blame them for wanting to stay away from traffic?

I led a friend from out of town around London by bike yesterday, and it made me see London’s roads with fresh eyes. We were heading down Kingsland Road to Bishopsgate. At Shoreditch High Street, faced with three lanes of heavy traffic, including articulated lorries and buses, about to diverge in three different directions, with no space for cycling but what you can fight for, my friend and I got off and walked. It’s bad enough on my own, but I was frankly worried for my friend.

We need to check traffic speeds: in a city whose average speed is less than 20mph traffic still races from one light to the next, creating a thoroughly hostile and dangerous environment. We need better education of both drivers and cyclists that being seen is being safe. We need enforcement against drivers that intimidate and endanger others’ safety.

This is not a war on the motorist, this is a war against the dehumanisation of our city. The vehicle that poisons our air makes it dangerous for our children to play in the streets while condemning its owners to ever-rising fuel costs and misery in traffic jams, subsidised by all of us.

In 1973 Holland reached a crisis point when the stop the child murder pressure group formed, a reaction to increasing space dedicated to cars and in road deaths, especially among children. That started a chain reaction that led, over those 40 years, to the safe streets the country now has.

The recent London deaths, too, have reached out beyond the cycling community. At Bow last night where the London Cycling Campaign once more demanded safe space for cycling, the 1000-strong vigil was the top story for BBC London, ITV London Tonight and LBC, with the deaths making national news, too.

At last night’s vigil, LCC’s Ashok Sinha said: “We urge Mayor Boris Johnson to respond to the anger and frustration clearly felt by Londoners at the recent tragedies by agreeing to prioritise pedestrian and cycling safety above motor traffic flow, both at Bow and at some many other streets and junctions where our lives are threatened each day.”

The mood is ripe for change; now is the time for that response.

Related links
Fifth cyclist killed in London in nine days

  • Gee Why

    Very sad news about the cyclists and I do understand the traffic density issue in London but perhaps we should have a more national outlook and whatever is decided for London can be applied to every town with a population of more than 20K.

  • George Cathcart

    It’s really strange to me to see everyone hating on the bus drivers. On my route (N1 – SW15) they all tend to be pretty considerate. IMO it’s taxis and road-rage car drivers who are the most unsafe.

  • Mark Vallis

    Is the Boris approach really the right one? I’ve just spend a week in Manhattan, where, like London, there has tremendous increase in cycle use, clearly helped by the Citibike scheme. Just had a check on the stats and Manhattan, a pretty substantial district and without doubt, with very heavy traffic, had just 4 fatalities in 2012. So whatever you think, the recently reported incidents are exceptional, statistically speaking and clearly associated with the blue routes. But are they necessary? I was constantly amazed at the diverse nature of cyclists in Manhattan. From pretty dubious bikes with all sorts of luggage carrying capacity, a wide range of fixed wheel machines, many with the exceptional wheel sets and gear, the aforementioned Citibikes ridden by suited city types to fully lycra clad riding race machines. So where were the cycle lanes, ASL’s, segregation, etc. Nowhere to be found! But I still place the standard of riding by most as among the worse I have ever seen. Red lights were largely or even universally ignored, as were many one way traffic flows. But amazingly, most drivers appeared exceptionally tolerant of this rash behaviour…and most appeared exceptionally observant too. Of course the situation is helped by traffic light controlled junctions at every block intersection…but there is still a significant cyclist / large vehicle conflict potential. So is the difference down to driver attitude? I believe driver attitude is a major issue…and blue priority routes only make that worse!

  • John Lavery

    Good article. However I am astonished that you ever thought cycling in London is safe. I have cycled in London almost daily for 40 years and at no time have I ever thought it was safe. It is frankly terrifying for anyone other than an experienced cyclist. I would never recommend to my friends to try it although I will help them if they really want to have a go. Many cycle lanes just add to the difficulties because they are so badly designed. CS2 is the classic example. The first time I cycled on it with my wife I was appalled – especially at the Bow Roundabout. We got off our bikes and walked across. I told my wife at the time the junction was a death trap and there was no way I would consider cycling across it. Sadly, the first death was only two weeks later. I wish I had been mistaken in that thinking. Change cannot come soon enough.

  • Simon E

    Excellent article.

    Unfortunately the comment by Neil highlights a big part of the problem – that cyclists and other vulnerable road users are sadly treated as 3rd class citizens by those in big, powerful vehicles who, for some reason, seem to think they own the roads. This has to change.

  • Robert

    In reply to Neil, the response of bus drivers to these killings is all too predictable. Many drive with no consideration at all for cyclists, a favourite trick being to bully past a cyclist 50m before their next stop, forcing the cyclist to slam on their brakes if they are to avoid being crushed against the barriers. A few years ago I was overtaking two buses who were taking on passengers (neither were indicating to pull out at this point) when the front one put on his indicators and started to pull away just as I was coming alongside the driver’s window. The driver shouted abuse out of the window at me and then quite deliberately forced me over the centre line of the road and into the path of the oncoming traffic! Unfortunately, as in the case of that Bristol bus driver Gavin Hill who deliberately and violently knocked off a cyclist, far too many bus drivers seem to be totally unfit for the job.

  • Ian

    This bus driver has a far more enlightened attitude than the one in the interview.

    The radio interview highlights the problem with vox pops, garbage like this can be spewed.

  • Robert

    A very worthy piece, and it would be great if this spate of road killings led to positive change. Unfortunately, the motor lobby is as powerful now as it ever was and there are too many people ready to blame the victims of driving crime in order to protect the privileged position of motor vehicle users………………………….The reality is that any protest today will almost certainly be a shadow of those nation-wide protests that occurred in the past, especially in the 1930’s when cyclists outnumbered motorists and the CTC were fully supported by organisations such as the Pedestrians’ Association: a huge contrast to today when the PA has become ‘Living Streets’ and is effectively just another anti-cyclist lobbying group……………………………..In October 1928 The CTC Gazette carried the following comment: “We have reached a stage in the revolution effected by the motor when mechanical activities are already displacing human criteria as a standard for behaviour. Such remarks as “There’s one law for motorist and one for other folk,!” or ” Killing’s no murder if done by motor,” are commonly heard nowadays. And there is no organised public protest against the slaughter and maiming that have been going on for years.” Going even further back, The Socialist Standard of January 1913 argued: “…it is no crime in the eyes of those who administer the law for the motorist to slay the harmless passer-by. It is by far the cheapest form of murder, for it is scarcely too strong a statement to say that the motorist has practically been granted the right to slaughter any who dare to cross his path.” Also in 1913 The Manchester Guardian of August 1913 argued: “The truth is that the whole standard of responsibility for life has been lowered. On various specious pleas reckless driving has been allowed, and when death ensues juries are unwilling to convict the individual man who is only doing what thousands of others do hourly.” Such outrage, extending over decades, changed nothing and a further hundred years of indulging the motorist and failing to hold them properly to account when they cause harm to others can only have made the prospect of change less, rather than more likely. Unfortunately, history shows us that simple protest is not enough.

  • Lucy

    Earlier this year I was part of a group that cycled from Edinburgh to London (500 miles) in 5 days. As soon as we crossed the M25 I felt all my tiredness melt away, saddle soreness was as nothing. Suddenly I was at the back of a group of cyclists (mostly from Yorkshire) who had never cycled in London before. It made me scared and embarrassed to be a Londoner. The reason my pains had ebbed away? Sheer physical fear – a massive adrenaline jolt.

    To cycle in London one finds oneself in a state of super alertness. On reflection, after a pleasant ride through the UK, London is the vilest place to cycle, and it’s all because of the ways in which roads are used.

    It’s a mixture of attitude and infrastructure. Having to cross three lanes of traffic to get into position at a junction is never going to be fun, but somehow the attitude of drivers makes it feel worse.

    Not all drivers, not all areas. My usual commute through the green and leafy borough of Richmond is a joy most days (apart from the usual traffic hold ups and fumes to breathe). Car drivers are, on the whole, courteous and accommodating. However, the wrong mix of poor infrastructure and the usual woes (heavy traffic, delays, roadworks, yadda yadda) turn perfectly nice pleasant people into impatient, frustrated, irritable automatons. I know, because I drove to work on Tuesday and felt myself turning into one 🙁

    Sorry, bit of a pointless rant there. Great article, and in particular the phrase ‘This is not a war on the motorist, this is a war against the dehumanisation of our city’ chimes with me. How pleasant life can be when your commute to work is a pootle through a Royal Park in the sunshine, instead of an unhealthy hour of bumper to bumper traffic, people acting like aggressive selfish idiots, and wasting an eighth of your waking hours every day doing it.

  • Neil

    Check the BBC news site today and there is a prominent link to bus drivers giving their predictable views on cycling. We face a gigantic level of prejudice and victim blaming that really needs to be addressed – Complain on the BBC site.