Out on the street with the Space4Cycling protest

Holborn, in central London, is an awful place to cycle. Its fast, multi-lane gyratory has increasing numbers of cyclists throwing in with lorries, taxis, buses and cars, and tragically on Monday morning a cyclist died there.

Last night I joined the London Cycling Campaign’s #Space4Cycling protest, the second in a week urging for dedicated cycle space on busy roads after two deaths in just over two weeks. Both accidents happened on busy roads where cyclists fight for space with often fast and unforgiving motor traffic.

I joined one of 20-odd led rides organised by protestors from across London to Russell Square. Within five minutes of setting out a BSM driving instructor aggressively overtook the thirty or so of us approaching a junction, which left him straddling the central white line at a red light.

Picking up more riders at Shoreditch further drivers overtook too close, too fast and yelled at us to get in the bike lane when we were more than 50 and spilled into the road.

The fact is cyclists are becoming not only significant in numbers but in some places the majority: at Theobalds Road, which leads onto Holborn, 64% of morning rush hour traffic is cyclists.

Understandably yesterday’s protestors argue we need more space.

Riders thanked drivers for waiting for us to cross junctions and passing kids waved but the general feelings of disappointment, worry and frustration were tangible. I rode alongside Lauren Garland, a social media student, and Delroy Banton, an outreach worker, both exasperated by drivers’ attitudes and the increasingly crammed, poor quality space for cyclists, where there is dedicated space at all.

Delroy joined this, his first protest, because “no-one should have to die cycling to work”. Lauren used to commute along High Holborn, using a bus lane to the North which cut out the gyratory, until bullying bus drivers made her go the “scary way”.

A couple of years ago police were stopping cyclists on this route: it’s for buses only and overtaking cyclists meet fast-moving traffic head-on.

At Russell Square we joined a huge mass of cyclists and the protest moved to Holborn with a police escort. Too many to count by now (LCC later estimated a turn out of 2,500 riders) , cyclists stretched back as far as I could see. As the din of bicycle bells dimmed for a minute’s silence at the point of Monday’s death a voice was audible from a window somewhere.

At the end of the ride Ann Kenrick, LCC’s vice chair, pointed out all cyclists have a story about a near miss on the road. Her nephew suffered a fractured pelvis in a collision while Friday’s protest was taking place, and it will be six months until he’s fully mobile again.

Cyclists need more road space and it needs to happen soon, but it won’t happen overnight. We need to move away from the situation where one false move leaves people injured or killed. We need dangerous driving tackled and better driver training. As Delroy put it: “drivers forget it’s a person on that bike.”

On our roads, particularly as they are, no-one can afford to forget that.

Why London’s cyclists are protesting

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