Ghost bikes are chilling reminders of often avoidable tragedies on our roads. KRISTIAN GREGORY, of the Croydon Cycling Campaign, outlines one of the borough’s most deadly routes, the A236, which is so dangerous that a local school has banned its pupils from using bikes
During the last decade an attempt was made to create a comprehensive cycling network across greater London. Very limited funds were allocated to this ambitious project and the money was spread thinly across the capital. Implementation was left mostly to local authorities with little or no idea of how to accommodate cycling infrastructure on their roads. The project was abandoned at only 70 per cent complete.
Croydon Council managed to do a spectacularly poor job with the funds it had to spend on cycling. Croydon painted white dashed lines, marking where the road guttering is and painted cycling logos in the gutter. This is what passes for a “cycle lane” in Croydon, and to this day the council website still boasts of the extensive 45-mile network, which it claims “are the primary measure to provide cyclists with safer, quicker journeys”.
In January, one local cyclist and road safety advocate wrote to the council about what he perceived to be one of the most dangerous cycle lanes in Croydon, on Mitcham Road, the A236. This cycle lane here runs along the side of parked cars, in what is known as the “door zone”.
This is the area of the road in which a cyclist would be killed or seriously injured if a car occupant was to open the passenger door at the moment they were cycling by. Cyclists are strongly advised never to cycle in this area, yet that is precisely where Croydon Council put its cycle lane.
To add to the danger, traffic islands along the road create pinch points. At these points, motorised traffic often merges with the cycle lane, increasing the risk of a collision if a cyclist is using the lane at the time. The road safety advocate “CycleGaz”, who brought the dangers of the Mitcham Road cycle lane to Croydon Council’s attention, has a YouTube channel of rider-view videos which has 10,000 subscribers. He illustrates the danger which confronts cyclists on a daily basis on the A236 with his video.
Croydon Council’s response to his letter was predictable, suggesting that by painting the road differently it would fix the problem. Ultimately, they didn’t even do that.
In June, another local cyclist, “Mitul” also wrote to highlight the danger on Mitcham Road. Mitul received no response. There may have been other warnings to the council from other cyclists. Nothing changed.
On July 10 this year, Neil Turner was hit by a car, thrown 30-foot from his bicycle and died on the road. This was a predictable and preventable death that has taken Neil from his fiancé, his five-month-old son and loving family.
A ghost bike was placed at the site in memory of Neil and as a reminder to all of the dangerous conditions that have long gone ignored on Mitcham Road. Neil’s family gathered with local cyclists to put the bike in place and observe a minute silence. Local ward councillors were asked to attend, relevant members of Croydon Council’s cabinet and the Greater London Assembly member were also invited.
Nobody who has any responsibility for road safety could find the time.
Nearly six months after the death of Neil Turner, the conditions on Mitcham Road are unchanged. This road runs through a residential area with a school, but someone has designated it an A road. As an A road, the safety of residents and schoolchildren is considered secondary to the importance of maintaining high traffic throughput.
The ghost bike is no longer in place. This solemn memorial, a reminder of the unnecessary loss of life, was taken away at some point this month after the school asked the police to remove it. The family was never consulted.
It had been removed so suddenly and without consultation it was believed to have been stolen. Contact details were left on the bike so there would be an opportunity to collect it and the locks, but these were ignored. The locks were cut and the bike taken.
Archbishop Lanfranc School had requested the police remove it as they felt that it might distract drivers and thus posed a danger to pupils on their way to school. The police agreed. It is unclear how a group of people could conclude that the key to making Mitcham Road safer was to remove the only reminder of how dangerous it is there.
The school forbids its pupils from riding bicycles to school, on the grounds of health and safety. They know the road is dangerous, potentially deadly.
The Croydon Cycling Campaign contacted the school to request help in calling for speed restrictions to improve the safety of pupils on Mitcham Road. The response was that, “Speed restrictions on Mitcham Road at our opening and closing times would make little difference as the traffic is frequently stationary”.
The more plausible explanation is that people don’t like to be reminded of death. That would be perfectly understandable for people who start and end every working day passing that reminder. Perhaps the ghost bike needed to be removed for this reason, but it should not have gone without the road’s danger being removed with it.
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