Death on the roads and achieving a new cycle for transport

JASON COBB is a long-time blogger on Lambeth, with a broader interest in all things sarf London, a lido swimmer, a Surrey cricket fan who enjoys watching non-league football, and who travels to work by bike. After the deaths of five city cyclists in nine days, yesterday he posted this. Follow him on his journey…

Cycling in LondonThere was an extra edginess to cycling around London on Friday. Five deaths in nine days focuses the mind. Nervous smiles could be seen at various junctions, a reassuring message to say: yeah, we can still do this

I loathe the term “the cycling community”. Please don’t label me by my choice of transport, let alone try and connect me with the many hundreds of thousands of London commuters who also happen to choose the same mode of travel.

But the cycling community – perceived or otherwise – does need a response. The best reaction is to carry on doing what for most London cyclists is a safe and enjoyable way to get around town.

Visibility is important, both in the personal and the strong presence of cyclists continuing to use the roads. London may not feel like a wonderful place in which to cycle at the moment, but there have been so many tangible improvements since only a decade ago.

To cycle ten years ago was to be a weirdo. You were outcast as the loser that couldn’t afford a car. Now that the lifestyle [URGH] of cycling has taken hold of the capital, the… Critical Mass of riders has gone mainstream.

Once this happens, then hopefully safety follows.

It’s never as simple as that, but the political reaction to the five deaths shows that the volume of cyclists can’t be ignored. Finding a practical solution to keep London cyclists safe is the type of political problems that politicians hate. You can’t legislate for the personal actions of others.

The debates have been well played out this week – the segregation of cyclists, better awareness for both riders and other transport users, plus a return to the plain silly suggestion of taxing cyclists.

Three of the deaths have taken place on Cycle Superhighways. I hope that this doesn’t lead to an association of failure for the policy. Bow roundabout is hellish; CS2 is probably the worst “planning” for cycling implementation that you will see in all of London.

I actually feel relatively safe cycling along CS7 from Stockwell towards the City. Cycling on what is simply a strip of blue paint may be an illusional notion of safety, but it does send out a visible message to other road users to stay out of our space.

A complete segregation has to be the aim, but I doubt if the economic power is there, even if the political will is. You have to grab every handout that is given to you, and then keep on demanding for more.

The extra edginess and nervous smiles of Friday sat strangely with what was a beautiful day in which to ride a bicycle around London.

Everyday is a beautiful day to ride a bicycle around London, but crisp skies, dry conditions and a glorious sunrise over the river meant that this was the kind of morning best spent above ground rather than underground.

And then finally the working day was done and I headed back south over Vauxhall Bridge. The mini-etching into the left hand side of the bridge masquerading as a cycle lane is more of a boundary for the gutter than a safe cycling solution.

And then you are fed into the free-for-all that is Vauxhall Cross. Assertion is always required here, with a little added aggression to claim the space for cyclists.

It shouldn’t be like this. I ride for many reasons, one of which is to have a reflective period in which to empty my mind. This is not possible at Vauxhall and Elephant etc. You are forced to take on the horrid character of the Urban Cycle Warrior, Us Vs Them, which always leads to… well, not a pleasant way in which to share the road space.

And so there ends what has been a horrid, horrid week for London cyclists. I tried to finish with some optimism. It’s too easy to be cynical about the halfway house solution of the Superhighways.

They aren’t perfect but they a physical start to add more political pressure. As we have sadly seen this week, they can also kill when the planning appears to accommodate other road users as a priority.

Likewise there’s no point in having a folk devils and moral panic about cyclists. Much of the mainstream media coverage this week would put any reasoned person off cycling for good.

This is the exact opposite message that should come out of mid-November 2013 in London. Cycling has been brutal this week. But if you want to change this then the best response is not to be defeatist, but to help to complete the cycling revolution that is now becoming ever closer.

Stay safe, friends.

  • Croydon Council, together with Transport for London, is proposing significant, multi-million pound expenditure on the roads into the centre of our town, principally to allow car drivers to get more readily to the new shops at the £1 billion Hammersfield development. It will be interesting to see what traffic calming or traffic reduction measures are proposed, or what safe cycling facilities are included.

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3 Responses to Death on the roads and achieving a new cycle for transport

  1. davidcallam says:

    Here is an opportunity for Croydon to shine. Some years ago traffic planners created a largely segregated pathway through the town centre to accommodate trams. It works well: and we could use our experience to create an equally segregated network of cycle tracks converging on the town centre. Then we could offer our advice to others, including Boris Johnson, who seems to be a bit foggy on the finer points of cycle safety.

  2. You don’t need a complete segregation. North Croydon has a dense network of suburban back-streets – unfortunately, many of them are plagued with aggressive, anti-social driving. Segregation is needed on main roads – either cycle lanes, or, where it’s too narrow, parallel routes on a less busy road. The problem in Croydon is that because the main roads are so congested, many motorists take their chances on smaller residential roads like Bensham Lane, Sydenham Road, Tennison Road etc.. I see an awful lot of bully-boy (and girl) driving in the area. Close those off to through-traffic apart from buses, bikes and emergency vehicles; open up a few cycle routes through parks; and you’ve got a fairly good cycle network that a kid of 13 or so can use almost overnight. Getting the through-traffic off these residential roads is also a huge win for pedestrians, especially kids & the elderly.

    I was involved in a cycle accident a couple of years back – hit from behind on the A212 in broad daylight. Wrote to the council and requested some bike lanes on that stretch – it is a designated bike route, after all – was told they couldn’t get rid of the on-street parking that’s in the way there, even though all the properties along the road have huge drive ways & loads of off-street parking. Must say I was left with the impression that they don’t much care.. endangering cyclists’ lives seen as more politically acceptable than making a small handful of people walk an extra 50 metres to their car.

    See you at the TfL Die-In on the 29th?

  3. ndavies144 says:

    There’s been much debate about lorries on London’s streets during the rush hour: it is an urgent problem but it’s one which will require London wide action to sort out. However there are some things easily fixable at local level. Is it really crucial that our bins are emptied every (other) week sometime before lunch with the dustcarts on the road throughout the morning peak? Would it be so bad if they set out at 9 and worked through till mid afternoon? Dustcarts aren’t so badly driven compared to their skip-lorry cousins but even so watching bikes trying to get round a slowly moving dustcart is scary enough at the best of times, and far worse when they’ve got to contend with rush hour traffic trying to force its way through at the same time. It surely can’t be all that difficult for the council to change the bin times?

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