Sunday, 13 November 2011

We're doing this so that you, your children and your friends aren't the next casualties of a systemic, killer culture of laissez-faire at Transport for London.

This week I have come under a lot of pressure from people with trenchant party-political views about the work that I have been doing with Mark of ibikelondon blog and the amazing volunteers from the local branches of the London Cycling Campaign who supported and marshalled yesterday's Tour du Danger  - a tour of TfL's Top 10 Most Dangerous Junctions for Cyclists in London.


Hundreds of people came together yesterday to push the Mayor to take cycling safety seriously. As the ride went on, it grew at each junction as cyclists joined in to support us. With the exception of one idiot black cab driver on the Mall (who tried to a) overtake 400 cyclists and b) plough into a marching band) the mood was unlike any other cycling event I've ever seen. Bus drivers leaned out and supported us. Pedestrians waved, cheered and clapped us. Some motorists were outraged at having to wait an extra 60 seconds until we passed. But the overwhelming majority seemed to understand and support our message. Joanna Lumley, we thank you in particular for your support on the day. And we thank the many London Assembly politicians and Simon Hughes MP who stood with us as well.

Our key message was that we reject Boris Johnson's statement that major junctions such as Elephant & Castle are 'fine [to cycle around]...if you keep your wits about you'.

I disagree with that statement on reasons of fact: 89 serious cyclist casualties in the last 24 months at that one junction alone - a rate of almost one a week. Let's just remember what a serious casualty might look like. The woman knocked from her bike on Parliament Square three weeks ago has a broken back. I know because she tells me how she is dealing with the collision, how she is worried for her career, how she needs help for the panic attacks she is suffering. I know that Mary Bowers - the woman knocked from bicycle by an HGV on her way to work at The Times - is still in a coma.

The woman killed at Elephant two years ago was a very experienced cyclist: 'She often said that roundabout wasn't safe'. The Evening Standard pointed out "Something has to be done quickly to stop this kind of thing happening again and again." Two years later, Transport for London with support from the Mayor (it appears) is proposing to do almost nothing to change the roundabout when it re-models it soon.

Paris cycle street
Remember these are all adults. Experienced cyclists. Their 'wits' may or may not have been engaged at the time. The woman I mentioned who was knocked off at Parliament Square is bright and articulate. I suspect she had her wits fully about her when she was shot from her bicycle.

And let's remember, none of these people are children. Why's that? Well, in the view of Iain Dale - a blogger and broadcaster on LBC radio - : talking with me on twitter last night: "I wouldn't let children cycle on London roads anyway." (UPDATE: Please see Iain Dales's clarification of that comment in the comments posted below. I think he's being perfectly fair.)

The wife of Brian Dorling - the first of two cyclists killed in the last three weeks on the Cycle Super Highway at Bow commented on the BBC website last night that while watching the reconstruction at Bow roundabout, she had seen three cyclists experience near-misses. In a separate comment to a article earlier in the day, Mrs Dorling had said: “Whoever designed the superhighway on that roundabout is completely negligent,” a point she reiterated to the BBC.

London cycle street
What has surprised me this week is that I have come under pressure from a number of people for my 'political views'. A number of people who support the Mayor have accused me of being blinkered by 'my political leanings'. If only they knew what my political leanings are. But they don't.

The fact is that I am not doing any of this to be anti-Boris Johnson. Nor to be pro-Ken Livingstone. The fact is that this is above party politics.

The dangers that cyclists face on London's roads are not confined to Bow roundabout, to Elephant & Castle or to Kings Cross. They are about the way that Transport for London looks at London streets and about how it designs them in totality. They are about the culture of aggression on London's streets that impact all of us - drivers, cyclists or pedestrians. The problems are systemic. Transport for London truly believes that some advanced stop lines and blue paint is all it takes to make a street safe for people to cycle there. I'm sorry to say it so strongly but these are complete gimmicks. Just look at the insanely dangerous scheme that Transport for London proposes for the new Cycle Super Highway between Victoria and Peckham. It is repeating the designs that have killed people again and again at Kings Cross, at Bow and at Elephant. And it's not good enough.

I believe it takes much more. It needs real facilities for people so that they can cycle safely without exposure to HGVs, such that a 14 year-old could cycle to school. Iain Dale, I'm not sure if you're with me on this point about children and cycling. A teenager should be able to cycle to school in London. That isn't the case at the moment. But it ought to be.

There will be more Tours. We will give the next one more time. We will make it bigger. And we will make this point:

It is not the job of cycling charities to design streets that are safe for cycling. It is the job of Transport for London and the boroughs. And it is the job of the Mayor to set the pace. Not to abdicate all responsibility for unnecessary deaths with a fatuous comment about people who don't have their wits about them. 

We thank those of you who came. We thank those of you who marshalled. I also want to thank the Metropolitan Police teams who have supported and advised us. But more than that, we thank the Londoners who didn't come but who saw us and who supported us on the day. We're doing this so that you, your children and your friends aren't the next casualties of a systemic, killer culture of laissez-faire at Transport for London.

More information on the next Tour coming very soon


For further information please see the excellent reporting:

Evening Standard

BBC London News


BBC One London News