Saturday, 6 July 2013

A woman riding a Boris Bike killed by a lorry on Boris's Cycle "SuperHighway" 2. Paint on the road is not cycle infrastructure; TfL and the local councils need to confront this before even more Londoners are killed.

Last night we heard the tragic news that a woman riding a Boris Bike on one of the Mayor's supposedly top-quality Cycle "SuperHighways" was killed by a collision with a lorry which in all probability drove into her. This is the first time a Boris Bike user has been killed in London, but it isn't the first death along the route of Cycle Superhighway 2 (CS2). Very, very sad.

Photo of the scene via @velorución on Twitter
This recent and shocking death, the first on a Barclays Cycle Hire Bike could be a political catastrophe for the Mayor, Boris Johnson.

You can interpet the story in many ways, but one of them is surely that of a woman lured by TfL's copious and expensive advertising of 'cycling' into riding one of Boris Johnson's new Barclays bikes, expecting to be safe on Boris Johnson's 'international standard' Cycle Superhighway 2, and then being tragically killed because the Cycle Superhighway is in fact a death trap where cyclists mix freely with aggressive motorists and HGVs that can, and do, kill them all too easily.

This death also comes only a few days after TfL released data showing that the total number of people seriously injured or killed on bikes on London's roads last year was up 60% on the long term average 2005 - 2009.

UK road casualty figures for those not on a bike are at a record low, but this figure masks the fact that cycling road casualties are increasingly sharply.

In fact, cycling fatalities are going up more quickly than the increase in riders on the road. Cyclist deaths rose 10% during 2012, with serious injuries up by 4%, the latter increasing for the eighth consecutive year.

Pic courtesy of @geographyjim

As this graph shows, cyclists are coming to take up an increasingly high percentage of all those killed or seriously injured in London. Motorists and pedestrians are getting safer, but cyclists are getting far more vulnerable.

The main reason for this is London's stunning lack of safe bicycle infrastructure. Segregated tracks like Tavistock Place, or the protected contra-flow on King Street in Hammersmith, are notable for their scarcity. Cycle "Superhighway" 2, like most of the cycle "superhighways", is simply some blue paint on the road where cyclists and heavy traffic mix freely.

Picture of CS2 outside Aldgate (near where this woman died) from June 2013, courtesy of Cyclists in the City. The lorry driver overtook these cyclists on a corner, putting them both in a life-threatening situation, stuck between an iron fence and a 30-tonne vehicle. The driver did this because the road is made up of 'general traffic lanes' that encourage lorry drivers to overtake cyclists with 50cm to spare, putting thousands of lives at risk everyday in our capital. The easy solution is to provide a cycle-only lane that those driving motorised traffic cannot enter.
It is easy to see from the above photo just how dangerous it is to mix cyclists and heavy traffic. Fatalities can, will, and do happen. Enough is enough.

And yet, at the City of London Cycling Forum last Tuesday officials representing the City of London explained their plans to spend over £12 million redeveloping the Aldgate gyratory, and in the process delivering just 70m of segregated bike lane.

That's right, £12 million for 70m of actual protected space in which tragic deaths can no longer occur.

What was just as concerning was that both of the City of London and TfL are using the weasel words - this route is for the 'experienced commuter' - to avoid putting in any decent infrastructure to fatal routes like the CS2. The problem with this type of thinking is that if you don't make cycle routes safe then people die on them. It doesn't matter if they are 'experienced commuters' or 'first-time cyclists'. Mixing humans on bikes with steel-clad HGVs is fatal.

It's not rocket science. This map of collisions in the Aldgate area, shown at City of London Cycle Forum,  shows clearly where proper junctions and segregated infrastructure that prevent cyclists and traffic mixing are desperately needed. You can guess where last night's fatality occurred... (Photo via @nuttyxander)
I pointed out to the City officials that rather than focusing on a hard to understand network of routes for cyclists of 'different abilities', wouldn't the simplest thing to encourage cycling be to make those routes that cyclists currently use much safer than they currently are?

Countless surveys tell us that the primary factor putting people off cycling is that they think it's too dangerous. Deaths, like the one on Boris's Cycle "SuperHighway" last night, are only going to further reinforce this view. Surely the best way to encourage cycling is to take routes that already have heavy cycle traffic, like Cycle "SuperHighway" 2 or London Bridge, and create proper segregated infrastructure that means that needless and avoidable deaths like these can become a thing of the past.

If the woman cycling on a Boris Bike on CS2 last night had been on an actually segregated lane (as pictured here, 9th Avenue New York) the fatal collision with a lorry would have been almost impossible.
And yet, instead we find local officials planning 'Quiteways' along roads that continue to contain dangerously and intimidatingly large volumes of through traffic. And, there are no immediate plans to put proper protection for cyclists onto extremely busy cycle routes like Waterloo Bridge where in rush hour over 40% of the vehicles are bikes.

Waterloo Bridge has a cycle lane but it's actually a car park (can you see the outline under all those parked cars?). This is why we need segregated, physically separated cycle lanes on these busy routes. And we need them now before more Londoners die. Photo courtesy Cyclists in the City.
Appalling. Simply appalling.

TfL and London's Councils need to put their heads together and sort all the already busy cycle routes in London, making them subjectively and objectively safe. If they spend their precious time elsewhere they're only going to have more deaths on their hands on heavily cycled routes that are supposed to be safe. Like CS2. Like CS7. Like London Bridge.

And those working in transport planning in London should be forced to get on a bike and cycle our 'Superhighways' like the deadly, fatal CS2, before they come up with schemes that cost £12 million and deliver a laughable 70m of segregated cycle track.

Transport planners need to have ridden a bike on London's busy streets before they create computerised animations (as the City of London team did at the most recent Cycling Forum) that show computerised HGVs turning left over computerised cyclists, and computerised cyclists calming filtering through a 0.5m gap between a stationary bus and a stack of cars waiting at a red light. It is not safe for cyclists to be driven over by HGVs or filter through 0.5m gaps. It is ridiculous that anyone could think in this way.

Yet this is how local transport officials still plan for cycle use. Hence only 70m of segregated space in a £12 million redevelopment.

Appalling. Simply appalling.

Philippine De Gerin-Ricard, a 20 year old French student, was killed by a lorry driver while riding a Boris Bike along one of Boris Johnson's Cycle "SuperHighways" that is now being investigated by police for being of a criminally poor design. Photo courtesy Evening Standard.