Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Boris Johnson's Cycle KillerHighways

Yesterday the Evening Standard asked me to write a comment piece for them in response to a lorry driver killing (another) female on a bike in London. ES doesn't publish the content online, so here's my edit of what I wrote for them:


We already know that junctions like Aldgate are incredibly dangerous for cyclists. This is because Boris Johnson has simply put blue paint on the road in the middle of a traffic lane being used by high volumes of heavy, fast moving vehicles, like the lorry that was responsible for the French student’s death. Handing out leaflets about Advance Stop Boxes or trying to put a higher volume of cyclists on the road (Boris’s “solution”) is going to do nothing to make this safer for those on a bike. As the three deaths so far on CS2 show, accidents can, and do, happen. When our roads are designed badly these accidents result in deaths. The humane option, and the one used to make cycling safer world-wide in cities such as New York, Amsterdam and Copenhagen, is to physically segregate lethal motor traffic from cyclists, so that tragic deaths like Friday’s become near-impossible. A physical barrier separating cycle lanes means that it’s simply not possible for HGVs and cyclists to collide with each other. At junctions with large amounts of traffic turning left a second cycle lane for cyclists going straight on can be used to prevent bikes and buses coming into conflict, or a separate cycle-only traffic light phase can be created. Unsurprisingly, 20mph limits also help a great deal, and are the norm in Berlin, Paris and Zurich.

However, all of these measures involve reallocating road-space from motor traffic to cycles-only, leading to the possible contraction or removal of a traffic lane. Similarly, 20mph limits and cycle-only traffic light phases will slightly slow down traffic. Up till now, TfL have prioritized motor traffic capacity and speed over cycle safety (while hypocritically spending large sums of money encouraging Londoners to cycle in unimproved conditions). The result has been an appallingly high number of cycle deaths in our capital – a number which is continually rising – including three deaths on Cycle “SuperHighway” 2 alone.

The question TfL, the boroughs, and Londoners need to ask themselves is are we willing to see a 30 second increase in traffic journey times in order to prevent further tragedy on our streets, where a Darwinian road environment means that those who obey the law are the most likely to die? Are we willing to see a slight reduction in traffic capacity in order to create a city which is unpolluted, quiet, cleaner, greener, and no longer the capital of the fattest nation in Western Europe? Are we willing to partially reduce the number of empty taxis that sit needlessly in traffic choking our streets with exhaust in order to bring London’s road safety up to the mark set by international rivals like New York and Tokyo?

Unfortunately, the current City of London plans for redesigning Aldgate show they are spending £12million to create a mere 70m of segregated cycle lane, despite the fact the average distance between the buildings on either side of the street is 22m. This is not only a colossal waste of money (as the Cycle “SuperHighways” were), but it’s not going to do anything to make this dangerous area safer for cyclists, despite the fact with 22m to play with there is ample room for cycle-only lanes.

Our city planners are stuck in the 1970s, designing inhospitable streets that kill French students. They need to join us in 2013 and make tough decisions about motor traffic capacity in order to create a London that is actually safe to cycle in. Not a London where Boris Johnson tells us we just need to ‘keep our wits about us’ and then Londoner’s like Dr Katherine Giles (killed by an HGV in April) lose their lives on the way to work.

Space for cyclists physically separated from motorised traffic is *not* hard to provide. This photo is from  Heidelberg, Germany. We need this sort of street design all over London. And we need it now.

Article printed as a letter in Tuesday's Evening Standard (9/7/2013)


On a side note, it is telling how nervous and worried Boris Johnson looks in the video of BBC's recent report on this needless tragedy. Johnson gave the BBC some absolute crap about 'safety in numbers'. Put more cyclists sharing 'general traffic lanes' with HGVs and lorries on Cycle "SuperHighway" 2, and you are going to have even more cycle deaths, not fewer. The Mayor needs to get his act together. He doesn't even look like he believes in what he's saying as he says it...


  1. This is a matter of policy and leadership at the highest level from people like Boris which will then mean the planners implement the policy. I have tried to improve infrastructure from the bottom up, but without top level support, it goes nowhere...

  2. Ugh, I just read Guy Chapman's drivel (after yours) and feel like punching someone now. Preferably Guy Chapman.