Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Froome, Wiggins, and cycling from A to B; or, In Defence of RideLondon

My brother is a 'cyclist'. He never cycles to work. He never uses a bike to get from A to B. He never rides his extremely expensive steed without wearing lycra. He watches the Tour de France and many other less famous cycle races extremely avidly, bordering on dangerous obsession. It goes without saying that recent events, particularly the back-to-back Tour de France victories of Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins, have helped to draw him even further into the sport.

Chris Froome dominating the 2013 Tour de France.
Until recently I felt quite strongly that people like my brother weren't really helping make cycling in UK safer or more pleasant. My brother will often put a bike in the car and drive to Richmond Park, then take the bike out and race around the road at high speed. Clearly the park is a fantastic place to cycle and train. However, by choosing to drive there, people like my brother are in fact making London's motor traffic congestion worse, not better. Moreover, by choosing to race around the Park at 30mph my brother could also be blamed for reinforcing the extremely negative 'lycra-lout' image that still pervades our national discourses on the word 'cyclist'.

What then is to be gained from the massive rise in 'sports cyclists' (for want of a better term) following successive British victories both at the Olympics and in road racing? Will this make it any easier to cycle from A to B, or simply increase congestion as TfL lays on extra vans to transport contestant's bicycles between Stratford and Pall Mall for RideLondon this weekend? (Presumably this is at least partly because TfL are concerned that even people willing to do 100 miles on a bike will be too scared to cycle on their deadly road system connecting East London and Westminster).

One thing I noticed when staying with friends in Zurich and then Heidelberg earlier this month (two big cycling cities) was the extremely large amount of 'sports cyclists' I saw all over the city. I've become more accustomed to seeing people stacked up in gear in London over the last few years, but they were really going for it in Switzerland and Germany, even the over 65s! When a friend and I rented bikes and went into the hills above Heidelberg we even passed 40 lycra-clad men bombing down in what must have been a semi-professional mid-week mountainous bike race.

When you think about it more, there's a definite link between countries where it is safe to cycle and countries that are seriously interested in sports cycling. It's not really a surprise, then, that Dutch people are so heavily represented among Tour de France spectators; nor that Paris is a far safer city to cycle in than London (given that it does just happen to host the world's biggest cycle race every year). If we want to watch the Tour de France in the UK we need to somehow find ITV4, but in Germany it is screened on their equivalent to the BBC, and to a much wider (and more captivated) audience. Similarly, Copenhagen is one of the world's safest cities to cycle in, and when one browses the Wikipedia page, Sport in Denmark, on quickly finds that, "in recent years, Denmark has made a mark as a strong cycling nation".

Does correlation equal causation? One could certainly argue that these countries are only interested in sports cycling because so many of their citizens travel by bike. However, I would argue that it certainly goes the other way too. After all, the Tour de France was created 104 years before the Paris' Vélib's or their inner-city HGV movement restrictions. One cannot, therefore, argue that the French are interested in sports cycling because so many people cycle in Paris. On the contrary, there is strong evidence to suggest the French cycle to work because they host the Tour de France. Utility/transport cycling and sports cycling are two (almost opposite) sides of the same coin; however, they do symbiotically feed and grow off each other.

Wiggins taking a ride along the Champs Élysées with his son Ben.
Therefore, despite idiotic comments from the likes of Bradley Wiggins ("helmets should be mandatory") and his former manager ("motorists would stop running over and killing cyclists if 90% of cyclists would only stop jumping red lights"), I feel that those of us that use a bike to get from A to B should embrace the recent growth in sports cycling. Even if the immediate benefits are far from clear (i.e. extremely silly articles from Carlton Reid saying that building a network of fantastic, safe cycle lanes wouldn't be enough to make cycling levels in this country explode), the long term benefits are.

We should embrace RideLondon this weekend. And... we should embrace an extremely famous politician like Boris Johnson getting involved (and creating the bloody thing in the first place!).

Certainly, Boris's time would be much, much better spent ripping up Holborn gyrators so that no one has to be killed like Alan Neve was, or sorting out his Cycle "Superhighway" 2 so that no one has to be killed like Philippine De Gerin-Ricard was. It's unacceptable that these aren't top priorities for a Mayor when 69 of inhabitants of his city have been killed on a bike since he took office in 2008.

However, by actively and very publicly associating himself with sports cycling through the RideLondon events, Boris Johnson can't help also attaching himself to transport/utility cycling. The two are inextricably linked. What follows from this is even more political pressure on the Mayor to deliver what he has promised in his Cycling Vision earlier this year. It might not be the best use of Boris's time, but it is still, I would maintain, a step forward.

A typical bike crossing in Heidelberg, a city with strong and long-standing sports cycling links. Note the sheer number of cyclists and the fact they are safely separated from pedestrians. None of this 'shared space' guff here thank you very much.

And here's a shot of someone trying to cycle to work along Whitehall, in the heart of London, a city that has only recently embraced sports cycling.

And another shot of the same street, about 30 seconds later. Obviously what this man is doing is not safe, but nor is waiting beside the taxis really. Westminster Council haven't really given anyone cycling on this street a safe option. The extremely easy solution is simply to build a cycle lane as we can see in use in Heidelberg.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Cycling vs. Cyclists - How to Do Things With Words

Following on from last week's post on how we report those killed and maimed by motorists on our roads, I'd like to talk today about cycling vs. cyclists. Essentially, it is almost always better to use the term cycling when you have a choice between the two. Here's why:

Is this a cyclist? or a kid on a bike?
Is this an anti-social law-breaker? or a child who doesn't want to be crushed to death when a motorist makes a mistake?
One of the big problems with the term 'cyclists', is that it implicitly reinforces the idea that cycling is a niche mode of transport that can only be undertaken by a hardcore, committed group of 'cyclists'; you have to know Chris Froome's body weight in order to be able to cycle to the shops to pick up some milk.

This is, of course, absolute rubbish. Using a bike to get around should be as normal as taking the bus or hopping on the tube. We don't use the term 'tube-ist', 'bus-taker', or 'train-er'. We just take a tube, bus or train when it is convenient to do so. Cycling should be equally normalised. Just a method of transport that we take when it is convenient, cheap, and safe to do so. Using the user-specific term, 'cyclist', makes cycling seem far less inclusive that it actually is, and as such, the term should be avoided.

Indeed, when local councils and governments talk about making things safer for 'cyclists', this can actually be quite unhelpful. This is because it makes it seem like the creation of cycle lanes or slower speed limits are benefits only to that very small proportion of UK that currently make journeys by bike. In fact, safety improvements are primarily of benefit to people that don't already cycle. It is precisely these 'non-cyclists' that are far more likely to take up cycling if a continuous, fully segregated cycle track is built that enables them to get where they want without worrying about dying. Therefore, the government would be making 'cycling' safer, not making it safer for 'cyclists'.

Crossrail or HS2 are not big projects that are being sold to the voting public as making travel easier for 'train-ers'. They are big projects that will make travel easier for everyone in the UK, since anyone can get on a train. It's the same with cycling. A 'Crossrail for bikes' will make travelling by bike safer for everyone in London, not just cyclists. Therefore, we should always think of it as an improvement for cycling.

We do use the term 'motorist', but there are important differences between this word and 'cyclist'. 'Motorist' is useful because the word encapsulates how difficult it is to drive in the UK. It's not like just jumping on a train or bus. You need to learn your theory, then get an expensive theory test booked well in advance and pass it. Then you need to learn to drive (more expensive) and get a driving test booked (more expense) and then pass that (not always first time). Then you need to buy a car, buy fuel, buy insurance, pay emissions tax, (pay congestion charge), and find a resident's or off-road parking space to store your vehicle. Then you need to work out where you're going, maybe buy a sat-nav, and find out where you can park near your destination (often expensive).

Compare cycling: you need to learn to cycle (free), buy a bike (cheap) and a lock (needs to be good). Then you need to work out where you're going and leave your bike at your destination or nearby.

Clearly, our government is not doing even 10% of what it needs to be doing in order make travelling by bike as safe, easy, and hassle-free as it could be (and is in Holland or Denmark, for instance). But jumping on your bike has far more in common with jumping on the tube (buy oyster card, work out route) then jumping in a car (go through all the hoops listed above). The term 'motorist' is, therefore, helpful for encapsulating the exclusive nature of motor travel by a select group. On the other hand, 'cyclist' is extremely unhelpful because it implies that travelling by a bike is similarly exclusive. It isn't. In much of Europe travelling by bike is as normal as taking the bus, and it should be here in the UK too. Using the term 'cyclist' works against this process of normalisation.

The other important difference between 'motorist' and 'cyclist' is that both terms are heavily culturally loaded; in opposite ways. 'Motorist' is a term that includes 33 million Britons. It is a term of family, allowing one to belong to a large, welcoming group. Most importantly, it is a term essential to the 'War on the Motorist' myth. This is the fatuous idea that 'motorists' are somehow persecuted in our society, a political lie manufactured by successive Conservative parties in an attempt to seduce voterssince the cost of travelling by car has actually continually decreased in real terms since 1990s). The word 'motorist' is, therefore, an extremely weighted term. The persecuted majority of good Brits just trying to do right by their friends and families.

By contrast, 'cyclists' are widely seen as an aberrant tribe. They are freaks that despite paying no road tax rudely insist on clogging up our roads. They run down old women and the blind with impunity, and often enjoyment. They are the persecuting minority, Saddam Hussein's Sunni elite, who are ruining modern Britain and deserve zero recognition from Clegg or Cameron, and still less from the irresponsibly obese Eric Pickles.

The amazing thing is that these stereotypes stick, despite the fact that motorists killed 1,901 Brits in road accidents in 2011 alone, and last year 118 Brits were killed by drivers while on their bikes in this country.

The best case scenario would be if we could transform the word 'cyclist' from a word with largely negative to connotations, to a positive one. As well as from the 'persecuting', to the 'persecuted'. However, ultimately that isn't going to happen until we have significantly more than one journey in 50 being made in London by bike. If history shows us anything, it is that minorities are consistently persecuted, ignored, and vilified. It's no different with cyclists.

In this situation it's much better to change the conversation than to try and convince the obstinate of the simple truth that one mile on a bike is a $.42 gain to society, one mile driving is a $.20 loss.

We should therefore be making the case for 'cycling', not 'cyclists',

After 78 Spaniards were killed in a recent train crash, the Spanish Government will not be improving safety for 'train-goers'. They will be making it safer for all Spaniards to travel by train. Similarly, since 69 Londoners have been killed by motorists while cycling since Boris Johnson took office in 2008, we must demand the Mayor and TfL make things safer for all Londoners who might, and could, choose to travel by bike.


As an aside, please put Monday 2nd September in your diaries: the London Cycling Campaign are organising another #space4cycling Protest Ride. Meet at Jubilee Gardens at 6pm (for a 6.30pm start).

Saturday, 20 July 2013

'A woman was injured in a collision with a bicycle yesterday' - How to Do Things With Words

In 1955 J. L Austin published his greatest work of linguistic theory, How to Do Things With Words. What Austin writes about speech-acts isn't particularly relevant but if we want to improve things in the UK it is incredibly important to consider not only what we say about cycling, but how we say it. Given how much cycling has been (and continues to be) stigmatised in Britain and many other countries this attention to linguistic detail becomes especially important.

A woman was injured in collision with a bicycle yesterday. 

How strange does that sentence sound? It reads bizarrely because it suggests that either the woman walked into a stationary bicycle or a bicycle came out of control all by itself - perhaps let loose down a hill? - and hit the woman. What this sentence does extremely effectively is absolve whoever was riding the bicycle in question of responsibility for the hurt done to the woman. The hurt was done by the bicycle, not the person in control of it. Clearly, this is not the way we have been conditioned in the UK to think about those riding bikes. This sentence would never occur in a newspaper or a blog. In fact, we wouldn't even write:
a woman was injured in a collision with a cyclist yesterday.
This still sounds slightly mendacious because in all likelihood the cyclist collided with the woman, not the other way around. We would probably instead write something like:
a woman was injured after being hit by a cyclist yesterday.
This choice of words makes clear that the blame lies neither with the bicycle itself, nor with the old woman, but with the person in control of that bicycle. Bicycles are capable of travelling at far faster (and more dangerous) speeds than pedestrians which means the onus falls naturally on the cyclist to avoid the pedestrian, rather than other way around. We can, therefore, relatively safely assume in the case of most collisions that the cyclist was at fault; he or she was probably going too fast, or trying to overtake too close to the pedestrian in question. Obviously this will not be the case all of the time, but we can understand why newspapers, bloggers, and the general public might, in the absence of more detailed knowledge of who was at fault, report such an event in this way.

All of these arguments could be applied to collision between bicycles and motor vehicles.

Motor vehicles are capable of going far faster than bicycles. They are also, crucially, capable of doing fatally larger amounts of damage. If you cycle into a lorry you may get a few bruises, but you're unlikely to seriously injure yourself. If drive a lorry into a cyclist you will almost certainly kill them. Therefore, it is relatively safe to assume that in most collisions - especially fatal ones - that the motorist was at fault in some way (and this is supported many statistical studies, including figures released in May by Westminster Council). Moreover, even in the rare cases when the motorist is not at all at fault, it is still the motorist's momentum and force that will lead to the death of the person on the bike. In which case sentences like this seem ridiculous:
three-year-old boy dies after collision with a truck.
A three-year-old boy is not going to die if he runs into a truck. He will only die if the truck runs over him. Surely this sentence is therefore an insult to that young boy's memory, because it makes the boy sound completely responsible for his own death?

We've been taught to use language in this heartless manner by a motor lobby and government that is continually seeking to normalise the deaths and serious injuries that are daily caused by motorists in this country. For instance, 1,901 people died in road accidents in Britain in 2011 alone. By contrast, between 2001 and May 2012 a total of (only) 414 British military personnel have died on operations in Afghanistan. That means almost five times as many British people died in one year on our streets, than in over a decade in Afghanistan.

Is the life of someone killed by motor traffic worth less than someone killed in Afghanistan? Why don't we care about 1,901 people being killed on our streets every year?

We don't care because people being killed by cars and HGVs is constantly normalised in our society as something to be expected, or even embraced. The newspapers rarely report it, and if they do they use language - as demonstrated above - that places the blame with the victim even as the event is being reported. We would never write, 'soldier dies after collision with a bullet'. But, sickeningly, we do write, 'boy dies after collision with a truck'.This makes us accept that people must be killed on our roads as a fact of life, when it fact it isn't. British roads don't have to be as they are. Dutch roads are around seven times safer cyclists than those in the UK, and if we had Dutch levels of road safety for cyclists in this country, around 80 of the 118 people killed cycling in Britain in 2012 (our 'Olympic' year) might still be alive.

Part of creating this change lies, I believe, in de-normalising road traffic deaths, and making them appear as they are. Namely, as the direct result (whether criminally careless or not) of those in control of the automobiles that kill people, rather than as unavoidable acts of nature. Therefore, instead of:
three-year-old boy dies after collision with a truck.
It is more correct write:
three-year-old boy dies after being run over by a truck driver.
Put in these terms, this event feels far less necessary. We want to do something about it. We want to fix things and prevent three-year-old boys being run over by truck drivers. Obviously, this is exactly how the freight and motor industry don't want us to think because it will make us demand higher (and more expensive) standards of safety equipment from lorries and motor vehicles using our roads, whether or not the driver in question is convicted of dangerous driving. It will make us demand lower speed limits in our towns and cities, because we don't want young children being run over by truck drivers, even if the child was at fault. It will make us demand higher standards of driver training from those who use vehicles that continually maim and kill us.

The sentence 'three-year-old boy dies after being run over by a truck driver' might sound unnecessarily harsh on the driver in question, but it's what actually happened. The only reason it sounds harsh is because we have been programmed to understand deaths due to road traffic accidents as an inescapable part of modern living, rather than the direct, avoidable responsibility of the motorist concerned. Which they are. If the motorist had driven differently, and/or the road itself had been designed differently, the vast majority of those that are killed on our roads wouldn't be killed. So when we report these events why shouldn't we describe what actually happened?

Therefore, in reporting new fatalities on our roads, we should at all costs avoid a language that has been conditioned onto us by a powerful motor lobby and motor-centric governments. Jasmine Gardner recently wrote a pro-segregated cycling piece in Evening Standard. There was a huge amount to commend in this article, particularly 'the idea that segregated cycle lanes wouldn't work in London is just nonsense'. However, I did notice that even Jasmine Gardner felt obliged to write:
Alan Neve was run down by a tipper truck at High Holborn.
Now, driverless cars do exist (in California). However, this tipper truck was not one of them. The above sentence is incorrect. We've been taught to write and think this way to prevent us from calling for road safety measures that might negatively affect the profitability of the extended motor industry. The correct way to report this event would be:
Alan Neve was run down by a tipper truck driver at High Holborn.
Or, better still:
Alan Neve was run over and killed by the driver of a tipper truck at High Holborn.
Alan Neve has just been killed (bringing the total number of Londoners killed on bikes since Boris Johnson became Mayor in 2008 to 69), and it is important for cycling and safe-streets campaigner to avoid the kind of language which pretends the vehicles killing and maiming those on our streets are magically driverless.

In the extremely rare case of serious collisions between pedestrians and those on bikes we don't write, 'pensioner hit by a bicycle'. Regardless of who was at fault, we would usually write 'pensioner hit by cyclist' or 'pensioner hit by man on a bike'. This makes sense.

Why shouldn't this phrasing also make sense when motorists kill and maim those on bikes? i.e:
Person on a bike killed by driver of car/bus/lorry/HGV/tipper truck.
Or, for headline-friendly brevity:

Car/bus/lorry/HGV/tipper truck driver kills person riding bike.

Just to be clear, I'm not saying cyclists are never responsible for road traffic accidents. I'm saying:
  1. regardless of who is the 'guilty party', it is manifestly the motor vehicle driving into a bicycle, rather than a bicycle cycling into a motor vehicle, that leads to people being killed
  2. driverless vehicles do not exist in UK
Our use of the English language must reflect this.


I found the TED talk below by Mikael Colville-Andersen (also known as Copenhagenize) and this article by AsEasyAsRidingABike helpful in formulating this post.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

TfL have been avoiding a 'knee-jerk' reaction after the death of every single one of the 69 Londoners killed on a bike by motorists since Boris Johnson took office as our 'cycling' Mayor in 2008.

Speaking about the tragic, avoidable, and needless death of Alan Neve, the head of Transport for London's (TfL's) Surface Transport, Leon Daniels, said that he wanted to avoid a 'knee-jerk' reaction to make things safer for those cycling.

The thing is, TfL has been avoiding a 'knee-jerk' reaction to make our streets less inhumane ever since it was formally constituted as a government body in 2000.

More shockingly, Boris Johnson, our 'cycling' Mayor, has been avoiding a 'knee-jerk' reaction ever since he first took office five years ago in 2008.

Here is a list of all 69 of the Londoners killed by drivers of motor traffic while choosing to cycle in London since May 2008 (full database here, courtesy of icycleliverpool). After each single one of these Londoners was killed on the road, TfL choose to continue to promote cycling as a mode of transport they wish to encourage, but simultaneously to blindly avoid doing any kind of 'knee-jerk' reaction that might have resulted in the physical segregation of motorists from the cyclists they routinely kill and maim on brutal London roads.

23 Jun 2008 - Lucinda Ferrier - Hackney
09 Aug 2008 - Massimo Pradel - Brent
18 Sep 2008 - Graham Thwaites - Bromley
18 Sep 2008 - Nick Wright - City of London
24 Sep 2008 - Wan-Chen McGuiness - Camden
20 Oct 2008 - Syed Mohammed Sajjad Bilgrami - Wandsworth
17 Nov 2008 - Unknown - Ealing
26 Nov 2008 - Michael Fletcher - Hounslow
24 Dec 2008 - Malcolm Boswell - Enfield
24 Dec 2008 - Natalie Lee - Barking and Dagenham
13 Jan 2009 - Unknown - Newham
05 Feb 2009 - Eilidh Cairns - Kensington and Chelsea
08 Apr 2009 - Meryem Ozekman - Southwark
09 Apr 2009 - Rebecca Goosen - Islington
15 May 2009 - Adrianna Skrzypiec - Greenwich
30 May 2009 - Khaleel Rheman - Newham
12 Jun 2009 - Maria Emma Garcia Fernandez - City of London
29 Jun 2009 - Catriona Patel - Lambeth
05 Jul 2009 - Christopher Durand - Ealing
16 Sep 2009 - Chrystelle Brown - Tower Hamlets
20 Oct 2009 - Tanya Van Der Loo - Westminster
11 Nov 2009 - Dorothy Rose Elder - Camden
05 Dec 2009 - Robert Domienik - Surrey
07 Dec 2009 - Stella Chandler - Greenwich
08 Jan 2010 - Sayit Huseyin - Islington
04 Feb 2010 - Patrick Gorman - Camden
09 Feb 2010 - David Vilaseca - Southwark
09 Mar 2010 - Muhammed Haris Ahmed - Southwark
10 Mar 2010 - Shivon Watson - Hackney
14 Apr 2010 - Jayne Helliwell - Westminster
26 Apr 2010 - Zoe Sheldrake - Barnet
22 May 2010 - Everton Smith - Westminster
20 Jul 2010 - Rajaendran Ramakrishnan - Harrow
05 Aug 2010 - Arina Romanova - Hackney
06 Jan 2011 - Gary Mason - Sutton
02 Feb 2011 - Daniel Cox - Hackney
10 Mar 2011 - Tom Barrett - Hillingdon
22 Mar 2011 - David Poblet - Southwark
05 Apr 2011 - Paula Jurek - Camden
22 Apr 2011 - Gavin Taylor - Islington
28 Apr 2011 - Naoko Miyazaki - Hammersmith and Fulham
17 May 2011 - Thomas Stone - Barking and Dagenham
29 May 2011 - Michael Evans - Bromley
21 Jun 2011 - Peter McGreal - Tower Hamlets
31 Jul 2011 - Johannah Bailey - Lambeth
06 Aug 2011 - Samuel Harding - Islington
03 Oct 2011 - Min Joo Lee - Camden
24 Oct 2011 - Brian Dorling - Tower Hamlets
11 Nov 2011 - Svitlana Tereschenko - Tower Hamlets
02 Dec 2011 - Eleanor Carey - Southwark
07 Jan 2012 - James Darby - Bromley
03 Feb 2012 - Henry Warwick - City of London
05 Mar 2012 - Ali Nasralla - Kingston upon Thames
23 Mar 2012 - Olatunji Adeyanju - Lewisham
27 Mar 2012 - Frank Mugisha - Haringey
29 Apr 2012 - Zakiyuddin Mamujee - Hillingdon
26 Jun 2012 - Redwan Uddin - Newham
05 Jul 2012 - Tarsem Dari - Ealing
10 Jul 2012 - Neil Turner - Croydon
01 Aug 2012 - Dan Harris - Hackney
16 Oct 2012 - Hilary Lee - Barnet
29 Oct 2012 - Sofoklis Kostoulas - Tower Hamlets
19 Nov 2012 - Brian Florey - Barking and Dagenham
06 Dec 2012 - Javed Sumbal - Tower Hamlets
09 Feb 2013 - Edward Orrey - Leytonstone
08 Apr 2013 - Katharine Giles - Westminster
24 Jun 2013 - Paul Hutcheson - Lewisham
05 July 2013 - Phillipine De Gerin-Ricard - Tower Hamlets
15 July 2013 - Alan Neve - Camden

Saying that you want to avoid a 'knee-jerk' reaction implies that Alan Neve's death was some kind of freak one-off. It wasn't. Alan Neve's death was only the latest in a grim series of killings that have been going on for the last decade. These deaths have virtually all occurred at notable accident hotspots that TfL have previously been warned by the London Cycling Campaign (LCC) are incredibly dangerous for cyclists.

TfL aren't avoiding a 'knee-jerk' reaction. They're callously letting Londoners continue to be killed on our streets by criminally poor road design that leaves those that choose to cycle defenceless against drivers that habitually make mistakes and kill them.

Leon Daniels should resign. Immediately.


AsEasyAsRidingABike has written an extremely excellent post along similar(ish) lines available here.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Two Londoners killed in two weeks as a direct result of TfL and Boris Johnson's appalling and inhumane management of London's roads. We need dedicated safe cycle lanes and we need them before even more Londoners are killed. #space4cycling

Photo from the scene this morning where a Londoner was killed by a lorry driver while riding a bike through Holborn. Via @BezTweets
This morning another Londoner (later identified as Alan Neve) following TfL's advertising and choosing to go from A to B by bike was crushed to death under the wheels of a lorry; this time it was at Holborn, right in the heart of Central London.

TfL continue to prioritise 'traffic flow' over the safety cyclists, but don't seem to realise that the amount of congestion caused by serious collisions like these clogs up the road by far more than their inhumane 'traffic flow' policies speeds up traffic. The roads would be faster for everyone - including motor traffic - if safe, segregated cycle lanes were built.
Boris Johnson said after Philippine De Gerin-Richard was killed by a lorry driver while riding a Boris Bike at Aldgate earlier this month that instead of separating cyclists from fast-moving motor traffic (especially 20 tonne HGVs) the real way to stop the relentless killing and maiming of Londoners who choose to travel by bike was to simply get more cyclists on the streets:
"the thing that makes cycling safe in London, is when people have the confidence to do it in numbers; the more people [on bikes] you can get on the roads, the safer it's going to be for everybody."
As today's awful fatality shows, Boris Johnson was talking absolute crap.

Encouraging more cycling in London in current conditions will lead to more people like Philippine De Gerin-Ricard (who was a regular and experienced Boris Bike user) being needlessly crushed to death under the wheels of London's motor traffic. Photo via Evening Standard.

If you mix even more cyclists with deadly and irresponsibly driven motor vehicles and you simple find even more Londoners being killed by motorised traffic.

This is what we are seeing now.

Police are already investigating whether the absolutely atrocious road design of Cycle "Superhighway" 2 (on which three cyclists have been killed in the last two years) led to Philippine De Gerin-Richard being killed. This is because rather than building a segregated cycle lane at Aldgate - as is the norm in Tokyo, New York, and countless other major cities - TfL instead force cyclists and traffic to share a 'general traffic lane' which simply results in Londoners being squeezed to death under the wheels of 20 tonne lorries.

In Holborn, TfL have chosen to do exactly the same thing.

The safe (and illegal!) route for cyclists travelling from Theobald's Rd to Oxford Street is to travel down the contra-flow bus lane on Vernon Pl then Bloomsbury Way (pictured on googlemaps below). There is a 20mph limit here, little room to overtake and the buses are often slowing to stop at bus-stops, so cyclists are (by London's laughable standards) relatively safe.

View Larger Map

However, TfL and the Metropolitan Police force those choosing to travel by bike (and thus creating space for others on the tube etc.) to take a four-lane gyratory route through Holborn instead, fining those Londoners (like myself) who put safety first and actively avoid roads on which they could very well be killed.

Excellent illustration courtesy of Andy Waterman
As Andy Waterman explains about the route which TfL and Boris Johnson currently force cyclists to use:
"Going round involves dropping onto Holborn and negotiating four lanes of traffic. I've done it every day since [almost being fined for taking the safe route] and it makes even me, an experienced cyclist nervous. Motorbikes buzz you, taxis rush red lights to get through and huge trucks obliterate the view. It's hellish."
Today, another Londoner has died because not only have TfL consistently failed to build a safe cycle network through Central London, they have made it against the law to use the only relatively non-lethal route that exists.

I very much hope that TfL are prosecuted for manslaughter, both for the three Londoners killed on the Cycle "SuperHighway" 2, but also for this latest, avoidable, needless, tragic death.

In response, the London Cycling Campaign are holding a Protest Ride tomorrow (Tuesday 16 July) at 6.30pm starting at Russell Square.

If you are reading this, you really should attend.

Current plans for development of both Aldgate, Bayswater, and Haymarket include plans for virtually no segregated cycle lanes whatsoever, despite tens of millions of pounds being spent on each of these schemes and a TfL 'Cycling Vision' budget that is near £1 billion. It's a complete lie to say there isn't the money to make our roads safe for cycling. The authorities just need to stop designing them in ways that freely mix cyclists and lorries.

Unless you want to be the next Londoner to be crushed under the wheels of an HGV, you need to make it clear to the Mayoralty and local authorities that forcing cyclists to share 'general traffic lanes' with lethal and deadly motor traffic is no longer good enough.

2000 Londoners rode through Aldgate last Friday to protest at a lack of #space4cycling.
Boris Johnson's response: absolutely nothing. And another Londoner killed as a direct result of London's road design on Monday morning. Grim.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Please attend London's Protest Flashride this Friday at 6pm, Tower Hill; we need Londoners there to make change happen.

In the wake of two cycling fatalities in recent weeks - one in Lewishman, the other on Cycle "Superhighway" 2 in Aldgate - Londoners are calling on Boris Johnson, TfL, and local councils to actual cycle-only lanes along busy arterial routes to bring London's road design up to the international standard being set by New York, Paris, Tokyo, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Zurich, and Berlin.

This is not in any way 'cycle infrastructure'. This is just blue paint.
This is not a Cycle "SuperHighway". This is a pile of shit, built at incredible expense to the taxpayer (£2-£4million per mile)
There is plenty of space on London's main roads to create dedicated space for cycling. But Boris Johnson and local politicians have so far completely refused to create actual safe cycle infrastructure,  resorting instead to just putting some blue paint on the road.

This is what cycle lanes look like in Germany (picture is from Heidelberg). If the Germans can do it, why can't we?
In 2009, on the launch of the Cycle "SuperHighways" programme, Boris Johnson said:
“I'm not kidding when I say that I'm militant about cycling, and these Superhighways are central to the cycling revolution I'm determined to bring about. No longer will pedal power have to dance and dodge around petrol power - on these routes the bicycle will dominate and that will be clear to all others using them."
Unfortunately, Johnson clearly was kidding.

If you feel that cycling in London is dangerous, please come to Tower Hill at 6pm on Friday 12th July 2013 and make it clear to Boris Johnson and TfL that we need actions (not consultations) to stop the continual killing and maiming of Londoners travelling on a bike by drivers of motorised traffic.

Blackfriars Bridge flashride in 2011.
Flashride details
  • Meet 6pm for 6.15pm start at Tower Hill (where it meets Minories)
  • The protest ride will last approximately 20-30 minutes, including a brief stop at the junction of A11 Whitechapel Road and A1202 Commercial Street to pay respects at the place where last week's victim died
  • The ride will be marshalled by LCC staff and volunteers, and will finish at Altab Ali Park around 6.30pm
  • #Space4cycling
There is also a vigil at City Hall from 5.30 pm in memory of recent lorry deaths, including the pedestrian killed by a lorry driver in Fulham on Monday.

Friday's Flashride is also supported by the Evening Standard

I will be attending the vigil at City Hall at 5.30pm, and then the protest ride at Tower Hill 6pm.

Will you be there too?


BBC News reporting on the first person on a Boris Bike to be killed by motorised traffic in London (and the third person to be killed by Cycle "SuperHighway" 2):

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...

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.