Why is Boris doing nothing about bicycle deaths?


10:01 am - November 20th 2011

by Jim Jepps    


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“If Transport for London’s roads were a factory it would have been closed down with this number of deaths and accidents.” So said Hampstead resident Tom Kearney at a Road Safety hearing last week.

We were treated to the spectacle of otherwise straightlaced councillors laying into the powers that be.

Some even suggested TfL executives should be charged with corporate manslaughter for their alleged negligence.

While no one can prevent every accident, the fact is a number of dangerous junctions are a genuine hazard to (primarily) cyclists, and neither Boris Johnson nor Transport for London are taking them seriously.

They believe the priority has to be ‘to keep traffic flowing’.

The two recent fatal accidents of cyclists at the Bow roundabout stem directly from the mishandling of the so-called Cycle Superhighway.

You and I might just see a bit of blue paint on the road with no actual dedicated space for cyclists but to Boris and TfL we have a key plank in their cycling infrastructure.

These deaths both occured in the exact same spot where the blue paint stops and the cyclist is dumped into the midst of some of the most feral, aggressive driving you’ll witness in London with no space to call their own.

Boris has refused to address this because it a) means accepting all is not well with his high profile blue paint and b) he is avowedly opposed to anything that he thinks might slow down cars, even if it costs lives.

Cyclists went out last weekend and took part in a ‘tour du danger‘ of the ten most dangerous junctions in London to highlight these hot spots. How many years are these concerns going to be raised with no action taken?

It’s extremely troubling that we have a Mayor and transport authority who have prioritised keeping Red Routes flowing and Olympic routes over the needs of road users who don’t happen to be motorised.

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About the author
Jim Jepps is a socialist in the Green Party and formerly blogged at the Daily (Maybe). He currently writes on London politics, community and the environment at Big Smoke.
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Reader comments


Jim Jepps,

Without wishing to appear calous I’d like to ask how many of these deaths are at road junctions where young cyclist attempt to overtake lorries on the inside whilst they are turning left? I have witnessed it twice in the last year – it is a terrible waste of life but in some cases caused by cyclists taking chances.

The road junctions you refer to are confusing but there’s nothing to stop cyclists dismounting and walking until the cycle lane resumes.

Corporate manslaughter “my arse” to paraphrase Jim Royale.

C’mon. These days Boris is very preoccupied with foreign policy issues. He has attacked Cameron for his proposals on how o deal with the Eurozone crisis:

“In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph the London Mayor hit out at Mr Cameron’s call for the European Central Bank to deploy a “big bazooka” – effectively printing money – to help bail out the stricken economies in the south of the continent. Mr Johnson also attacked plans, backed by the British government, for the 17 eurozone countries to share closer fiscal links, making them more unified on tax and spending.”
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/conservative/8901765/Boris-Johnson-
warns-that-David-Camerons-bazooka-plan-will-wreck-democracy-in-EU.html

That’s what happens when someone with a Classics degree starts pontificating about economics issues. Buffoon Johnson is best advised to begin by reading the FT.

Jim

Thanks for raising this. I hadn’t read news of these two latest deaths, which I guess were only reported in London.

My father was killed when I was kid, in very similar circumstances by a lorry turning left across his path at a junction, so I’ve kept an eye on development in this area of road safety over the years.

The Road Safety Bill 2011, introduced (under 10 minute rule) by Alan Leith MP after similar deaths in his constituency, has its second reading in the Commons on Friday 25th November http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2010-2012/0191/cbill_2010-20120191_en_2.htm#l1g1

The bill focuses on improvements to safety equipment to HGVs so that left-side blind spots are removed, though it looks like in these two cases the it is the road layout design that is as much or more to blame – I don’t know the details.

The bill makes good sense in itself, but it may still be possible in the time available (or in time for Lords’ amendments) for a recognised cycle lobby group to lobby for amendments which would allow later regulation to be expanded to highways infrastructure issues as well as the equipments in/on a lorry, in light of the details of these two accidents (and perhaps others in London).

As for an MP willing to put such an amendment (in agreement with Alan Leith), there is the list of supporters of the original 2010 Early Day Motion ‘Cyclists’ Safety And Heavy Goods Vehicles’ to look through. Emily Thornberry (Lab) from Islington seconded that EDM (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2010-2012/0191/cbill_2010-20120191_en_2.htm#l1g1) so she may be willing, as of course may Caroline Lucas from your party.

While I’m not close enough to comment on the specfics of Johnson’s stupidity, it may be interesting to note that of the 114 signatures on that EDM, 7 were Tory signatures, so that may tell us something about Tory attitudes

I

I understand that a number of these deaths were caused by lorries turning left and crushing cyclists, but it’s unfair to assume that the cyclists were overtaking on the inside. They may have been overtaken or they may have moved to the front of a stationary queue, which can be a legitimate manouvre.

There is a real problem trying to mix cars, large vehicles and bicycles on busy roads. The benefits to all from having fewer cars and more bikes make sense and has been ancouraged by successive administrations. They therefore have a duty to ensure that roads are safe as possible for those who choose to cycle. Boris has failed to do so.

If junctions need to be redeveloped better for cyclists then I would support that, but as someone who was driving vans and trucks in central London recently, to me it felt like the numbers of cyclists were just overwhelming during the rush hours. Trafalgar Square was terrible as was the Elephant and Castle roundabouts.
And in the slow and hardly moving traffic queues coming up from south London towards the bridges, cyclists were just pouring past on the inside and the outside, and every time you moved you had to make sure a cyclist hadn’t snuck up right underneath your blind spots. Many of these commuter cyclists ignore cycle lanes that take them away from their fastest line and are just trying to keep up their speed.

Make all of London a congestion zone and double the congestion charge.

Kojak would do well to inform himself better. Many incidents (both deaths and injuries) involve older cyclists, and when you see junctions like Bow, which effectively force cyclists to play chicken with traffic (watch the video of Bow junction here: http://ibikelondon.blogspot.com/2011/11/victory-of-sorts-review-ordered-of.html) then you might consider that Boris’ approach to cycling – asking vulnerable road users to have to face down cars and trucks just to be able to safely proceed – is doomed to failure beyond certain point of modal share.

Cyclists undertaking left turning trucks is absolutely unwise, but perhaps Kojak should ask himself how often he sees cars and trucks passing dangerously close to cyclists (or indeed pedestrians). Because when those incidents go wrong, it’s never the car driver who ends up mangled under a vehicle …

I wrote this a couple of days ago and think it’s important to point to a developments that have occurred in the meantime (bad timing, but as it’s good news I’ll not complain).

The enormous pressure people have been putting on the Mayor and TfL has led to a review of the extremely dangerous Bow junction. Read more at Snipe and Cycle London City.

There’s also this from the Tower Hamlet’s Mayor that people might be interested in; Mayor Lutfur Rahman.

The Cycle Superhighways are a big waste of money. They’re badly thought through and for those people who aren’t competent road cyclists, they’re a disaster waiting to happen. Motorists also ignore them…then again, motorists will even park in compulsory cycle lanes (the ones that have the single solid white line).
http://buddyhell.wordpress.com/2011/05/22/those-cycle-superhighways-arent-they-brilliant-not-really/

I think there is a real problem with blaming cyclists for their deaths an it’s two fold.

Firstly it does not explain why these deaths are concentrated into a handful of particular places.

Secondly it ignores the fact that road safety has to take account for the errors people make on the roads whether in a lorry, bus or cycling. We’re all imperfect but most of the time when we do something silly on the road the most that will happen is someone else mutters under their breath “silly idiot”.

Making an error on the road most of the time i neither here nor there but at a dangerous junction it increases the likelihood of death. Unless we think people who make split second errors of judgment deserve to die then those hot spots still need to be addressed because they are used by people not road safety manuals

Can you explain how TfL holding an urgent review into the Bow Junction – and expanding it to include all super-highway junctions is “doing nothing”?

12. Chaise Guevara

@ 8 Jim Jepps

“Making an error on the road most of the time i neither here nor there but at a dangerous junction it increases the likelihood of death. Unless we think people who make split second errors of judgment deserve to die then those hot spots still need to be addressed because they are used by people not road safety manuals”

Hang on, there’s a difference between a split-second error of judgement and putting yourself at risk by deliberately breaking the rules that were put there for your safety. I agree bike routes need to be safer, but regardless of how safe we make them (short of building a bike route network that is as extensive as the road network, and completely separate from it) some people will take stupid risks to save themselves time, and will be killed in a way that can’t be blamed on drivers or planning authorities.

Cycling was my main mode of transport as a teenager, and I used to take stupid risks both on and off-road. I didn’t deserve to die for that, but if I HAD gotten myself killed it would have been entirely my fault.

The problem at TfL is that the Transport for London Road Network (TLRN) is managed for the benefit of vehicular traffic while pedestrian and cycle flows/delays are not even measured. Indeed, TLRN managers have their performance measured on vehicular flow and delay only. The definition of traffic includes pedestrian and cyclist flows, but TfL under Boris ignore this and we are seeing the tragic consequences.

I wouldn’t complain so much about keeping red routes flowing though – keeps the buses moving. However there is no need for any traffic to flow faster than 20mph even on main roads. Capacity at junctions means that vehicle journey times would not be increased by slowing down to 20mph driving between traffic lights.

We need a complete cultural shift on London’s streets. Streets should be valued as precious public space and not left unthinkingly as motor-way-like transport corridors. We should bring back more zebra crossings, give pedestrians and cyclists more priority and introduce a default 20mph limit on roads where people live, shop and work. We are looking at both an obesity epidemic and an air pollution crisis. Changing our priorities on the roads might both reduce the death toll and start to make London more liveable.

@13 – absolutely.

I’d love to visit Copenhagen, which is apparently a cyclist’s dream. Something like 1/3 of people cycle to their place of work / school – can you imagine something similar in London?

I think Elephant and Castle needs to be redesigned to be more cycle friendly.

At the moment I think it is not safe for cyclists.

Tim re comment 7:

I told you about two deaths of cyclists I have witnessed and you replied that I should inform myself better. If this subject wasn’t so tragic your comment would be really funny.

It is because motorists are protected by the mass of their vehicles that cyclists, and pedestrians for that matter, should take extra care and anticipate danger rather than depend upon the vigilance of motorists to protect them from harm. The odds are stacked firmly against cyclists and to complain that motorists suffer less harm in these accidents is a pointless comment.

Kojak –

Which deaths are you referring to?

Didn’t take long on here to find out why Boris is doing nothing. Its because protecting cyclists has no votes and their lives do not matter to the nasty anti cyclist right wing press. The usual callous comments pop out even on an enlightened site such as this.

Cyclists should be automatically given the right of way in this country as they are on the continent.

I have three licences. PCV, Motorbike and car and cyclists are relegate to the mere dispensible in this country.

19. Chaise Guevara

@ 18

“Cyclists should be automatically given the right of way in this country as they are on the continent.”

Not sure that’s a great idea, as they’re a) slower and b) tend to come up on your blind side when undertaking. What we really need is better cycle lanes – there were none where I grew up, and where I live now, cyclists are expected to share a lane with loads of buses, which isn’t great.

@ chaise

Better cycle lanes is ideal, but priority needs to be given to cyclist in order to encourage people out of their cars. People don’t feel safe.

Priority at junctions would mean cars simply would have to look for them.,

21. Chaise Guevara

@ 20

“Priority at junctions would mean cars simply would have to look for them”

Here’s the problem: the law wouldn’t translate into actual behaviour. For obvious reasons, cyclists are far more aware of drivers than vice versa. The vast majority of the time, when you’re driving you don’t have to worry about looking out for very small vehicles that can undertake you when you’re turning left. So not looking becomes routine, regardless of what the Highway Code says.

Drivers already routinely stop in those bike-only boxes in front of traffic lights. Giving priority to bikes at junctions would not suddenly make all drivers very conscientious about looking out for cyclists. I suspect what it WOULD lead to is cyclists being more likely to push forward – what with it being their right of way – and then getting run over by a driver who forgot to look.

I’m not saying that the idea is inherently wrong, or that drivers should trump cyclists, just that I suspect that it would lead to more casualties, not fewer. Knowing that you were legally in the right is small comfort when you’re in hospital with a severed spine.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

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  2. Shazia Yamin

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  3. Jon Mark Deane

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  6. Bill Dishington

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  7. ahbess

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  8. Hugo Collingridge

    (rt @libcon Why is Boris doing nothing about bicycle deaths? http://t.co/wLVLRSwn ) not just Boris …….

  9. Jim Jepps

    My piece on London cycle safety. More in comments; RT @libcon Why is Boris doing nothing about bicycle deaths? http://t.co/I7ujwNHR

  10. Camden Green Party

    My piece on London cycle safety. More in comments; RT @libcon Why is Boris doing nothing about bicycle deaths? http://t.co/I7ujwNHR

  11. natalieben

    My piece on London cycle safety. More in comments; RT @libcon Why is Boris doing nothing about bicycle deaths? http://t.co/I7ujwNHR

  12. Janet Graham

    Why is Boris doing nothing about bicycle deaths? http://t.co/fLdHqF8Z

  13. Bill Linton

    My piece on London cycle safety. More in comments; RT @libcon Why is Boris doing nothing about bicycle deaths? http://t.co/I7ujwNHR

  14. Wesley Rykalski

    My piece on London cycle safety. More in comments; RT @libcon Why is Boris doing nothing about bicycle deaths? http://t.co/I7ujwNHR

  15. Caroline Allen

    RT @Jim_Jepps My piece on London cycle safety. RT @libcon Why is Boris doing nothing about bicycle deaths? http://t.co/hnEsUMp5

  16. Charlie Kiss

    Well said! @Jim_Jepps piece on London cycle safety. More in comments; Why is Boris doing nothing about bicycle deaths? http://t.co/eRWvjvKW

  17. Greg Sheppard

    Why is Boris doing nothing about bicycle deaths? http://t.co/fLdHqF8Z

  18. George Lindsay-W

    Great post from @Jim_Jepps on cycle safety and Boris' failed cycle super highways http://t.co/PFjBcAP8

  19. London Pedal Pushers

    Great post from @Jim_Jepps on cycle safety and Boris' failed cycle super highways http://t.co/PFjBcAP8

  20. Alex Braithwaite

    Why is Boris doing nothing about bicycle deaths? | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/YbosDiBZ via @libcon

  21. Blackfriars Bridge

    Well said! @Jim_Jepps piece on London cycle safety. More in comments; Why is Boris doing nothing about bicycle deaths? http://t.co/eRWvjvKW

  22. Blackfriars Bridge

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  23. Tiffany Miller

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  24. Flatism

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  25. Flatism

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  26. Stephen Carter

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  27. CycleStreets

    My piece on London cycle safety. More in comments; RT @libcon Why is Boris doing nothing about bicycle deaths? http://t.co/I7ujwNHR

  28. catherine mack

    My piece on London cycle safety. More in comments; RT @libcon Why is Boris doing nothing about bicycle deaths? http://t.co/I7ujwNHR

  29. Ed Everett

    "If London’s roads were a factory it would have been closed down with this number of deaths and accidents." http://t.co/699MfWCw

  30. Dawn Foster

    My piece on London cycle safety. More in comments; RT @libcon Why is Boris doing nothing about bicycle deaths? http://t.co/I7ujwNHR

  31. cyclistsinthecity

    'It’s troubling Mayor & transport authority prioritise Red & Olympic routes over needs of non-motorised road users ' http://t.co/m7lNuQjP

  32. The Road Safety Act 2011: a small personal plea « Though Cowards Flinch

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  34. Jonathan Shenfield

    Why is Boris doing nothing about bicycle deaths? http://t.co/BE3GhlOp via @libcon





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