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Safer cycling is a matter of good design

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Sort it out Boris, says Christine Murray

As a London cyclist in my sixth month of pregnancy, it has been a difficult two weeks. Not the pedalling - that’s actually the most pleasant way to travel - it’s the tragic news of cycling deaths combined with the mounting concern of friends and colleagues: ‘You cycle in London? But it’s so dangerous!’
And, yes, it is clearly dangerous. As we went to press, another London cyclist was killed - the sixth in less than a fortnight. Five of the cyclists were killed in accidents involving a lorry, bus or coach, including architecture expert Francis Golding (AJ 15.11.13), and three of the deaths occurred on or just off the Cycle Superhighway 2 (CS2) - London mayor Boris Johnson’s flagship bike path in the East End.

How did Johnson respond? He blamed the cyclists, saying: ‘You can see that people have taken decisions that really did put their life in danger.’ The statistics, however, prove him wrong. According to Transport for London (TfL), just 6 per cent of killed or badly injured cyclists were hurt because they broke the law.

What is dangerous is the design of CS2 itself, which is nothing but a streak of blue paint that meanders hazardously through London. Not ridden it? Check out the photos on departmentfortransport.wordpress.com - it would be funny if it weren’t so tragic. A comedy approach to cycle path design is widespread in Britain - from bike paths that run straight into curbs, to the flagship path in Bloomsbury that crosses into oncoming bike traffic. All British cycle paths need investment in better planning and design.

And then there’s the lorries. HGVs were involved in nine of this year’s 14 London cycling deaths. Safety side guards are still not mandatory on lorries. Olympian and British Cycling policy adviser Chris Boardman is calling for a ban on HGVs during rush hour. But Boris has said no - he’s not convinced, instead whinging boisterously to Vanessa Feltz on BBC London about the ‘absolute scourge’ of cyclists wearing headphones. In fact, Paris has introduced restrictions on lorries, and there were no deaths of cyclist there last year (headphones notwithstanding).

Wake up, Boris, to what is simply a question of good design and invest your apparently ‘thick end of £1 billion’ dedicated to safer cycling in the infrastructure and traffic engineering of a London fit for the future. London traffic is a mess - ask any black cab driver and they will tell you so. The current plan (or lack thereof) rewards aggressive cycling in a way that well-designed bike paths with a considered approach to junctions don’t. Indeed, a leaked report in 2007 by TfL claimed that timid cyclists, who obey red lights, are more likely to collide with goods vehicles in London because, by jumping the light, alpha cyclists are noticed by the driver. This sounds like something an advanced traffic signal for bikes could fix, meaning everyone could relax and behave.

The fact that cycling has increased by 173 per cent since 2001 in this city should be a good thing: it is sustainable; it reduces the volume of cars on the road, easing congestion; it is economical and healthier; it makes sense. It should not be dangerous.


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Readers' comments (1)

  • cycling in London is not dangerous. Statistically its safer than cycling on the pavement where 39 people died last year. Its down to motorists to keep off their phones, respect distance, keep out of our poorly marked starter strips and cycle lanes at lights, any maybe kick motorcyclists back out of bus lanes once more.
    Fining bad cyclists might raise our image with pedestrians and motorists too.

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