Mayor faces growing pressure on cycle safety in the capital
by tony_farrelly on November 14, 2011
Saturday’s tour of London’s most 10 dangerous junctions attracted over 300 riders and the attention of politicians, press and TV news crews from across the capital. The ride, organised by London bloggers Danny Williams of Cyclists in the City and Mark Ames of ibikelondon was designed to highlight what Transport for London itself has identified as the 10 most dangerous junctions in London and to force politicians and transport planners to do something to make them safer it certainly managed that with a headline piece on the BBC’s London regional news and the presence of numerous politicians.
The ride, dubbed The Tour du Danger attracted a real cross section of London’s cycling community from Lycra-clad riders on drop bar road bikes right across the spectrum to those perhaps making a particular statement by riding on Boris bikes. In an irony that can only be described as grim it was one of the junctions not on the ride, the Bow Road roundabout, that was highest in everybody’s minds following the death of a woman cyclist there on Friday evening – the second cycling fatality there in less than three weeks – a minute’s silence was held in her memory.
Before the Tour du Danger set off from St Mark’s Church at the Oval In Kennington, Mark Ames addressed the assembled cyclists:
“The reason we’re here today – and the reason why I hope you’ve all come – is because none of us should have to fight to make our way to work. None of us should feel afraid taking our children to school, whether that’s by foot or by bicycle. Designing public spaces which exclude people on the basis of their ability – that is to say those of us who aren’t able to cycle like Mark Cavendish around the Elephant and Castle roundabout – is designing in danger, and designing in inequality. Personally, I find that unacceptable. This week, Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, said he thought the Elephant and Castle roundabout was perfectly negotiable by bike so long as you kept your wits about you. I do not believe that the 89 cyclists who have been killed or seriously injured in the past 2 years on this junction did not keep their wits about them. I believe that these places are inherently dangerous, and it is negligent in the extreme not to act and ensure that these urban spaces are remedied as urgently as possible.”
As you’d expect you can read full accounts of Saturday’s rides on both ibikelondon and Cyclists in the City, there’s also a great set of pictures on Mark’s flickr page.
That there is political momentum behind doing something about the rate of cycle casualties in the city was underlined by the presence on the ride of Liberal Democrat MP for Bermondsey, Simon Hughes. He was joined by Caroline Pidgeon, head of the Lib Dems in the London Assembly and the Liberal Democrat candidate in next year’s London Mayoral elections, while Labour AM John Biggs, who represents Bow, scene of London’s two most recent cycling fatalities, also lent his support to the ride as did a number of other Assembly Members.
Indeed the ride and the events of the past two weeks seem to be having an effect. Speaking yesterday on London’s LBC 97.3 ( and quoted on the SE1 blog) where he was co-hosting a show with Ken Livingstone, former Conservative Mayoral candidate Steve Norris, who was appointed to the board of TfL by Boris Johnson said this while interviewing Caroline Pidegeon about the Tour du Danger:
“I understand exactly what you mean at Elephant. I used to cycle through Elephant when I lived in Camberwell myself and it was always dangerous.”
He added: “Everybody’s been trying to humanise the Elephant but … it’s clearly not safe enough.
“I agree with you, it’s a real priority for us. Isn’t it true that the one thing that puts people off cycling is that they say ‘it’s not safe enough’?
“We’ve got to make sure that we eliminate that so that more people can get on their bikes and lower our carbon emissions, humanise themselves, make themselves fitter and so on.”
Steve Norris also agreed with Ms Pidgeon’s comments that no more of the Mayor’s Cycle Superhighways should be launched before a review of the existing ones has taken place.
Mr Norris’s comments leave the Mayor looking ever more isolated on this subject.
He had he restated his position last week when he told a committee of London Assembly Members that in his opinion changing the design of junctions was not the best way to increase cycle safety in the capital – that’s when the “wits about them” comment was made.
The Mayor’s preferred solution to improving cycling safety in the capital involves more and better cycle awareness training for lorry drivers and getting more haulage fleet operators to sign up to TfL’s voluntary code of conduct.
The Mayor now finds himself between a rock and a hard place. Clearly unwilling to offend London’s drivers, his much trumpeted “Cycling Revolution” has brought new cyclists on to the city’s streets in vast numbers, but blue paint aside no real infrastructure has been put in place to ensure their safety. Or to put it another way, he hasn’t built it and they’ve come anyway.
The Mayor’s fear is clearly that making the necessary changes to London’s streets required to keep his fellow cyclists safe risks offending the motoring public whom he has done so much to court with measures such as the abolition of the western extension of the London congestion charging zone.
Moreover, at last week’s question session both Mr Johnson and TfL made much of their wish not to disrupt traffic flow.
Worse still following two death at the eastern end of Cycle Superhighway CS2 one of his flagship cycling policies stands accused of being not just unsafe, but lethally so.
With a mayoral election next year and the numbers of cyclists on London’s roads continuing to grow, this is a subject that is not going away – if anything, it will grow, due to the role that social media such as Twitter, Facebook and bloggers are playing in communicating news, highlighting issues and co-ordinating action.
Certainly, the organisers of Saturday’s ride will be doing their bit to ensure it doesn’t – they’ve already promised more such rides to come.