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Where is the Mayor to Soothe Cycle Death Anger?

I can't remember such palpable anger about cycling in London before.  People have stopped me in the street to express their dismay.  I've had a torrent of calls from friends telling of their disbelief.  On the internet there's been a flood of messages asking "When is the Mayor going to act?"

 Police investigators at Bow, following the fatal collision between an HGV and 24 year old Venera Minakhmetova on her bicycle.

In just ten days in London, five people have been killed whilst cycling.  A further four pedestrians have also lost their lives.  Three of those cycling deaths took place on or near Cycle Superhighway 2 where five people have now lost their lives riding since 2011.  One of those deaths was on Bow roundabout where three cyclists have died in collisions involving lorries in two years, on a road layout a Corononer recently described as "confusing" and "an accident waiting to happen".

We don't know yet what happened in each of the deaths over the past 2 weeks, but we do know they all involved large vehicles and most took place on roads or junctions which are known to have a history of cycle collisions.  And what was the Mayor's response?

Clearly perturbed by the negative publicity he was receiving and under pressure, he told LBC Radio:  "There's no question of blame or finger-pointing. That doesn't work in these circumstances...But unless people obey the laws of the road and people actively take account of the signals that we put in, there's no amount of traffic engineering that we invest in that is going to save people's lives."

Boris launching the first substantially segregated cycle superhighway in Straford recently. (Picture; Lucy Young, Evening Standard)

There is a suggestion that one of the cyclists who recently died was on the wrong side of the road at the time of his fatal collision, but poor cyclist's behaviour does not explain away the other deaths, or indeed the raft of fatalities that have happened in London since Boris came to power.

As I told BBC London news; "This is a leadership crisis for Boris Johnson.  He's been encouraging people to cycle in London for 5 years now.  In that time, nearly 80 people have been killed.  
It's not a question of reckless behaviour; people aren't throwing themselves in to the path of danger for fun.  It's a problem with specific kinds of large vehicles, and it's a problem with specific junctions which we know to be dangerous."

If that sounds a bit harsh in the face of Boris being the "cycling Mayor" who clearly understands what a good thing bikes can be, let's take a moment to reflect on what has gone on over the past few years.  As Cyclists in the City blog skillfully outlines, and as the below BBC news package highlights, the cycle superhighways - where 6 riders have lost their lives so far - were this Mayor's initiative.

At their launch in 2009 Boris boasted of his blue lanes "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. That should transform the experience of cycling - boosting safety and confidence of everyone using the routes..."

At Bow roundabout, the London Cycling Campaign were so concerned about road danger there that they recommended the superhighway be re-routed elsewhere.  Transport for London's own consultants expressed very grave concern about the suitability of the site, but were ignored.  A habit of ignorance was to permeate all of Transport for London's cycling plans, as previously highlighted on this blog (and this one), and countless cyclists deaths were foreseen and avoidable. 

Of the problems with Heavy Goods Vehicles that have plagued London's cyclists for decades, and which are responsible for the majority of deaths in our city, Boris Johnson first talked about introducing a peak time ban three years ago.  "[A central London lorry ban would] stop polluting heavy goods vehicles travelling through London and make a real difference" he said in 2010.  

Since then, nothing.

Cycle Superhighway 2 in Mile End failed to protect hospital porter Brian Holt, 62, who died cycling home from work following a collission with an HGV.

I am happy to praise progress by the Mayor and TfL where it is made, as in this post extolling the virtues of the new segregated cycle lanes constructed in Stratford, and I've frequently pointed out to my fellow cyclists the importance of understanding how to cycle safely with trucks.  
But this time it is not just me who is saying out loud that Boris is not doing enough to keep vulnerable road users safe.

The BBC's flagship current affairs programme, Newsnight, looked at road design and cycle safety in depth and asked "Why don't we do more to keep cyclists safe?'  London's Sunday Politics, asking the same question, found in favour of reforming the London Lorry Control Scheme to effectively introduce a peak-time ban of trucks.

Conservative MP for Finchley Mike Freer said "We do have to look at the black-spots, there are clearly problems with Bow roundabout.  ...just cycling down a piece of blue paint doesn't make me feel any safer."

In an open editorial The Mirror newspaper wrote "it is not inevitable that more cycling will lead to more cycling accidents" under the headline "...cycling safety is imperative..".  

The editor of The Times wrote "getting on a bike and pedalling it for a few miles along a British road should not be such a potentially life-threatening activity. 
...while the new so-called superhighways can justly be criticised as little more than strips of road painted blue, the mayor's pledge of almost £1 billion to overhaul provision in the capital, where possible keeping cyclists apart from the cars, buses and HGVs whose current proximity can be so threatening, is less easily dismissed. Such investment will be money well spent. Given the recent tragic toll, the fruits of such investment cannot come soon enough"

Shadow Infrastructure Minister Lord Adonis has called for an urgent review of the Cycle Superhighways programme, whilst the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe described HGVs as "killing machines", urging caution from all road users.

"Boris Johnson accused of dodging responsibility over cycling deaths" rallied The Guardian newspaper, with an eye-watering video documenting the experience of riding on the Mayor's flagship Cycle Superhighway 2.

Most damningly of all, an Editorial in the pro-Johnson London Evening Standard stated: "This is a question of political will, not physical road space: other changes to our roads once branded unthinkable, such as bus lanes and the congestion charge, are now accepted parts of the system. London is a working city with a multiplicity of road users — cyclists, pedestrians, car and lorry drivers. Yet it should be possible for all of us to share the roads, given decent provision and mutual consideration. We can be a cycling city to rival any other in Europe: we just have to want to make it happen."

The tragic front page of London's Evening Standard on Thursday (image via Cyclists in the City blog)

London's architects, following the death of prominent planner and cyclist Francis Golding, came out in support of the London Cycling Campaign, stating "there has never felt a greater need to urgently address our roads". 

Over 25,000 concerned Londoners have signed a petition welcoming the recent investment announced by Boris Johnson but urging him to act quickly and decisively.  Thousands have joined the London Cycling Campaign in emailing the Mayor asking him to act.  1,000 of people surrounded Bow roundabout in protest last Wednesday, whilst grassroots activists are organising a vigil and "die in" at Transport for London HQ this Friday.

In short, all of London is waiting for the Mayor's response.

If he wanted to he could really put the screws on TfL, fast-tracking plans for his east-west "Crossrail for Bikes" which currently will not even be consulted on for several months.  He could define a timeline for his recently-announced north south cycle route which is currently uncosted, unplanned and with no fixed deadline.

Johnson's planned north - south central superhighway from Elephant to King's Cross has no set timetable for delivery.

And as an interim measure, he could look very seriously at wider 20mph zones in central London, urgent reform of the capital's most dangerous junctions, and introduce the lorry ban he has been mooting since 2010.

Instead, he chose this week to run scared with his focus on red light jumping by cyclists, in an attempt to deflect the glare of publicity around his own glacial progress.

These dangerous junctions and dangerous lorries are not going to go away.  If he wants to remain credible as "the cycling Mayor", Boris must act boldly to soothe London's cycle death anger. 

We're waiting.