Sunday, 28 June 2015

Yet another female cyclist dies in London: why conditions for cyclists aren’t safe enough

On Monday 29th June, a vigil will be held to commemorate Ying Tao, the 8th cyclist killed on London roads since January. This is more than one per month, and notably, 6 out of the 8 cyclists have been women.

Most of the cyclists were commuting to or from work, and 7/8 of the culprits were lorries and HGVs turning left at a junction. A bus was involved in one incident. These deaths are attracting more and more press, which raises the question: if Boris Johnson promised to make London a cycle-friendly city when he was elected Mayor of London, why isn’t he doing more to safeguard cyclists?

He seems to have tried.  He launched London’s cycle-share scheme to a big fanfare. Boris Bikes (sponsored by huge banks) are great for introducing cycling to people, but my sole thought whenever I’ve used a Boris Bike in London (or the equivalent abroad) is: I wish I were on my own bike!

Cycle lanes are typically on the far left of the road, meaning that cyclists are victim to obstructed sightlines when motor vehicles turn left. This issue is especially pertinent to larger vehicles such as lorries, vans and HGVs with massive blind spots. Cycle boxes, a designated rectangle painted on the road at the front of the traffic queue, are now more common at junctions. These boxes are designed to allow cyclists to position themselves in front of traffic, in a place of high visibility.  

But many motor vehicles don’t respect the cycle boxes, driving into them in traffic and preventing cyclists from using them. Alternatively, road layouts are often such that it can be very difficult for a cyclist to even reach the boxes at all. This comes to light when the road narrows, either cars ignoring the 1m distance from the kerb that is required by the DSA, therefore not allowing enough space for the cyclist to travel; or by the lack of cycle lanes.

There are a few more cycle lanes than before, but even these are not enough. Snugly positioned against the gutter, they are on the far left of roads, sometimes shared with buses and taxis, and frequently disappear altogether. Sometimes cars are parked in them, or they run alongside parking bays. Being so far on the left yet in the road is highly unrealistic: it’s difficult be seen by vehicles, as cyclists tend to hug the kerb rather than cycle 1m away from it. The 1m distance is crucial when you consider car doors opening suddenly, frequently hitting cyclists and causing nasty injuries and distress. Additionally – and crucially – it encourages undertaking, as it puts us in the mentality of always passing on the left. It is actually illegal for cars to overtake on the left and you could fail your driving test for doing it; so why are cyclists doing it all the time? Moreover, as overtaking is meant to be on the right, drivers are trained to check their mirrors and blind-spots far more on this side than on the left.  The seemingly deliberate positioning of cyclists in in difficult road positions, which do not follow the natural or obvious sight lines, is surely a huge contributing factor to these fatal collisions.

It is stupid that this city is continuing to implement unsafe and unrealistic cycle lanes. Moreover, it doesn’t have to be this way. In Copenhagen, the law is in favour of cyclists when it comes to road incidents. When will cyclists in the UK have such protection from the law? I don’t think that we could ever compete with the amazing cycle lanes in Copenhagen and Amsterdam; London is too sprawling, with too many narrow twisty streets and bizarre road layouts. But we should look at placing cycle lanes away from road traffic, rather than within it. 

An arterial road in Gothenburg has its cycle lane completely separate from motor vehicles. One side is for cyclists the other for pedestrians. The lanes are kerbed, separated, and have their own set of traffic lights at all junctions. Smaller but similar versions of this road layout exist all over the city. 

Gothenburg has only recently been introducing more cycle lanes, and nearly all of these are off-road and kerbed. Cycle lanes there all have their own traffic lights at junctions, meaning that it’s incredibly easy to avoid dangerous junctions and vehicles. Neighbouring lanes are for pedestrians, rather than parked cars or buses and taxis. Some of these dual-pavements (pedestrians on the left, cyclists on the right) are rather narrow, it is true; but it is wonderful that the city has refused to compromise in these situations.

Policy-makers in London need to look seriously to our neighbours in Northern Europe for inspiration on how to make changes, for otherwise we will merely see more and more deaths which could have been prevented.

Click here for information on the vigil & the Facebook event.

Sadly I cannot attend as I am working but if you are free you may like to consider showing your support.

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