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Die-in protests — changing public opinion or scaring people away from cycling?

Are die-ins the answer to lack of political will on cycling infrastructure?

The die-in is an increasingly common phenomenon in London since a wave of cycle fatalities in November 2013 prompted the birth of volunteer-run campaigning organisation Stop Killing Cyclists, who stage a die-in following each cycle fatality in the capital.

On Monday 200 people turned out remember Moira Gemmill, who died on April 9 after a collision with a lorry. Gemmill was the fifth person killed in London this year while cycling, and this the fifth protest.

While some say cyclists laying down on the street is an effective way to highlight dangerous road conditions others say it risks putting people off cycling altogether.

Jenny Jones, Green London Assembly Member, said at Monday's die-in: "There's two reasons for doing it, first of all I think it's good for all these people on the road to see that cyclists are [here]... a bit of advertising if you like - but there's also a feeling that we're actually here for each other."

Protected cycle lanes needed

Donnachadh McCarthy, co-founder of Stop Killing Cyclists, said the protests have united the media and changed public opinion but have not, as yet, translated to action from politicians.

He said: "They've raised the profile of cycling deaths in London, so any time there's a cycling death it's a news story.

"We now have two thirds of Londoners saying we should have cycle lanes, we now have almost united media from right to left. Whatever the politics of the newspapers, they are saying protected cycle lanes are needed."

He added what hasn't happened yet is for this support to translate to action from politicians, or significant levels of funding.

"The politicians and bureaucrats in place are still acting in a 1970s, 1980s mode where they won't challenge the motor car, they won't challenge the parking spaces, cause they feel the aggro they get from that will exceed the aggro they get from us. That's why we need to keep protesting," he said.

Attending the protest Civil Servant Collette Batterbee echoed Jenny Jones' sentiments. She said: "I think it is bringing people together."

"Now is a good time, because this is the only time politicians will listen - before an election. They can't justify allowing so many unnecessary deaths."

Student Adam Arif said he came to protest so "everyone can hear our voices".

It could be the movement is now spreading. Last week a die-in took place in a less likely place - Tunbridge Wells - with an impressive turnout of around 100 people. 

Scaring people away?

Some feel the focus on death is off-putting for would-be cyclists.

In 2013, when Stop Killing Cyclists was set up in response to six cyclist deaths in London in two weeks, Boris Johnson said: "The risk is that the association of cycling with death ... may be scaring people away."

However such protests have yielded results in the past. In the 1970s the Stop de Kindermoord (stop the child murder) protests in the Netherlands were sparked by rocketing post-war motor traffic levels and a concomitant rise in deaths of children on the roads. This movement, which included a die-in outside Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum, set the country down the path away from motor traffic dominance toward a greater and greater focus on cycling.

That was 40-odd years ago. Similarly, McCarthy says the Stop Killing Cyclists movement will need time to take effect.

He said: "Social movements take time and persistence, and what's amazing about this movement is 18 months after our first protest we can block a roundabout. That we can keep coming with event after event and make them different or more relevant means that the movement continues, and that's what you have to do if you want to win, because it is not going to be won in a day, or a year."

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