“People keep dying and I don’t want to die.” That’s the reason a cyclist called Felix gave us for joining hundreds of others at a flashride organised by London Cycling Campaign (LCC) yesterday evening at Bow Roundabout, where hours earlier a female cyclist had been killed by a lorry.
The woman was the fourth cyclist to be killed in London this month – a fifth fatality was confirmed overnight – and is also the third person in little more than two years to be killed at Bow Roundabout while riding a bike.
We spoke to some of those who attended to find out why they had come along, whether they felt safe riding a bike in London and if not, what could be done to change that.
Like Felix, all those attending wanted an end to the carnage on London’s streets that have claimed the lives of 13 bike riders so far in 2013. One woman who did not wish to give her name simply said, “I think we could do with more space for cyclists.”
Another, Catherine, explained: “I think enough people have been killed in the last few days. I cycle in London every day and how more people aren’t dying. Something’s got to stop.”
She admitted that she felt frightened cycling, because “lorries and cars and people and other cyclists come out everywhere.
“You’ve got to have eyes in the back of your head but it’s either that or get on the tube like sardines.
So what would change that feeling of fear for her? “Segregated cycling lanes, that’s the only way. Other countries manage to do it and we keep promising to do it but nothing seems to change.
A man called Christy, who commutes by bike every day from Mile End to Hampstead Heath, told us how he had heard about the flashride.
“I got the message on Twitter and four deaths in eight days… it’s ridiculous. It’s just getting too much now. This is a roundabout that has recently had works done and still someone has died on it.
“I try and go on the back roads as much as I can but there’s about one quarter of my journey that’s unavoidable, I have to go on main roads and get around that way, it’s horrendous.
“Obviously segregated cycling would be lovely, simple things like putting a few bollards across a few rat runs on the nasty stretch of my bit would be a simple solution to block off one end of the road.
“They’re all residential roads that you try and aim to go down, I’m sure residents would be appreciative of not having vans haring down them.
He believed that for the most part, the original stretch of CS2, which runs through Mile End, hadn’t changed conditions for cyclists one way or the other.
“The blue paint doesn’t have anything to do with it, it’s a wide enough road that it’s okay to cycle down and wide enough for cars to pass you.
“The blue paint doesn’t really have an impact on that, it just makes it a bit more hairy at junctions.
“I’d say that Mile End Road is wide enough that even if that blue paint wasn’t there, you could go straight down and cars could overtake you okay.”
A woman named Rebecca, there with a friend, added: “Four deaths in one week is not acceptable, we both thought it was terrible and wanted to come down and show our support for this poor woman who’s died and for the campaign and hopefully get the local authority and even the people who use the roads – motorists – listening and seeing what kind of role cyclists play and how important we are.
“Someone needs to rethink a lot of the roundabout layout,” she went on. “I’m not sure what the answer is, I just feel that TfL and the borough need to be a bit braver in what they do in providing infrastructure for cyclists.”
Also there was Mark Ames of the I Bike London blog, who told us: “It’s an absolute travesty. We know what the problems are, we have junctions like Bow Roundabout, we know what the problems are with left-turning heavy goods vehicles, and nothing’s being done about it.
“There’s lots of lip service being paid to cyclists by the Mayor, by Transport for London, but he’s not acting fast enough.
Last week, Mayor of London Boris Johnson opened the new section of Cycle Superhighway CS2 which runs from the other side of Bow Roundabout to Stratford and which incorporates safety features such as kerbed lanes that have broadly been welcomed by campaigners.
We asked Mark whether cyclists should still be encouraged to ride on the original part of the route. He said: “Bow Roundabout and [the original section of] Cycle Superhighway 2 are going to be upgraded from about two years’ time.
“But in order to get to that point, three people have died on Bow Roundabout, five people have died on Cycle Superhighway 2.
“That’s one of the Mayor’s so-called flagship cycling projects. The human cost is too high. There needs to be more action and less talk.
“If Boris really wanted to act, he could act tomorrow. This is a crisis, this is a political emergency, this is a human emergency.
“The end game is rebuilding the streets but the starting point for that is he should take an immediate measure which is a central lorry ban, repeal the night time lorry ban, 20 mile an hour zones – those sorts of things can be introduced overnight.
“Boris needs to demonstrate his commitment,” he concluded.
We also spoke to Peter Salter, a trustee of the road safety charity, RoadPeace, who told us: “The answer I think is segregation, the Going Dutch-type situation, there are undoubtedly roads where that wouldn’t be possible but I’d like to see Boris Johnson particularly permitting cyclists to use contraflow bus lanes.
“There’s one along Theobald’s Road where cyclists are banned and we saw a cyclist killed who was following the road pattern and the police have been issuing tickets to cyclists who ride in the bus lane when it provides the very safest route.
“So I think Boris Johnson has a big part to play in this but I think also traffic policing, the attitude of drivers towards other road users generally.”
“I see the British system as being a quite abrasive, intolerant, impatient style of driving. I speak as a driver with an Institute of Advanced Drivers certificate, but also as a lifelong cyclist.
“The Scandinavian countries have got it better, they have segregation, but even when there is no segregation, the attitude of drivers is much calmer, and everyone can get on and ride safely and drive safely.”
He believes that media coverage that often depicts cyclists and motorists in ‘them and us’ terms with no common ground was hugely detrimental to the issue of safety.
“I think it’s very damaging because there’s this constant cry that cyclists don’t pay ‘road tax’ when of course its Vehicle Excise Duty and some low emission vehicles don’t pay at all.
“But I think that cycling is part of the solution to congestion in cities. The amount of space taken by a cycle compared with a car is quite different, you can have four cyclists to a car.
“But you also have the situation where when you have cyclists, you have an element of traffic calming.
“But there is very much a ‘them and us.’ I heard on BBC Radio 5 Live the morning after Bradley Wiggins was knocked off by a car coming from a forecourt without looking – and the lady driver has paid a penalty for that – the hostility towards cyclists, particularly from male callers, was quite appalling and it took some women to call in to themselves complain about the intolerance and lack of understanding.
“I’d like to think that we can all live together, because I drive, and most cyclists do have a driving licence, even if they don’t have a car.
“We would have calmer cities, less pollution, that would encourage more cycling.
“I know some people wouldn’t like that, but I would,” he concluded.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.