Unprecedented and extraordinary cycle deaths leave London bewildered

Tom Edwards
Transport correspondent, London
@BBCTomEdwardson Twitter

Image source, London Cycling Campaign
Image caption,
Hundreds of people turned up at a vigil for Venera Minakhmetova, who was killed when she was struck by a lorry while cycling on Bow Roundabout

Five cycling deaths in nine days is unprecedented and extraordinary and there is no doubt it has left many people in London bewildered.

All the deaths have involved large vehicles and that implies the vehicles' blind-spots may have been part of the cause.

On Wednesday hundreds of cyclists turned out at Bow Roundabout to demonstrate their anger.

Three cyclists have died there and there are now calls for cycle superhighway 2 to be suspended.

Regressive debate

There are demands from Southwark Council for a rush-hour HGV ban - that's the first time I've heard a local authority in London call for that.

What will also depress many is the debate seems to be shifting away from infrastructure and safety into which road users are worst offenders.

You can't help but feel that such a debate is regressive and takes us back 10 or 20 years.

All the authorities - motoring and cycling - that I've ever spoken to, think all road users should obey the laws of the road.


However, many believe cyclists should not have to be next to large vehicles that can't see them and could kill them.

The politics of these events are also very interesting.

London Mayor Boris Johnson maintains statistically cycling is safer than it has ever been as there has been a huge surge in its popularity.

But he has got policy-lag. The new separate lane infrastructure he has promised is not yet in place and therefore not meeting the demand he has helped to create.

Image caption,
There are calls for the new extended cycle superhighway to be suspended

And remember his policy has shifted once already after his first term in office from non-segregated lanes to Dutch-style segregated lanes. The first of these opened last week in Stratford.

So it is very, very difficult for Mr Johnson to shift policy again (even if he wanted to) until the whole "cycling revolution" of quiet lanes and better junctions is delivered.

Policy shift

That will take some years and cyclists are impatient and very vocal.

I also detect a stiffening of the language by the mayor, the cycling commissioner Andrew Gilligan and from within Transport for London.

The message today seems to be: We will help make the roads safer but cyclists have to abide by the laws of the road. Safety improvements can only do so much.

With infrastructure policy waiting to be delivered, it seems to me we are now getting a more robust approach from the mayor to cyclists.

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