Last night I (Caspar) and my partner (Cassie) attended the Die In protest at Bank Junction. I have cycled in London for twenty years, ten years as a cycle courier. My partner has been commuting daily by bike for the last two years. I have seen many changes to central London, the biggest was the implementation of the congestion charge. Change is difficult for a lot of people to accept but when there is no choice but to accept it, change happens.
The last two Die In protests, set up by the Stop Killing Cyclists groups have happened on my route to my workshop, in Camberwell and on Cassie’s route to work. I have been thinking hard about these unnecessary deaths, I would love London to be a safe place for my daughter to cycle and currently it isn’t safe enough. It is, however, safer than it has ever been for cyclists.
The infrastructure as it is for cyclists, will not stop cyclists or other vulnerable road users from being killed as it mixes traffic of different speeds and vulnerability on streets not designed for this mix. Nearly all of the infrastructure in London is designed for motor vehicles, obviously it is build on infrastructure designed for horse and carts and then tarmacked for cyclists briefly before motor vehicles took over.
London is a fantastic city, city planners should realise that creating motor free areas will help the economy of the city, like it has in other European cities. Cars take up a lot of room, especially when they are carrying one person. Oxford St is the busiest shopping street in Europe, the most polluted and has three junctions that are statistically very dangerous for people.
There are simple remedies for all of these problems, they lie with not demonising any group of people, but changing the infrastructure and make people realise it is for the better. A traffic free Oxford St would have much lower levels of pollution, more people would visit the shops and fewer people would die from ‘shopping in the West End’. Bank, where the Die In took place last night, would benefit from being pedestrianised, it is in the heart of the richest square mile in the world and at peak times a third of the traffic through the junction is cyclists. If they were in cars it would be even more chaotic than it already is. Bank underground station is having a £500 million refit, above the ground there has been no money spent on the junction to improve it for vulnerable traffic and no-where near that amount for cycling infrastructure in London let alone at one difficult junction. There are roads everywhere around this junction, bypassing it by vehicle is easy, closing it to motor vehicles would allow the workers that run our economy safe passage to work. As it happens their employers are keen on the idea, nine of the ten largest city employers want proper provision made for their staff’s commute.
I think there is a long term solution to travelling around our city, which coincides with a view that there is a lot of our city that is there to be enjoyed, not just travelled through. This solution includes a change of infrastructure to protect vulnerable road users and give them more space. No matter how much training you give drivers, they are human and will make mistakes and sometimes these mistakes will kill people. The best way to deal with this is to segregate traffic, pedestrians, cyclists and motor-vehicles should all have their own ‘roads’. This approach works well in Holland, where they started redesigning their infrastructure to protect the vulnerable in the 1970’s.
In the short term, there needs to be changes to stop cyclists being killed. We all have a right to get to work safely where possible. From what I see the biggest change for the smallest action would be to stop LGV’s (HGV’s) from operating during rush hours. These lorries are primarily designed for carrying large capacities, they are not designed to be driven around vulnerable traffic. Seven of the nine fatalities in London this year have been from LGV’s during rush hour. Restricting their movement during peak commuting hours works in other cities, Paris for example, why won’t it work here. I understand London is different and larger but are these reasons for a restriction not to work? Surely a Nurse has as much right to get to her job alive as a aggregate does to a new build. The reason I pick nurse beacuse recently the NHS has lost more staff to LGV related deaths than any other employer.
It looks like the mainstream press in London has turned a corner, more and more of them are stopping blaming the victims and are starting to portray people who cycle (to work) in a positive way. More cyclists means fewer vehicles, which means more space and less stress for the vehicles that are left.
All photo’s © Selim Korycki