Exactly three years ago, I unveiled my vision to make cycling in London safer, more popular and more normal. My single biggest regret as Mayor is that I did not do it sooner. Our original painted lanes were revolutionary at the time. But knowing what I do now, we would have blasted ahead with our new segregated cycle lanes from the beginning.

This is from Boris Johnson, who, in 2011, famously said that “If you keep your wits about you, Elephant & Castle is perfectly negotiable.”

The quote at the top is from HUMAN STREETS: THE MAYOR’S VISION FOR CYCLING THREE YEARS ON, published just before the weekend.  I think it’s worth a read by everyone with an interest in the upcoming London Mayoral & Assembly Elections.  Boris says a number of interesting things like this:

“getting people out of cars is in fact the only way to keep London moving for essential business and commercial vehicles. Doing nothing with the roads would not return us to some never-existent ‘50s Elysium of free-flowing traffic. Doing nothing would mean that congestion gets worse than it is now.

The reason this is interesting is not because this is a radical or innovative idea, it’s interesting because this is the same man that came into City Hall talking about smoothing traffic flow, rephasing traffic lights and describing the Low Emissions Zone as ‘the most punitive, draconian fining regime in the whole of Europe’.

I don’t like the man, I dislike the bluster, and the way the way that he has talked to London Assembly Members, particularly the female members, when they have tried to hold him to account, I dislike the whole concept of a celebrity politician, which is what he is, I dislike the way that he seems to have used the Mayoralty as stepping stone to greater things, and all of the rest of the reasons that there are to dislike Boris – but I give him massive credit for changing his mind completely, and starting work on a proper network of cycle lanes.

Maybe someone can get Zac to read it, and give his comments?

 

Great to hear all the candidates present Sîan Berry (Green), Zac Goldsmith (Conservative), Sadiq Khan (Labour), Caroline Pidgeon (Liberal Democrat) Peter Whittle (UKIP) say that they thought that cycling was a good thing.

Unimpressed by Peter Whittle (United Kingdom Independence Party), who not only made no specific commitments of any kind, other than saying that cycling was good, but went on to talk about arrogant cyclists mounting the pavements etc.  Sorry mate, you didn’t hear George Osborne say at any point whatsoever that his multi-billion pound road-building programme was conditional on motorists starting to observe the speed limits and keeping off their mobile phones whilst driving.  Increasing the number of people cycling is either a good thing or it isn’t.  If it is, the fact that a small minority of people do stupid things whilst on bikes is a matter for law-enforcement, in exactly the same way as it is a matter for the police that one in ten drivers in London do not possess valid insurance, rather than a reason to stop filling in potholes.  3/10

Zac Goldsmith (Conservative) asserted that cycling would grow by 400%, but totally failed to say how would he would go about enabling that.  He didn’t say that he would continue Boris’ great work, but he didn’t say he wouldn’t either.  He didn’t give the impression that he realised that cycling rates flat-lined during Boris’ first term, probably because most people found the blue paint and entreaties to ‘keep you wits about you’ unenticing, and stayed on the bus, train or in their cars.  Cycling rates only started to increase again after Boris started building segregated bike lanes, which suggests that people will only cycle if they feel safe, and that they only feel safe if segregated bike lanes, and allied measures to reduce traffic, are provided, and this will require an unequivocal spending commitment, not weasel words.  However, he did agree that reducing the number of HGVs on the road was important, and even suggested a way (micro-consolidation) to achieve it. 5/10

Sadiq Khan (Labour) pledged to increase spending on cycling, but then went on to say that that the implementation had been ‘a disaster’ and had caused ‘chaos’, which was a cheap & unnecessary shot at Boris – has he not been paying attention?  Given that he was Minister in charge of Crossrail One, as he was careful to point out at least 3 times during the show, surely he knows better than anyone that major urban infrastructure projects cause disruption, sometimes lasting years?  A major part of Soho, including a well-loved venue landmark, the Astoria Theatre, was turned into a great big hole in the ground, and St Giles’ Circus is still a major eye-sore, so a little bit of road re-allocation, which most Londoners barely noticed, is really no big deal.  On the other hand, he also talked about restricting or banning HGVs, so I give him extra credit for that. 8/10

Sîan Berry (Green Party) said all the right things, ticked all the right boxes, and emphasised how important it is that London’s nascent cycling revolution is extended to the suburbs.  Full marks. 10/10

Caroline Pidgeon (Liberal Democrats) similarly said all the right things, and went further, making a specific commitment to spend 3% of TfL’s budget on cycling, which is what we all want to hear – concrete spending commitments, whether it’s £10 per year per head of population – vague promises often end up amounting to little more than painting some not-so-pretty pictures of bicycles in places where no-one can see them.  I also give her extra credit for endorsing the Sustrans Brunel Bridge, which makes her score 11/10.

Couple of interesting things that came out of the cycling segment of the debate – the Labour, Lib-Dem & Green candidates championing a policy (segregated bike lanes) that was initiated by a Tory mayor, with the Tory candidate equivocating, and the importance that all 4, including Zac Goldsmith, attached to traffic reduction & more generally to air quality.  Someone, I can’t remember who (apols), at the Londoners On Bikes meeting yesterday said that they thought that the big issue this time was going to be air-quality.

You can see the cycling bit of the debate here.

photo by Selim KoryckiI see from some of the tweets from the Guardian Live cycling event that Andrew Gilligan thinks that campaigning for lorries to be banned from London, is an ‘unnecessary distraction’.  This is presumably on the grounds that we, the cycling community, have such limited resources that we can only effectively focus on one thing at a time, and at this time, that focus should be on improving the cycle network.  The lack of progress on the Quietways, when compared with the Cycle Superhighways, could probably be cited as evidence of this.

Obviously, given my campaigning background, I completely & viscerally disagree with this.

It is perfectly possible to successfully put energy into both making lorries safer, and building a comprehensive network of cycle lanes, as has been shown by the London Cycling Campaign in the 2012 London elections.  And, in my view, it is helpful, tactically, to keep pushing for a lorry ban, in exactly the same way as Andrew Gilligan initially proposed taking two lanes from motor traffic on the Embankment – he told us on Monday at the LCC Policy Forum seminar that he always intended to give one lane back, in order to appear to have listened to objections and compromised.  Push for a total ban, and then relent, and allow lorries with a direct vision cab to use London’s roads.

And for all those of you that say than banning big lorries from London is wildly impractical, Paris operates a day-time lorry ban (ok, the actual nature of the ban is a little opaque, but read this primer by Kieron Yates if you want to know more).  And Mary Beard confirmed that Julius Caesar instituted a similar ban on heavy goods vehicles in Rome, which was never repealed (ok, I’m pretty sure that Caesar didn’t have the safety of Roman citizens uppermost when he did it, but still, it’s a fun fact, isn’t it?)  I’m also disappointed to hear cycle-campaigners, who, for years & years, have listened increasingly impatiently to people saying that it was impossible to build a segregated cycle-lane network in London – the streets were too narrow, it would cause too much congestion, it would cost too much money, no-one would use it etc, etc, say that a London lorry ban is unrealistic, impossible, impractical etc, etc.

In my experience, it’s only when, to paraphrase Che Guevara, you start being unreasonable and demand the impossible, that people start to take you seriously.  And there is no better proof of this than in the lorry campaign.  Apologies if you have heard or read all this before, but it was only when I wrote to Ken Livingston and all the other candidates for Mayor of London in 2004 demanding a day-time lorry ban that serious action began on the problem of lorries killing cyclists in London.  Don’t take my word for it, ask Alastair Hanton, a long-standing LCC campaigner.  He said this to me on more than one occasion.

After all, a great deal of pressure was successfully applied, rightly, to the Mayor of London by cycling advocates using media coverage of cyclist lorry deaths, media coverage which would not have existed if it wasn’t for the continuing campaigning efforts of the LCC, Roadpeace and others.  As has been proven in the Netherlands, Denmark & Germany, well engineered cycle lanes will help to significantly reduce injury and fatalities from collisions with lorries, by making junctions safer (almost all serious collisions occur at junctions), but will NOT eliminate them.  In my view, to pretend otherwise is wrong.

Sorry, Mr Gilligan, under Boris’ leadership you have achieved great things, but on this you are wrong.

The other night I rode along the newly opened purpose-built segregated bike lane which runs along the route of Cycle Superhighway 5, from Pimlico to Oval.Vauxhall Bridge Bike Lane pic by Charlie Holland

The only possible criticism of the new lane is that it isn’t very long – by which I mean that out of my journey, from Marble Arch to East Dulwich, for the majority of which I followed the main roads, including Park Lane, Hyde Park Corner & Camberwell New Road, I was only in the new lane for a couple of miles out of the seven or so.  Otherwise, it’s wide enough, it’s smooth enough, it’s direct enough, it’s fast enough and it’s safe enough.

But it wasn’t made for me.   I have been riding a bike in London all my life.  I rode to school sometimes when I was a teen-ager.  Like Ben Plowden, the director of Transport for London’s Strategy & Planning (Surface Planning), who was interviewed in a recent edition of London Cyclist, I can remember when there were hardly any other cyclists around in London, to the point where, in winter, when even less people cycled, I knew virtually every other cyclist by sight.

I can’t remember ever being intimidated by the dangers of cycling – when I was a kid cycling to school, I was probably too young to be frightened, and, later, when I became a bicycle courier, I embraced the thrill of physical jeopardy, and the pure joy of riding a bike as fast as I could.

On my ride back from Marble Arch, as I mentioned, I negotiated two of the larger road junctions, and rode along a few of the busiest and widest roads in central London, heavy with large, fast vehicles, including coaches, buses, lorries, vans, taxis and the normal quotient of idiotic men using the speed of their over-engineered cars to display their notional virility.

I chose the most direct route, rather than the more pleasant, and probably safer, back street route through Belgravia, because I just wanted to get home quickly and not spend an extra 15 minutes messing about around the back of Eaton Square, dodging the Chelsea tractors and armoured limousines of the ostentatious super-rich.

It was fun – even though the whole route to Camberwell is incredibly familiar to me, it is some years since I have ridden down Park Lane, and there was a certain novelty, because, even though most of the roads haven’t changed much, apart from the new bike lane, I was riding a Brompton, instead of a ‘proper’ bike, and the unique handling characteristics of a small-wheeled, short wheel-base bike moving at around 25 – 30 kph (twitchy!) meant that I had to pay more attention to what was going on than I normally would.

There were a couple of moments where I wondered at the person that I used to be, that person that would have torn down Park Lane as fast as possible, under-taking fast moving traffic around corners, and seeking to run the lights at every opportunity, always looking for a way through, around, and over, any potential obstacle between myself and the destination.  If you want to know why bicycle couriers run lights so frequently, the reason is straightforward economics mixed with large dash of youthful bravado.  The more deliveries a courier can accomplish, the more money a courier gets.  The chances of being stopped by the police are very slight – it is a very unlucky courier that gets stopped more than once a year – and the dangers of ignoring the laws of the road are part of the appeal of the job.

I don’t believe that staying within the law, or following the Highway Code, will keep me safe from injury or death; I have read far too many analyses of collision data to entertain that thought for more than a split-second.  I also don’t believe that I have a duty to respect the rules of the road in order to prevent other people being killed or injured whilst cycling, or that I should obey the law in order to secure increased public funding for cycling.  Both of these latter two logical fallacies have been systematically dismantled elsewhere but, briefly, imagine if either of these propositions were applied to the users of motor-vehicles: no more new motorways until all motorists obey the speed limits everywhere, or that any injury or fatality of a motor-vehicle occupant is entirely deserved because plenty of motor-vehicle drivers routinely break the law – just think of how many people you see driving with mobile phones in their hands.

These days I almost always obey every regulation; if I can’t be bothered to wait for a green light, for instance at the toucan light on Cannon Street, where CS7 crosses it, I dismount and push my bike. Although technically, this is as illegal as riding across it, in practice not only have I never heard of an instance where the police have reprimanded someone pushing their bike through a red light, I can’t imagine it ever happening.  I joke that I can’t be bothered to break the law these days, as no-one is paying me to do so.

I am still, let’s say, not perfectly happy, but entirely prepared to take my chances on big roads with lots of fast-moving, heavy traffic.  I’m not stupid.  I have been riding a bike for pleasure, utility and money for a long time, and I, and many of my friends and acquaintances have suffered injury and death on the roads.  But I know that cycling isn’t inherently dangerous, and the risks are far outweighed by the benefits, and the, well, FUN!

What I am trying to say here is that I came to cycling through its utility to me: I rode a bike & made money doing it.  All the leisure and sports stuff came later, which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy cycling, but it was secondary to making a living from using a bike to deliver things.  And also that, as far as I was concerned, the more dangerous that my job seemed to outsiders, the better – a higher barrier to entry meant that I would have less competition.  I am, therefore, what is sometimes called a ‘vehicular cyclist’, often shortened to the somewhat pejorative VC, i.e. on the road I behave as if I was a motor-vehicle, mixing it with the motor-traffic, and expecting to be treated as if I was operating a ‘proper’ vehicle.

I wouldn’t say that I accepted that my friends, colleagues & I would get injured whilst cycling – but it was always something that I expected, and certainly amongst the courier community, it is seen as an occupational hazard, and, when at play, it can even be something to be embraced.

Of course there is a big difference between laughing at a friend who, as Michael Smiley did many years ago, has ridden into a stationary object whilst drunk and made a mess of his or her face – a frequent enough occurrence that I dubbed the resulting mutilations ‘Friday Night Nose’ – there’s a big difference between smashing yourself up as the result of your own stupidity, and those friends & colleagues who were injured, maimed or killed as the result of something that happened during their working day, when they were stone-cold sober, as the result of the actions of another road-user.

But none of these considerations have ever prevented me from cycling.  The only circumstance that I could imagine not cycling in London, is if I lost the use of both of my legs, and then I would probably, if I was capable, use a hand-cycle or something similar.

chelsea bridge bike laneMy entry-point into ‘proper’ cycle-campaigning was prompted by my experiences after the death of Edward Newstead, who was killed whilst working as a cycle courier.  The driver of the lorry that killed him had made an illegal left turn off Oxford Street.  I can’t remember exactly what sentence was imposed after he was convicted for careless driving, but it was a few penalty points and a small fine.  I do remember standing outside the magistrates court trying to explain to Ed’s teenage children why it was that the man whose negligence had killed their father would be able to walk out of court and continue his life without very much let or hindrance, whereas their lives had been torn apart.

Paul Gasson & Roger Geffen of the London Cycling Campaign participated in an official capacity in the memorial ride that followed Ed’s death, and I wrote some stuff in a bicycle courier fanzine about the politics and effects of road planning on bicycle couriers.  This led to other activities, including the early stirrings of Reclaim The Streets, Cyclist Have A Right to Move, other stuff, and eventually, as chair of the London Bicycle Messenger Association, in 2004, I wrote to all of the then candidates for Mayor of London asking them to consider banning lorries from London day-time.

lambeth bridge bike laneI can’t really remember when I became aware of bicycle lanes.  I was looking up the history of the GLC in the course of writing something for the Relatively Good Radio Show (3pm every Sunday on Resonance FM), and I read that the GLC had done some work promoting cycling in the late 70s & 80s, but I can’t say that I was aware of it of it at the time, and I certainly don’t recall any special provisions for cyclists, apart from maybe being able to use bus lanes, until the opening of the two segregated bike lanes in Camden, work on which only started in the late 90s, after sustained pressure from Camden Cyclists.

My only previous encounter with bike lanes had been in Berlin in the 90s, and I regarded them, like the Camden bike lanes, as inconvenient, as they weren’t in the part of the road that I preferred to ride on, that is to say, more or less down the middle of the road, and also slightly dangerous, as I always felt that they restricted my ability to avoid poor turning manoeuvres by drivers, and restricted my view and space on the road.  This was reinforced when I went to Copenhagen, and was completely disoriented by the bike lane network there.  I didn’t know where to look or where to ride and found myself being chastised by other people using the bike lanes for not following the signalling and riding conventions.  This experience was shared by other bicycle couriers from the UK and US who were there at the same time (we had all gone to CPH for the 2002 Cycle Messenger World Championships).  “I just want to ride in the road, like normal”, I remember thinking and other people saying.

I was also slightly shocked to find myself being overtaken by ‘ordinary’ cyclists, often riding much heavier bikes than mine, frequently laden with shopping.  Me, a professional cyclist!  And I kept ending up boxed in by other cyclists at the lights – it was all bit too much.

Back at home, the authorities in London were beginning to consider the benefits of having more people on bikes, and at the same time, the noughties bike boom was starting.  I think that the two phenomena were not particularly related.  I suspect very strongly that the increase in cycling had more to do with the increased awareness of cycle-sport, and the health benefits thereof, than of the utility of cycling.  Awareness of cycling’s utility, I reckon, came afterwards to most people who started cycling in the noughties.

As evidence, I would cite the type of clothing and bikes that most London cyclists wear and use, and the demographics, i.e. the sex, age and socio-economic class of the adopters – mostly young, male & above average income – most of the people cycling in London are the aggressively athletically affluent, if you will, riding bikes that look like what the pros on the Tour de France ride, and wearing clothes that look like what the pros wear in the Tour de France, not bikes like the one at the top of the page, with mudguards and two racks – this type of bike is still uncommon in London.  It is arguable that the UK bike retail trade has failed bike commuters, and society generally, by failing to supply suitable bikes for everyday use.  There’s a chapter in Grant Petersen’s excellent collection of essays ‘Just Ride’ covering exactly this topic called ‘Racers Ruin The Breed’.

There is no doubt that simply saying loudly and often to the public, as TfL and Boris have, as well as various London borough councils have, that cycling is good, and we want more people to do it – here, look, we are going to paint lots of pictures of bicycles on the roads to show that bicycles belong on London’s roads to prove it – also had an effect.  I am also sure that the fact that London’s roads are probably less dangerous than at any time in history also helps (I am certain that horse-powered traffic was every bit as dangerous as motor-powered is now, and that there were hundreds of deaths every year in London from time immemorial caused by runaway horses, whether singly or in teams).

There were other factors at play too, obviously.  The bicycle courier community had helped to popularise a certain type of bike culture, that of the fixie, which is pretty distinct from the lycra & 18 gears thing, and the growth in cycling in Hackney cannot, and is not, explained by loads of ‘hipsters’ moving into the borough, and using the London Fields bike lane for skid comps, which is the usual explanation of the anti-Hackneyise camp.  Camden & Islington did more than just paint not-so-pretty pictures of bikes on the road, and, like Hackney, saw a rise in cycle journeys.

(Causation? Correlation?  It is not possible to conduct scientifically sound experiments in city planning – unequivocal evidence of the efficacy of a particular measure does not, can not exist.)

I, on the other hand, was focused on the problem of lorries running over cyclists at junctions, and spent what time I had spare for campaigning activity on the HGV problem.  I don’t want to recap the whole HGV – cyclist KSI thing in this post, as I covered it here and on Moving Target, but large percentage of fatalities of people cycling in London were the result of a collision with lorries.  A significant minority of these collisions resulted from the lorry turning left over the path of the cyclist either proceeding straight on or also turning left.  In all of these collisions, the driver said that he (almost all lorry drivers are male) had not seen the cyclist before the collision, and that the cyclist must have been in the so-called blind-spot, the area to the front and left of the cab into which direct vision is not possible.

Sblindspoto when the authorities started painting bike lanes and Advanced Stop Lines (ASLs) all over London which encouraged cyclists to take exactly this position – to the left and slightly in front – at junctions, my reaction was one of dismay and alarm, especially when ASLs with feeder lanes were painted on junctions where cyclists had been killed by collisions with left-turning lorries: Camley Street at Goods Way, scene of the death  of Emma Foa, and Upper Thames Street at Queen Street Place, scene of the death of London bicycle courier Sebastian Lukomski.

287tThe fact that the ASL at Camley Street had been painted with the support of Camden Cyclists truly outraged me.  I found it hard to imagine how any cycle campaigner could have supported something so stupid.  If you are wondering why I found it so imbecilic, compare the photo at right, taken at Camley Street a year after Emma Foa was killed, with the photo above.  The top photo was taken at a ‘Changing Places’ demo, which was aimed at showing cyclists the dimensions of the typical lorry blind-spot.  The yellow line indicates roughly the boundaries of the blind-spot.  It looks like an ASL with a feeder lane, not that unlike the one at Camley Street.  At the time (2007) I wrote “we ought to think about taking all the paint and green tarmac off the roads at junctions like these. Because to me, they look dangerously like green traps.”

My mind was pretty much made up – bike lanes were a mad, bad, dangerous idea.  In 2008 I wrote a piece for the Guardian Bike Blog outlining my opposition, finishing with the following:

Clerkenwell Road looking west towards St John Street“If one of the main obstacles to getting more bums on bikes is lack of confidence, then surely it would be better to spend the money on training so that potential cyclists will know how to handle their bikes and to recognise and negotiate hazards. This will instil confidence. And a confident cyclist is a safe cyclist.”

(The incident involving the motor-cyclist and taxi described in the article occured more or less where this photo was taken, travelling east)

I had written to the London Cycling Campaign resigning my membership in protest at their participation in a TfL public relations called “Share The Road” a couple of years before, but now my antipathy towards LCC fell to a new low after an email exchange with a member of LCC staff in which he used foul & abusive language, prompted by me publicly denounced the LCC for failing to do more on the HGV / cyclist issue.

So how did I get from there to here, that is, to the point where I am giving an unequivocal welcome to the Mayor of London’s bicycle lane construction programme, which was inspired, in large part, by the London Cycling Campaign’s Space For Cycling?

Because I now get it.  I get that if I want to see a civilised, cycling city in my lifetime, ordinary people,  people who would otherwise drive to the shops, or to the school with the kids, or get the bus or the train to work, need to feel safe on their bikes on the road, which they do not now.  They need to feel that there is a safe space in which to cycle.  Training alone will not do it.  I have lost count of the number of times that I have heard friends & acquaintances say something like, I’d like to ride, but I just don’t feel safe, or, I used to ride but stopped after I was (nearly) knocked off by a bus / lorry / car.

Under Boris’ leadership, Andrew Gilligan and his team have made a great start.  I know that all of the roadworks have been a pain, although there have been one or two upsides: we all immensely enjoyed Nigel Lawson’s assertion “that [the cycle lane construction program] has done more damage, and is doing more damage, to London than almost anything since the Blitz”.  But it’s only a start.

If we aren’t careful, this summer will mark the high-water mark of cycling advocacy in London.  At TfL the bus is king, and all this cycle-lane stuff has been, in their view, a bit of a distraction, and a bit of a waste of money, but, hey, now the box marked ‘cycling’ has been ticked, they’ll be able to get back to the real world of buses and trains.  Also, cuts to funding are looming, and that will mean it is likely to get a lot harder to get any money spent on cycling, never mind increasing it.

Cycling in London has momentum.  After several years of flat-lining, modal share has started to nose up again in the last couple of years.  The new lanes will surely accelerate the upward trend.  But the job’s only just begun.  And if we don’t carry on pushing, the vocal but statistically small anti-cycling caucus will get the airtime and the audience, and cycling will be pushed back to the margins from where it is now, virtually centre-stage in London politics.

Dear Mr Johnson,

you may be aware that there was a hit & run in Stoke Newington on the evening of Wednesday 10th February, which resulted in serious injuries to the victim, Damien Doughty. He suffered what the doctor treating him described as a level four laceration to his liver. The most serious level is five. He is still in hospital, recuperating from his injuries, though thankfully his recovery seems to be progressing well.

According to Damien, the driver followed him after Damien had made unfavourable comments about her use of a mobile phone, which he says nearly caused her to collide with him. She then deliberately drove into him, causing the severe injuries to his person.

The case is being investigated by the Serious Collision Investigation Unit of the Metropolitan Police. Damien says that they are taking the incident very seriously, and are investigating diligently and carefully. I am sure that the police officers in charge of Damien’s case are doing everything they can to find the driver, and I have every confidence that they will determine the facts to the best of their ability.

I know that you will share in my feelings of shock and horror at the circumstances of Damien’s experience, assuming that his account is true. Without wishing to prejudge the case, I know that you will agree with me that no matter what Damien may or may not have said to the driver concerned, he, like every Londoner, or indeed any visitor to London, should be able to use the highways of the city without fear of being the subject of a potentially deadly, deliberate assault with a piece of heavy machinery.

I am sure that you will do everything to help the police to get to the bottom of this matter. Please do make sure that every effort is made to solve this case. I have worked in the same day courier industry for many years, first as a bicycle messenger, and subsequently as a controller (dispatcher) of couriers. I can assure you that incidents such as this, where drivers have used their vehicles as weapons after a few cross words, are depressingly frequent, and that many of my friends, colleagues and, indeed, myself have been the victims of this type of assault, though, fortunately, rarely with such terrible results.

I would also urge you, using your seat at the Cabinet table, to press for all such cases to be treated in the same way as would any assault with a deadly weapon would be, with commensurate penalties for those found guilty.

I would like to draw your attention to the death of Chicago bicycle messenger Thomas McBride, run over and killed by Carnell Fitzpatrick, who was driving a large car. A jury later determined that Carnell Fitzpatrick was guilty of murder, having considered the evidence that Fitzpatrick had chased McBride and deliberately run him over, again after a few cross words. Surely such incidents should be treated the same way in the UK?

Thank you in advance for your attention to this matter. I have every confidence that you will do everything in your power to help.

pic by Ben BrownAs I mentioned on twitter, on Monday 23rd February it will be 11 years since the death of Sebastian Lukomski, who was killed whilst working in London as a bicycle messenger by a left-turning lorry.  As 8 of the 9 London bicycle messengers known to have been killed whilst working died as the result of being run over by lorries, I have studied the hazards from to lorries to London cyclists over a number years, and campaigned for changes, notably by asking for a daytime ban on lorries in London after Seb’s death when I was chair of the London Bicycle Messenger Association. 4 people have been killed whilst cycling in London so far this year, all of whom were run over by lorries (HGVs).  In an average year, between 10 & 15 people will be killed whilst cycling in London.  I reckon that these numbers are about as low as they have been at any time since the invention of the bicycle, and are certainly as low as at any time since I started cycling in London, over 40 years ago.  The overwhelming majority of these deaths will be as the result of being run over by a lorry, which is highly likely to be working for the building trade.  Frequently, the collision will happen at a junction, at which the lorry will be turning left, as in fact seems to be the case with all 4 fatalities so far this year. The deaths have led to renewal of calls for a large scale network of segregated bicycle lanes, of the Dutch or Danish design, with Donnachadh McCarthy of Stop Killing Cyclists, organisers of ‘Die-Ins’and other actions, prominent.

Lorry risk zone - image from the London Cycling Campaign

I think it’s worth pointing out that segregated bike lanes alone will not prevent these types of collisions, and that segregation in space only is arguably likely to cause more rather than less of these types (left turning lorry runs over cyclist proceeding straight on or also turning left) of highly dangerous collisions.  This may seem counter-intuitive, but in my view, any situation where cyclists and lorries are stationary at a junction with the cyclist to the left, or, worse, with the cyclist slight ahead & to the left of the lorry, and then move away from the junction at the same time will lead to potentially deadly conflicts. Likewise, anytime you have cyclists on the left of lorries on the approach to a left-turn, there is the potential for collision, if the lorry is turning left across the path of the cyclists.

A considerable amount of work has been done to alert both cyclists and lorries to the potential dangers of left-turning lorries to cyclists, including legislating to make the fitting of the so-called ‘4th mirror’ to lorries compulsory, the Changing Places initiative, which encouraged cyclists to sit behind the wheel of a lorry, in order to demonstrate how difficult it is for drivers to see objects alongside and just in front on the left of the vehicle.

photo by Selim Korycki

The solution to the problem of bikes and lorries pulling away from lights together is, of course, to separate in time as well as space, by giving bikes their own traffic light phase, such as the lights at the junction of Agar Grove and St Pancras Way.  These were installed after Conrad DuToit was killed by a lorry, whilst using the segregated bike lane.

The problem of lorries turning left across segregated bike lanes is a little more difficult to solve. High cab lorries are inherently unsafe, even with mirrors and cameras.  At last year’s debate on sentencing in road crime cases, we were told that to check all the mirrors from behind the wheel of a high cab lorry takes several seconds, which is an eternity when manoeuvring a lorry in traffic in London, and despite apparently being fitted with all the latest safety features, including cameras, a lorry ran over and killed Claire Hitier-Abadie, the 4th person to have been killed whilst cycling in London by a lorry so far this year.

I doubt that the provision of properly separated bike lane will solve the problem.  Right hooks by lorries across cyclists are a problem in Denmark and the Netherlands, and are recognised as such by the authorities there. I am sure that building a decent network of segregated bike lanes in London will lead to an increase in people cycling, and that this is in itself is reason to do it – it is pretty clear that the much heralded cycling boom of the noughties has levelled off, and without investment in infrastructure, cycling rates in London will remain were they are – popular with a particular demographic i.e. young, affluent professionals, but not with the average shopper or commuter.  However, in my opinion, the only way to dramatically reduce the numbers of people killed whilst cycling inLondon by lorries is by completely segregating bikes from high-cab lorries, that is, ban high-cab lorries altogether from London.

LCC's Safer Lorry designThe London Cycling Campaign has challenged the construction industry to adopt its safer lorry design, but without legislation, I can’t imagine a big take-up.  As the economists say, at the moment the construction industry is able to impose a large externality, i.e. serious injury or death of pedestrians and cyclists, on society which we are forced to absorb.  The costs of road traffic injury and death are great – whether you are considering the human, social or economic implications of the death of a mother, colleague and wife such as Claire Hitier-Abadie.  I have absolutely no doubt the costs of these deaths and injuries far exceeds the cost of re-equipping the lorry fleet.  Why should the construction and building industry evade these costs completely? I see no reason to change my mind about a ban on high-cab lorries in London.