It's been a historic, and tragic, week for London's burgeoning mass cycling movement, which took to the streets for a ride round the city's dangerous junctions in a Tour Du Danger with news of another cycling death still fresh...
At Wednesday's London Assembly Plenary Session the mayor was confronted by members on an issue he considers his own. As Jenny Jones took him to task on dangerous junctions he looked genuinely – unusually – bothered. He told the Assembly "I'm the Mayor who makes a big thing about cycling..." continuing, "It worries me when I hear about cycling accidents. And it, err, grieves me to sometimes see the way TfL is blamed". Boris continued onto specifics, describing – among others – the Elephant and Castle's five way, four lane roundabout (the site of 86 cycling casualties in the last 24 months) as "fine... if you keep your wits about you".
On Thursday night the Elephant and Castle was once again the topic, as TfL broke cover for the first time to reveal their intentions for the Northern Roundabout. TfL's lead on the project, John McNulty, presented to the Elephant and Castle Regeneration Forum, the consultation body for the redevelopment of the Heygate Estate. Mr McNulty revealed a do-minimum strategy – the long promised removal of the roundabout has been abandoned and he stood before a diagram of a junction fundamentally the same as what currently exists.
Meryem Ozekman was crushed by an HGV on that roundabout in April 2009 – she was an experienced cyclist who had warned about the dangers of the junction – she was keeping her wits about her – and yet she was killed by an HGV, who was judged by the coroner to also not be at fault. TfL now proposes a major redesign of the junction, but brings forward a scheme that would not change the arrangement at that critical point.
Responding to the planned Tour Du Danger (but before the second death at Bow roundabout) Leon Daniels, Managing Director of Surface Transport at TfL told us:
“TfL has already carried out significant work to improve facilities at the ten junctions in London with a high cyclist collision history, and we will continue to do so. The number of cyclist collisions at these junctions is extremely low in proportion to the number of cyclists that use the junctions every single day. However, we are not complacent. Every single cycle collision is taken extremely seriously and the Mayor and TfL continue to invest in a range of practical measures to improve cycle safety, including cycle safety training for both cyclists and drivers in London to help ensure people are more aware of each other on the Capital’s roads.”
On Friday afternoon London's 15th cycling death of 2011 occurred, once again on Cycle Superhighway 2 and reportedly on the same spot as the 14th – the Olympic worker Brian Dorling who was killed by an HGV in October. The BBC reports that the victim was a 34 year old woman, and that a 29 year old HGV driver was arrested on suspicion of causing death by careless driving. Mr Dorling's widow Debbie took to the internet, telling Road.cc and the BBC that it was clear to her that there was always going to be another tragedy there, commenting that "whoever designed the superhighway on that roundabout is completely negligent”.
On Saturday the previously planned Tour Du Danger, launched by cycling bloggers Danny Williams and Mark Ames two weeks ago in an effort to draw attention to London's most dangerous junctions (according to TfL's stats), carried on as planned, but paused for a minute's silence for the unnamed female victim. Danny and Mark were joined by nearly 400 people, including Simon Hughes MP, Jenny Jones AM and Caroline Pidgeon AM, as they proceeded around London to nine of the ten top dangerous junctions.
On Sunday, after the Tour Du Danger had led Saturday's BBC London News, there was a change, London's Conservatives have been talking publicly and they are not happy either. Blogger Iain Dale and former Mayoral candidate (appointed by Boris to the TfL Board) Steven Norris have both spoken out. Dale told Danny Williams, as part of a wider defence of Boris's record, that "[the accident figures] speak for themselves and show that something must be done". Norris, speaking on LBC, said that the Elephant and Castle was "clearly not safe enough".
Caroline Pidgeon AM has called for the Cycle Superhighway programme to be halted until a safety review of the blue lanes can be completed, a proposal backed by Steven Norris yesterday. Campaigners are suggesting that Boris's words, 'if you keep your wits about you', will continue to haunt him if action to prevent further deaths on London's roads is not taken.