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Opinion – Why London’s Cycle Safety Needs Serious Attention Old Street roundabout - Cyclists mix with traffic waiting at a junction on the intimidating three lane Old Street roundabout. Photo credit: Valerie Browne Full view

Opinion – Why London’s Cycle Safety Needs Serious Attention

A pressing local issue; can outdated inner London road infrastructure cope with the fastest growing commuting trend in the area?

Cyclists mix with traffic waiting at a junction on the intimidating three lane Old Street roundabout. Photo credit: Valerie Browne
Cyclists mix with traffic waiting at a junction on the intimidating three lane Old Street roundabout. Photo credit: Valerie Browne

My friends ask me if I get scared riding my bike in central London every day. The answer I give is that I’m most definitely scared – the difference is I’m not terrified.

I’ve been riding a bike on roads around Islington and the central London area since I moved to the city in 2003, joining what became the London cycling boom – figures more than trebled for cyclists entering central London during rush hour between 2000 and 2014, growing from approximately 12,000 to 36,000 cyclists.

Despite TFL numbers that suggest the cycling trend will see cycling figures increase year on year, ministers have been criticized for prioritizing road building and rail upgrades over cycling improvements in the five-year budget released in last year’s Autumn Spending review.

Last year TFL announced around 170,000 bicycle journeys were made in the central congestion charge zone each day. A Danish study in the benefits of cycling suggests local governments can thank an upsurge in cycling for decreased emissions, congestion and improved overall health of Londoners who cycle, which may prevent a future strain on NHS resources for illnesses connected to inactivity such as obesity and heart disease.

My main issue is cyclists aren’t being rewarded for their conscious commuting choice. The lack of cycling safety remains a powerful disincentive to many potential cyclists as well as a worry for experienced cyclists.

There are too many London cyclists getting seriously injured, only last October, a 52-year-old cyclist lost her leg in a collision with a HGV in a junction in Old Street – a story I often remember when my bike is quivering behind a clattering, eighteen wheel HGV giant.

Pothole-riddled roads in Old Street makes it hard for cyclists to stay in the left gutter cyclist sanctuary. Photo credit: Valerie Browne
Pothole-riddled roads in Old Street makes it hard for cyclists to stay in the left gutter cyclist sanctuary. Photo credit: Valerie Browne

Another worry is the number of fatalities, which I believe are still far too high. TFL statistics show since January 2009, 87 cyclists have been killed following crashes with vehicles in Greater London.

Stop Killing Cyclists co-founder Donnachadh McCarthy has pointed out that “less than 1 per cent of TfL’s budget goes on cycling, yet cyclists make up 3 percent of the capital’s inner city traffic.” This goes to show how underrepresented cyclists really are, in terms of future investment into cycling safety.

The outdated London road infrastructure primarily designed for cars, buses and lorries needs a serious re-work to cope with the influx of cyclists. It’s common sense that safety for the increasing number of cyclists should rank much higher on TFL and government spending agenda priority.

People waiting for a bus at rush hour, texting and chatting, obstructing the new Cycle Superhighway. Photo credit: Valerie Browne
People waiting for a bus at rush hour, texting and chatting, obstructing the new Cycle Superhighway. Photo credit: Valerie Browne

Boris Johnson’s Cycle Superhighway is an appreciated effort, I am aware it will be a year or so until it’s finished and all the paths are connected. I gave it a go and gave up, resorting to getting back on the roads with the cars.

Annoyingly pedestrians don’t respect the blue painted cycle path. They deem it as a second pavement or a good place to wait for the bus. I have cycled around Amsterdam and Copenhagen and this solution is a poor effort in comparison.

Taxi on a cyclist box designed to give cyclists a head start in junctions so motorists don’t turn onto them. Photo credit: Valerie Browne
Taxi on a cyclist box designed to give cyclists a head start in junctions so motorists don’t turn onto them. Photo credit: Valerie Browne

 Just the other week, I had to emergency brake because a car on the other side of the road was not aware of my presence, and started turning right into me. I had that split second feeling of dread because I knew full well, had I kept going, that car would’ve gone straight into the side of me.

These incidents don’t terrify me, I’m confident in my own awareness to anticipate dangers and keep myself safe. I’ve abandoned the stressful sardine crush of public transport for the freedom of racing past gridlocked traffic. I get my daily exercise, whilst getting to where I’m going faster. I would never let a careless driver scare me into giving that up.

Yet I’ve had passenger doors open onto my cycle pathway, I’ve had to calmly wave at drivers driving far too close, and I’ve had my fair share of close calls where I lost one of my nine cat lives. Without the funding needed to improve cycling infrastructure in London, I fear we are a long way from reaching an adequate level of cycling safety.

Written by Valerie Browne

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