Two women cyclists have been killed by lorries on London’s streets over the past few days, highlighting the inadequacy of facilities in the city for cyclists. Having cycled in the rush hour a couple of times recently, it is remarkable the extent to which London has become a cycling city, despite the fact that cyclists are barely tolerated let alone catered for . There are cyclists everywhere and they now form a substantial part of the traffic in central London and yet, for the most part, they are still treated as pariahs.
The huge number of cyclists is their best protection. I have noticed that drivers are more tolerant to cyclists, even though we do tend to jump the odd red light, because the sheer numbers have made it impossible to ignore them. There are, of course, the odd maniac drivers but they are now a minority. Boris Johnson’s idea for allowing cyclists to turn left at junctions against the red light, may be a reasonable suggestion but it does not address the fundamental problem, that the road lay out, highway rules, signage, priorities and general street ambience are all mitigated againsts cyclists. Those few facilities that have been introduced, such as advance stop lines, are welcome, but we are still miles away from putting cyclists at the heart of the traffic system, which is what is needed to really protect them.
Boris Johnson has no real understanding of this. Allowing motorcycles into bus lanes, which were previously a real refuge for cyclists, sends exactly the wrong message. He seems to have focussed much of his bike policy on creating a cycle hire scheme in central London which is fine but will not, of itself, boosts cycling as much as making the whole road system more cycle-oriented. Even his suggestion about red lights may do more to anger motorists and pedestrians, than actually improve the on road relationship between the two groups.
There is a fascinating article in London Cycling magazine about the small German town of Munster where the traffic system, while coping with the expected number of cars, is geared in a fundamental way towards cycling. There are plenty of tips and ideas which could be copied, but it requires a new mindset, one which does not put in railings next to main roads against which cyclists are frequently crushed to death, as happened to one of this week’s victims.