This evening at 6pm, the cyclists direct action group Bikes Alive are protesting outside King's Cross station, at the junction of York Way, Pentonville Road and Euston Road, to highlight the 60 percent rise in cycling deaths in London in the last two years.
This is the spot where, on 3 October 2011, student Min Joo Lee was killed, one of a number of cycling fatalities at the end of last year that included the death of Brian Dorling on 24 October at Bow roundabout and Svitlana Tereschenko, a Bow resident who died at the same junction on 11 November. Bikes Alive accuses Transport for London of exacerbating the risks for cyclists on major roads and junctions in London by prioritising speed and volume of motor vehicles over safety. Albert Beale, in a statement on behalf of the campaign, said:
Even before last year, London was the most dangerous place for cyclists in the UK , according to Department of Transport figures. The Mayor of London's cycle superhighway project, which essentially involves painting part of the road blue and encouraging motorists to avoid it (but with no legal sanctions if they don't), has been criticised as providing the illusion of greater cyclist safety without reducing traffic flows, particularly the number of heavy goods vehicles. The other big issue is the speed and carelessness of drivers, particularly at junctions, which often makes cycling in the capital a terrifying experience.
"Monday’s event is the first step in a campaign to stop – by whatever nonviolent means needed – the completely unnecessary level of deaths, injuries and fear inflicted by motorists on the more vulnerable. I urge cyclists to join us on Monday. And if you don’t have a bike, bring your dancing shoes…"
Unfortunately, I can't join the protest this evening: I do have dancing shoes but my dancing days are over and I can no longer cycle. In March 2010 I was hit by a car that sped out of Vallance Road in east London whilst I waited at the junction to turn into Whitechapel Road. I was lucky, in a way: stupidly I wasn't wearing a helmet, so I was fortunate not to have joined the grim fatality statistics after a head-on collision with a speeding vehicle. But the impact completely shattered my shoulder, has left me in constant pain over the last 22 months and has resulted in three unsuccessful operations (a fourth may eventually be scheduled this year). To add insult to these injuries, the Metropolitan police's Traffic Criminal Justice Unit failed to secure CCTV images of the accident before they were wiped after 30 days and after six months, had not even managed to get hold of the notebook of the attending police officer. It was therefore hardly a surprise that the driver was not charged with dangerous driving.
The accident and injuries I sustained have been life-changing. I'm an activist that can no longer take part in demonstrations (the slightest jolt on my shoulder is agonising), a former keen cyclist who has been relegated to an exercise bike and a person who rarely took anything more than the occasional paracetamol who is now addicted to industrial-strength pain killers. Whilst I may have had few illusions about the competence of the police before the incident, even I was flabbergasted by how cursory their investigation was. More importantly, my injuries are permanent. I may never be able to cycle again - but even if this changes and eventually it becomes possible to ride once more, I'm not sure that I'll want to, at least not in London.
There was a time when I would argue passionately that cycling was the best way to get around the city - and I'd ride 40 or 50 miles every week to prove it. But as long as such an overwhelming priority is given to impatient motorists over the safety of cyclists and pedestrians, my advice to potential riders is now always: it is just too dangerous.
Image of ghost bike for Min Joo Lee from I Bike London