I’ve been aware of a few hit and runs in recent years, but even I was staggered to learn the full scale of the problem. New figures from the Metropolitan Police show that last year around 15 cyclists a week were killed or injured as a result of a hit and run in London. Cyclists account for nearly a fifth of the casualties arising from hit and runs, even though they account for only around 2% of the trips on our roads.
According to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, whom I questioned about this at an MPA meeting recently, there were 13 fatalities of cyclists and pedestrians last year and there a further 8 fatalities between January and June this year.
So why are the figures so high? I did wonder if it was simply because there are so many cyclists and pedestrians casualties? It would then explain why we have a similar, high proportion of hit and runs. But this is not the case.
Unfortunately, pedestrians and cyclists are both disproportionately affected by hit and runs in London. A total of 985 pedestrians were injured in a collision involving one or more vehicles that failed to stop. This is 26.5% of all the hit and run injuries, significantly higher than the 18.5% of the total casualties who are pedestrians.
So what can be done? Several years ago I successfully pushed for the police to take this more seriously. There is a big link between illegal drivers and the crime of ‘failure to stop’. With a lot of pushing, the Met increased the seizure of illegal vehicles from none in 2004 to 34,000 last year. But the number seized needs to treble if we are to make a dent in the estimated 400,000 illegal vehicles on London’s roads.
Another small breakthrough would be the use of evidence from head cams for police prosecutions. Despite some local police raising problems with this, the new Commissioner took the strong view that such evidence was legitimate.
Hit and runs are a major problem in London and I will do all I can to force this issue onto the political agenda.
I recently met with Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) to discuss London’s child poverty challenge and ways I can address these as a mayoral candidate. Child poverty is something I feel really strongly about. The idea that children in London go to bed hungry or don’t have a warm place to go home to at night is something that brings me to tears.
London may be the wealthiest region in the UK, but it has the highest rate of child poverty. A horrifying 600,000 children in London live in poverty – that is 39% of children in London. What’s more, London is the hardest place for families to lift themselves out of poverty as housing, childcare and transport costs are extortionate and the coalition government’s cuts to housing benefits and income support means that families are hit hard, but children are hit hardest of all.
Interestingly, CPAG told me that 6 out of 10 children in poverty have parents in work and that the labour market does not deliver the jobs to help parents lift their families out of poverty. These jobs are low-paid or part time and require parents to pay for child care. Although the government does provide 15 hours of free child care delivered under the “Free early years entitlement”, this is simply not enough for parents working full-time. The Mayor needs to lobby the government to increase the number of hours of free child care and encourage local authorities to invest in play schemes before and after school and during school holidays.
The government has been legally obliged to set up the ‘Social Mobility in Child Poverty Commission’ and yet it has still not been established. With the highest child poverty rate in the UK, London should also have a seat on this Commission. Child poverty is something that needs to be addressed urgently and Child Poverty Action Group is just one of those great organizations which are raising awareness of the causes, extent and impact of child poverty and I for one will be working with them to see how I can help.
I did it. I slept rough in London, on the street beside the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral. Except, I didn’t really sleep ‘rough’. I had every comfort I could pack into two carrier bags, including a hot water bottle and a banana.
However, I did spend the night on stone slabs, in November, in quite cold temperatures, in a thin tent, in a sleeping bag, in an attempt to show solidarity with the occupiers of the space around St Paul’s.
When I arrived, shortly after 7pm, there was a warm welcome. There were several people who offered to help me find somewhere to sleep, and asked if I needed food, a hot drink, or blankets. I was given an empty tent with a slightly ‘lived in’ aroma, but with a zip that worked. I unrolled my bedding, and with a BBC London tv crew watching, I made the tent my own.
I chatted with several people during the evening, some of them long term residents. There seemed to be a feeling that the camp would go on for some time yet. A bit later a Green Party friend dropped in to chat, and kindly got my hot water bottle filled for me. At 10pm I was too tired to talk any more and went to sleep. I had been warned that the bells were very loud and very disturbing, but my ski balaclava and ear plugs made the bells harmless.
At 0630am when I got up it was still dark, but I was impressed with the organisation of the colourful tents, packed together in almost straight lines, with pedestrian walkways on either side and through the middle. No litter, no mess.
When I talk about my support for the campaign, I’m constantly asked what it is achieving, what are the aims? The camp has made some policy statements, eg abolishing the Corporation of London, but I think it’s enough that they are saying ‘there is a problem’. It’s for us politicians to suggest ways of stitching back together the tearing fabric of our society. It’s for the establishment, and big business and the fat cats to realise that change is inevitable and they must adapt gracefully.
Overall, the campaign OccupyLondon has done two things of supreme importance. First, it has raised the issue of society’s iniquities and the problems of the banking sector’s greed, and secondly it has kept the issue in the media spotlight. Their protest has resonated with many Londoners. Even if the protesters’ methods are slightly alien and difficult to understand for suburban families, their commitment and the fact they are right to protest about this issue is not in doubt.
What is the camp’s future? I was told that the police had told some homeless people that they could find food and shelter with the camp. I’m not sure if the police were being genuinely helpful and caring, or cynically trying to destabilise the camp with an influx of needy people. Maybe it was the latter, but as the police were probably City officers, there’s not much I can do. One woman, clearly homeless, was helping with the camp organisation and was obviously loving being needed.
The camp is democracy in action. Untidy, confused, long drawn out, it is creating space to debate topics like how society is damaged, and how it can be repaired. It’s time that politicians of all parties began to listen and help and suggest solutions, rather than criticise and condemn.
An occupational hazard of being a politician is saying the wrong thing. I speak my mind and not every one likes it. I can say the wrong thing, get the wrong kind of headline, but as the saying goes, nobody dies.
Like other politicians, I hope that my work improves people’s ability to afford a home, or get access to a job offering decent pay, but if I woke up tomorrow and decided to take the day off, no one would die.
I regularly talk to officers in TfL and the Met about what more can be done to stop deaths and injuries, but I am never one of the wonderful police officers, or fire staff, or paramedics at the scene. I don’t have to deal with the trauma of arriving at a collision and dealing with the bloody consequences. I can go a whole day without thinking about the latest road casualty figures and nobody dies.
If I wrote a newspaper column or made a speech, I might get into trouble if I made things up or got some statistics wrong. But at the end of the day, I am not a nurse reading a patients notes & dispensing medicines. I can make a mistake, but nobody dies.
If I crack a few jokes and noboby laughs, it doesn’t matter because nobody dies.
But. If for example, I was in charge of the transport system and I told my engineers to design roads that speed motorists along at the expense of pedestrians or cyclists, then that is different. People can die and do.
If for example, I more than halved the road safety budget & rephased the traffic lights, then it is my job to keep an eye on the consequences. If the casualties go up, whilst everywhere else they are going down, then I would need to worry because that is a consequence of the choices I have made. Politicians make decisions and people get hurt. Occasionally, they die.
All over the country decisions are being made. People are debating police numbers and priorities. How much is spent on safety cameras and traffic police. Whether the speed limit should be raised to 80mph on motorways, or lowered to 20mph across urban areas? In all these discussions, I hope that we remember the human reality and the emotional trauma behind each and every casualty.
Events like this annual memorial are a vital way that our society, our culture, can make that connection between the decisions made in comfortable committee rooms and the human reality of dangerous roads and hospital wards. Memorials can make that vital translation between the personal tragedy and the public debate. We can come together and remind ourselves that most of these so called ‘accidents’ are avoidable. That people have been killed and seriously injured on our roads who shouldn’t have been.
I admire the work of the clever engineers & others who work hard to make things safer. I have also met so many dedicated traffic police officers who have a real passion for their jobs. I hope that us politicians can learn from that dedication and passion. Above all, I hope that many more of us politicians will realise that decisions have consequences and that we to do everything we can to ensure that at the end of the day, nobody died.
Last week I went to Chiswick High Road’s Air Quality Monitoring Unit to raise awareness of the shockingly poor air quality in the area. I was also there to launch the South West Constituency candidate for the London Assembly, Daniel Goldsmith, a local, experienced campaigner who has always put the communities of the area before anything else. He is the ideal representative for the South West Constituency and I am delighted to support his candidacy.
Daniel and I were joined by local Green Party members – even one with a genuine gasmask – from Hounslow and Richmond, to protest against the ridiculous high level of pollution in Chiswick, which is even worse than pollution levels in Cranford, next to Heathrow.
EU limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which results from road transport, power stations and industry, and can lead to reduced lung function, increase asthma in children and contribute to early death, have recently been breached at several places in Hounslow and Richmond.
In addition, levels of small particles like soot (PM10s), which cause cancer, heart and lung diseases and lead to premature death, have been found to be above World Health Organisation limits across the two boroughs. PM10s cause serious problems since they are small enough to get deep into the lungs, where they cause heart and lung diseases.
If air quality does not improve, not only will Britain be charged £175 million by the International Olympic Committee, but the annual toll of 4,300 Londoners who suffer early deaths as a result of poor air quality, will continue to rise and lead to even more unnecessary deaths.
Air Pollution is one of the many local issues that Daniel will focus on in his campaign, and I believe him to be the perfect candidate for the South West constituency to fight for a cleaner, healthier London.
I attended the Student Protest last Wednesday not only to show my sympathy for the protestors who marched against the huge hike in tuition fees, but also to monitor the police reaction.
It was great to see the protestors marching through the streets with such vivacity, chanting and playing drums with an infectious rhythm. Although it was estimated that 10,000 protestors would attend, after some scaremongering by the police about their possible use of plastic bullets in “extreme circumstances” and warning letters sent to activists, only around 4000 people took part. That figure roughly matched the number of police officers on duty. Although there were reports of 24 arrests, there were no major incidents of violence at the protests and fortunately, confrontation was not as prolific as some had expected.
For the past week, the media has been concentrating more on the behaviour of protestors and police tactics, rather than the real reason behind the protest. University tuition fees have been increased so dramatically that UCAS has reported a 12% decrease in applications from UK residents to go to university in 2012, with a 20% fall among those over 25 and a 28% fall for those in their 40s.
What’s more, the increasing privatisation of universities means that the interests of the students are secondary to increased competitiveness with universities abroad. The coalition government is going in a worrying direction with a privately-run education system and students graduating with crippling debts.
The Green Party is the only major party which is against tuition fees, in favour of a decent grant, and believes that education is a right that should be available to all, regardless of income.
I really wish I could have been there on saturday. This ride through ten of the most dangerous points on the road network is the right idea at the right time. It has become clear to many people who watched my recent exchange with the London Mayor about making dangerous roads safer, that Boris simply doesn’t get it. He feels happy to cycle around places like the northern roundabout of the Elephant and Castle and doesn’t really understand why lots of people don’t. More to the point, it appears to be stopping him as Mayor from getting rid of a roundabout which has accounted for 89 casualties in the last two years alone, including at least one terrible cycling fatality.
The Mayor is an experienced cyclist who wants roads that are safe for him to cycle around. In contrast, I am an experienced cyclist who wants roads that are safe for a twelve year old to cycle on. That is the gulf between us.
My other concern is that the Mayor’s reluctance to disrupt the flow of motorised traffic, means that recommendations made to Transport for London which would have made cycling safer have been ignored. The Mayor is right that it isn’t always possible to engineer a solution, but those cases are few and far between. Having examined the history of reports and correspondence behind the roads where Deep Lee died, and Brian Dorling died and Vicky McCreery died, there is a clear pattern of common sense proposals being ignored by people who should know better.
The Mayor and Transport for London are ignoring the obvious solutions at Kings Cross, Blackfriars Bridge, Bow Roundabout as well as the Elephant and Castle. Most of these are not even part of the tour du danger. They are not the most dangerous roads but they are places where cyclists have died. Having helped commission the report on Kings Cross in 2008, I can understand the frustration felt by local campaigners who participated in the consultation but had to then FoI the report to get it released. When reports are going across the desk of TfL saying that “auditors felt that casualties were inevitable” and nothing substantial changes, then the frustration inevitably turns into anger when someone dies. When democracy is failing to deliver the required change, then people start reaching for the lawyers and accusations of corporate manslaughter aimed at TfL seem certain.
I share the frustration felt by cyclists and pedestrians over the new design for Blackfriars Bridge. There were two key TfL reports which came out of the discussions following the death of two cyclists on Blackfriars Bridge. Both reports had to be levered out of the hands of TfL. The Mayor didn’t even know about the existence of the report on 20mph until I asked him about it, and despite the fact it was produced by senior TfL officers it is no longer said to reflect TfL policy. The second report outlined a proposal for a double T-junction, but this was rejected at a very early stage of the current redesign of Blackfriars by TfL.
A similar pattern of behaviour applies to the Bow roundabout with a solution being proposed and then rejected. Cyclists took part in the official consultation with TfL engineers when the superhighway was being planned. Cyclist and engineer quickly agreed at the on site meeting that the obvious thing was to build an off carriageway approach lanes for cyclists, from both Bow and Stratford and toucans across both junction arms – in and out? This solution was rejected at an early stage, but cyclists then found themselves unable to get a hearing from TfL about their ongoing concerns. A superhighway for cyclists was thus built without cyclists having a proper say in its design.
To be fair, Boris has continued the work started by the previous mayor on the distribution of Frensal lenses to lorries and (after some arm twisting) the specialist lorry enforcement team. He has also carried on much of the programme of getting rid of some of the big one way systems – even if he made the wrong choice about keeping Parliament Square as a traffic island. However, he has dropped many changes to the road network which he feels involve disrupting the flow of motorised traffic. When it comes down to hard choices about designing roads so that either drivers can go faster, or cyclists can be safer, this Mayor will back the driver. How very sad.
On Monday, I went to Wandsworth Town Hall to launch Roy Vickery’s London Assembly campaign for the Merton and Wandsworth constituency. Roy has lived in Wandsworth for the past 35 years and is a passionate advocate for the communities of Wandsworth and Merton, making him the perfect candidate to represent the constituency. Roy has campaigned effectively on important issues such as the lack of work and opportunities for London’s youth, which is in sharp contrast with the salaries of the highest paid workers in the constituency.
We therefore decided to launch our support for the 10:1 pay ratio campaign directly outside Wandsworth Town Hall. The 10:1 campaign calls for business, councils and other businesses in London to ensure that their lowest paid worker earns no less than a tenth the pay of the highest earners.The Chief Executive of Wandsworth Council, Paul Martin, received a salary of £191,122 last year, which is an astonishing 12 times higher than the living wage. Wandsworth also has one of the highest number of staff paid more than £150,000 in London.
If elected as Mayor, I would ensure that the salary of the lowest paid workers for organisations such as City Hall and Transport for London could not be less than ten times lower than that of the highest paid workers. This is something that could be of real benefit to Wandsworth and Merton.
I’ve been thinking about going down to St Paul’s and pitching a tent for an overnight stay to show solidarity with the protesters, but much as I love camping, there are three things holding me back:
First, I don’t want to muscle in to their show, even to be supportive, because my aim is (of course) also to get out the message about the Green Party’s social and financial policies which fit so well with the message of the protest.
Secondly, an uncomfortable perhaps sleepless night will be very tough on honouring my diary commitments; there are lots of meetings where I need to be alert and coherent, not sleep deprived.
Thirdly, do I really want to spend an uncomfortable and perhaps sleepless night for a political gesture? As an archaeologist in the 1990’s, I experienced conditions, variously or sometimes combined, that were rat-ridden, mosquito-ridden, cockroach-ridden, too hot (Turkey), too cold (Ethiopia), too windy (Syria), too noisy (Cyprus), with rationed water (Egyptian desert), rationed food (Kazakhstan), and rationed alcohol (almost everywhere). But now I’m older, and not so hardened any more, do I really want to spend a night on concrete?
Why am I even thinking it might be worthwhile?
Is it because against all the odds the protesters are winning by transforming the debate – their aims are being consistently discussed and perhaps becoming more achievable, by making criticism of the banking madness more mainstream? Is it because, in spite of the clash with the Church over the extended occupation, they have now forced the Church to face up to the social problems one might think should be the Church’s main concern?
It’s all of that, plus the fact that their demands to abolish the City of London, to introduce the Tobin Tax, and to push immediately ahead with ultra sensible banking regulation – these are all Green Party policy.
Anyway, it seems none of those remembered negative things about camping is going to hold me back. It’s the positive that pushes me forwards. I’m happy to spend a night with the LSXoccupy protesters. In spite of the fact that the protest is open to all, I have asked if I may muscle in, and I hope they will welcome me with open arms.
On Wednesday afternoon I went to Highbury and Islington to help unveil long-time road safety campaigner Caroline Russell as the Green Party’s candidate for the forthcoming by-election. Caroline will contest the St Mary’s ward on 10th November, and is also one of the Green Party’s candidates for next year’s London Assembly elections.
We were joined by parents and children from the area in a protest at Highbury Corner, one of the busiest and most polluted roads in the area, over shocking levels of air pollution. A 3-week study run by the Green Party and our friends at Mapping for Change showed that NO2 levels in half the places where they were measured across Islington exceeded national and European target levels. Even more worrying, levels were twice as bad at child height than they were at 2.5 metres, where levels are typically recorded.
Children carried placards saying ‘It’s even worse down here!’ and with the parents wore masks to protect themselves from the pollution. It made for a great picture and I’m pleased to say we made the front page of the Islington Tribune this morning.
The fight for cleaner roads is an important part of the work that the Green Party undertakes across London through out activists and council candidates such as Caroline and in our work at City Hall. It’s one of the areas that the current administration has let down London time and time again and is a priority in my campaign. Traffic calming can help: not only would such measures have a positive impact on our health by reducing levels of pollution, it could also make London safer, quieter and greener and allow us to reclaim our public spaces.
Caroline Russell has lived in Islington for 25 years and is one of London’s most active road safety campaigners. Electing a Green councillor at St Mary’s would enable us to put forward alternatives to savage budget cuts and push for sensible green policies at the local level, including measures to reduce air pollution. Good luck Caroline and all the team in Islington.