Ghost bike memorials inspire change


You might have seen ghost bikes? They are ordinary bikes painted white, left at the roadside where a cyclist was killed or mortally wounded. Last week I went to Kings Cross for the setting up of London’s most recent ghost bike memorial.

It was for the young student, Min Joo Lee, known as Deep Lee, who was killed by a lorry as she tried to cycle north onto York Way on her way home. It is one of the many events I have attended over the last eleven years to mark the death of people on London’s roads.

At the memorial for Deep Lee

Unlike many people I do not believe that deaths on our roads should be dismissed with a shrug of the shoulders as ‘one of those things’. The majority of deaths and injuries are acts of social neglect which can be stopped and in London we have been very successful in doing just that. For example, the number of children killed or seriously injured on London’s roads has halved in the last decade because road safety campaigners have pushed for action to be taken.

The lesson from my time as the previous Mayor’s Road Safety Ambassador is clear, if you treble the road safety budget and you have the political will, then you can save lives and prevent injuries.

There are many ways of marking these road deaths. The Critical Mass bike rides sometimes stop at places where people have died and allow us to remember them. I always attend the RoadPeace annual service in late October, along with senior representatives from the Metropolitan Police and even government ministers. When I was Deputy Mayor I even organised an event at City Hall with RoadPeace where we projected images of some of the people who had died onto the side of City Hall. All these memorial events are a way of reinforcing a collective memory of a hurt that has been done. They are also statements of angry intent. That it must not be allowed to happen again.

The outrage felt by the death of the cyclist Vicky McCreery  in 2004 was directed at the bad design of the road. The following campaign appeared to change the way Transport for London carried out the re-design of its roads, but this has clearly gone into reverse under the current Mayor. For example, the TfL report which recommended that London’s bridges should be 20mph was buried because it didn’t fit with his ‘traffic smoothing’.

The recent flashrides on Blackfriars Bridge attended by an estimated 2,500 cyclists is a far larger event than even the Critical Mass cycle rides that stopped traffic on the bridge as a way of marking Vicki McCreery’s death. The anger is growing with the realisation that despite the deaths and injuries neither the cycling Mayor nor the traffic engineers are sorting out many of the obvious problems.

I am not denying that progress has been made, and of course cycling in many parts of London is actually getting safer, but the death at Kings Cross could and should have been prevented. It just didn’t need to happen. That is why cyclists are so angry. The solution is quite straightforward: traffic calming, enforcing the rules of the road and stopping dangerous drivers from being allowed back behind the wheel. Yet TfL is not traffic calming and the Met Police are making cutbacks to already inadequate numbers of traffic police in London. And so people die on our roads.

Infuriatingly, the huge cuts to the road safety budget and the priority being given to motorists by the London Mayor mean that the setting up of Deep Lee’s ghost bike will not be the last memorial I will ever attend.