Tour du danger – right idea, at the right time

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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.

Cyclists on the Tour du Danger, Photo by Mark Ames.

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.