Counting London's cycling deaths, and remembering Brian Dorling

Cycling has enjoyed an incredible summer of success, unparallelled in British history.  We started with Mark Cavendish being crowned World Champion last year, before taking things up a level with Bradley Wiggins winning the Tour de France.  Things reached fever pitch with the Olympics and Britain's success in the Velodrome as record after record was smashed.  Advocates, campaigners (and bike salesmen!) have been keen to build on this success and use it as leverage to inspire more people to cycle, and rightly so.  We can't cast riding a bike solely in a macabre light all of the time and people are quick to note that millions of safe and successful cycle journeys pass without incident every day. 

On a personal level I've been glad to enjoy the cycling reverie that's been swirling round us all summer.  I'm inspired by our successful sports people and thrilled to find myself sharing my ride to work with new faces on even newer bicycles. 

Summer came as a positive respite after many months of hard campaigning.  We started with the flashrides on Blackfriars Bridge, we gained media interest with the Tour du Danger of the 10 most dangerous junctions for cyclists in London.  Flowers were laid, ghost bikes were mounted, vigils were held.  Prayers were said.  The pressure mounted with the founding of pop-up campaign Londoners on Bikes, whilst thousands joined the Cycle Safe Pedal on Parliament in London as our MPs started to debate cycle safety and The Times forged ahead with their campaign.  We were out on the street helping to collect 40,000 signatures for the LCC's Love London, Go Dutch campaign and I was there at the start line to help send off 10,000 of you in the pouring rain for the "Go Dutch" protest ride - an incredible sight and a powerful memory that will stay with me for a very long time. 

So summer was a welcome respite after an incredible campaigning year, and I enjoyed it.  But I took the break in the awful knowledge that tragedies would continue to unfold on London's streets, and the cycling fatality rate would continue to grow even as we were out celebrating our Olympic cyclist's success.  Such is the lot of a safe cycling campaigner - the problem you are trying to solve is not going to go away as life carries on around you, and carry on it must.
Next week marks a year since the tragic and violent death of Min Joo "Deep" Lee, a 24 year old fashion student from Central St Martin's college, killed by a tipper truck as she cycled through a dangerous junction in King's Cross.  Deep Lee's death was witnessed by many pedestrian commuters as they hurried across the junction to the station.  They would recount in shocking detail how it seemed she was "evaporated" by the lorry.  A ghost bike installed at the spot where she died would become festooned with hundreds of flowers, and paper cranes put in place by her friends who spoke so gently against the constant roar of traffic at a small act of remembrance at the spot a few weeks later.  Later still it would emerge that a report recommending an urgent redesign at the junction for fear of a fatality being inevitable there was ignored by Transport for London.

Next month sees the one year anniversary of the awful death of experienced cyclist Brian Dorling on Cycle Superhighway Two at Bow Roundabout, and the death of Svetlana Tereschenko just two weeks after that in the same place. Once again flowers were laid, letters were written, prayers were said and it later transpired that Transport for London had ignored a report recommending design options that would help to avoid almost certain fatalities there.

A new film looks at the issues surrounding the politics of change and cycle safety within London, and focuses specifically on Brian's death.

This new film has been directed and produced by Laura Borner, a TV Journalism master's graduate.  Originally from Germany and used to being able to cycle wherever she liked safely, Laura explains the motivation behind her film; "When I first arrived in London I was absolutely shocked by the way road users behaved and what dangers cyclists encounter. I did not dare to cycle myself because I was used to the safe infrastructure in my home country. There are no real cycle lanes and sometimes you just wonder who on earth designed some parts of existing cycle lanes.  During my research and starting to cycle in London the film really became my personal passion.  I talked to the Mayor's adviser at the time, the London Cycling Campaign, Transport for London, cycle trainers, cycle bloggers, other bicycle riders and of course Debbie Dorling.  It was very hard to interview her and understand what she is going through.  But I think it is only through people like her we can actually understand what it means to loose someone through a road accident."

Seeing Debbie on film again talking about her late husband reminds me how brave she has been in speaking so openly about her loss.  I'm humbled and moved by her candid account of the past twelve months and reminded that we can never stop pushing for change to make all of our roads safer for all road users, and most especially for cyclists and pedestrians.

Transport for London have since tried to remodel the junction in Bow where Brian died, introducing an "early start" traffic signal for cyclists.  Despite these efforts the London Cycling Campaign have subsequently advised that the scheme is dangerous and should not be replicated elsewhere.

Candles formed into the shape of a bicycle at Kings Cross Christmas Vigil

Meanwhile, on streets all around London and with shocking regularity, cyclists have continued to fall.  Ten cyclists have already died this year in our city, exceeding the total for 2010.  We could potentially match, or exceed the 16 cyclist's death that took place in 2011.  Those who have died this year include Dan Harris, 28 years old, who was crushed to death by an Olympic media bus outside the 2012 park, and a 17 year old boy, TJ, killed in a hit and run in Deptford.  60 year old Tarsem Dari was hit and killed by an HGV in Southall.  31 year old Tube driver, husband and father to a five month old son Neil Turner was hit by a car near Oval station. And so the list goes on, and so on, and so on.

Mayor Boris Johnson was re-elected to office on the promise that he would pledge to "Go Dutch" and make London's streets as safe for cycling as they are in the Netherlands.  The country - and our politicians - have enjoyed an unprecedented bicycling good will boost on the backs of the success of our cycling sports stars.  But we cannot afford to be complacent and we must all of us keep pushing to ensure real change is delivered.  The 2012 London cyclist fatality count is rising, and will rise again before the year is out.  It doesn't have to be this way.

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Freedom Cyclist said...

Wow! - amazing post, very moving - UK continues to leave Australia for dead in terms of 'honest' acknowledgement of what ought to be done - no kidding, the powers that be (here in Australia) are a disgrace and resile from the 'honest' reflection that it is so necessary and seems to be happening in your part of the world.

(PS...I've lost your email address - can you text or email me it please xx)

ibikelondon said...

Hi Sue, thanks for stopping by. I was pretty shocked by the plans to build new orbital motorways around Sydney recently. Although different countries develop at different rates I had hoped that oz was beyond that by now... Hmmm.

Have dropped you a line via email; looking forward to hearing from you.