Big Read: Dicing with death on Cycle Superhighway, CS2, from Tower Hamlets to Newham
PUBLISHED: 13:27 28 July 2013 | UPDATED: 16:47 28 July 2013
Reporter Else Kvist takes to her bike after three cyclists, including two from Tower Hamlets, died in less than three weeks and before the Cycle Superhighway is extended from Bow to Stratford
With three cyclists killed on London’s roads in as many weeks and the Cycle Superhighway through east London about to be extended I got on my bike to see how dangerous our roads actually are.
Although I’m a fairly experienced cyclist and used to ride along the Cycle Superhighway, also known as CS2, running from Aldgate to Bow, fairly regularly it had been about a year since I had last done the whole stretch.
But it didn’t take long before I was reminded what a jungle it is out there – with fast flowing traffic in all directions as everyone fights for road space.
I also noticed that the blue paint inside the lanes appears to be fading and that many drivers take even less notice of them now.
While having to watch out for cars moving close to, and even inside the lanes, bus stops also prove tricky as I try to keep up pace and not risk being squeezed under the wheels of a bus.
Protests have been staged in recent weeks by the London Cycling Campaign (LCC) following the death of French student Philippine De Gerin-Ricard, 20, at the junction of Whitechapel Road and Commercial Street, near Aldgate East Tube station and the death last week of Alan Neve, of Poplar, who was killed cycling through Holborn. Their deaths came shortly after dad-of-two Paul Hutcheson died after a collision in Lewisham.
Philippine became the first cyclist to be killed while riding a so-called Boris Bike but there seem to be countless cyclists who have died both on and off the Cycle Superhighways since the first ones were introduced in 2010.
There were 14 cycling-related deaths in London in 2012 alone and Alan Neve was the fifth cyclist to be killed this year.
Many of the fatalities and serious injuries have occurred after collisions between cyclists and left turning lorries. And even though I have cycled since I was a small kid and had professional cycling training since moving to London I still find the fast moving traffic and the prospect of fast moving lorries and buses daunting.
But as I ride through the many junctions I make sure to position myself in front of vehicles, if going straight on, to avoid not being seen by left turning vehicles by sticking rigidly to the blue painted cycle lanes – even if at times it upsets drivers.
For the problem with the Cycle Superhighway, as many campaigners point out, is that it can give cyclists a false sense of security.
As Gerry Matthews of Tower Hamlets Wheelers, a branch of LCC, tells me: “The blue paint on Cycle Superhighways is meaningless. It’s got no status in law.
“What you need is a solid white line and kerbing to segregate all Cycle Superhighways from other traffic, which can be enforced.”
She pointed out that a raised kerb is what will be introduced on the new planned route from Bow to Stratford, along with cycle lanes going behind bus stops and she thinks all existing routes need to be reviewed.
And maybe something really radical is needed. Although I’m originally from Denmark, where segregated cycle lanes are the norm, I thought maybe London roads were not built to provide the same as many argue.
But senior lecturer in transport at the University of Westminster, Rachel Aldred, thinks it would be perfectly possible to completely rebuild the current road system to create a safe cycling environment and that it would be in line with London Mayor Boris Johnson’s Go Dutch cycling campaign.
Dr Aldred says: “Providing good infrastructure in place of ‘ghost lanes’ won’t be cheap, although it’s small change compared to price tags for many Tube and rail projects.
“It needs to be carefully planned, with minimum disbenefit for bus users, pedestrians, disabled people and local businesses. But this is possible. And the great thing about providing for cycling is that – done well – it doesn’t just benefit cyclists.”
On her blog Dr Aldred describes CS2, from Aldgate to Bow, as probably the worst of the superhighways and says is it “not fit for purpose”.
She then sets out three areas which she thinks would benefit from providing wider segregated cycle lanes.
The first is the local economy. She says local businesses in New York saw increases in sales of up to 49 per cent after a protected cycle lane was installed in Manhattan. Instead of worrying about dangerous traffic cyclists have time to look and stop at local shops and stalls.
Secondly, it could help reduce local air pollution and improve public health as more people are encouraged to switch from cars to bicycles. Finally, this switch will in turn improve the capacity of the roads.
But for now it is at least welcome news that the Cycle Superhighway is being extended and improved. Though concerns remain over junctions such as Bow roundabout where Brian Dorling and Svitlana Tereschenko were both killed within weeks of each other in 2011.
TfL is also working with Newham Council on plans to remove Stratford gyratory in the future.
Arnold Ridout of the Newham Cycling Campaign welcomed the arrival of the Cycle Superhighway into the borough but said there continues to be many blackspots around the borough for cyclists. He said: “There are many in Newham due to a legacy of neglect and antipathy to cycling by the council – although there are signs that the attitude is changing.”
I discovered that in other busy parts of the borough, such as Green Street, you are left completely to your own devises among all the cars. And even as an experienced cyclist I tend to stay clear of cycling anywhere near Canning Town as the roads appear a complete jungle.
A TfL spokesman said it had identified 100 junctions where improvements will need to be carried out.”
Contributions by Newham Mayor Sir Robin Wales and Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman:
Sir Robin Wales, Mayor of Newham, said: “I am committed to improving cycling facilities in the borough and increasing opportunities for people to cycle. My vision is that through cycling, Newham can become London’s most liveable and vibrant borough.
“I have always demanded a high quality cycle infrastructure to improve safety for cyclists, pedestrians and other road users. It was our insistence on segregated facilities for the Cycle Superhighway route 2 extension that has resulted in the design evolving to its current high standard.
“To further demonstrate our commitment to cycling, we have recently submitted an outline bid for delivering a cycle transformation programme in Newham as part of the Mayor of London’s ‘mini Holland’ project. If successful in this early stage, we will seek to fully engage local stakeholders, including Newham Cyclists who we already work closely with, to carry out a review of difficult junctions for vulnerable road users as they can help with possible designs.”
A council spokesman added that segregated cycling facilities could not be installed on Stratford High Street prior to the 2012 Olympics as this formed part of the Olympic Route Network during the Olympic and Paralympic Games.”
Mayor of Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman said: “We are working extremely hard to improve the provision and safety for cyclists in Tower Hamlets.
“We have committed £100,000 to improve cycling safety and on Thursday we held a workshop involving 30 representatives of user groups and agencies involved in cycling within the borough.
Together we have targeted problems and identified solutions and have created a huge list of ideas, which we are now building into our forward programme.
“We are looking at the patterns of the full accident records so we can address the worst locations. Roads which come under Transport for London’s responsibility account for 10 per cent of the miles of roads in Tower Hamlets but 55 per cent of fatal and serious accidents. The figure across London is 29 per cent.
“I call on the Mayor of London and TfL to undertake serious improvements to the roads in our borough to improve cycle safety.”