JOIN THE BIG DEBATE: Cycle safety in London

Boris on a bike... arriving at launch of cycle superhighway in Stratford

Boris on a bike... arriving at launch of cycle superhighway in Stratford - Credit: Archant

The Mayor of London has unveiled plans for a new ‘back street’ cycle network so that ordinary folk can “ride in safety” in ordinary clothes away from busy main roads. The first route planned in the New Year would stretch from west London and the City through Canary Wharf, Newham and out to Barking in the east. But it doesn’t replace the deathly ‘super cycle’ blue lane routes which have led to deaths in traffic accidents, especially along the worst blackspot A11 between Stratford and Aldgate. This “Johnson versus Johnson” debate has London Mayor Boris urging us to get on our bikes and feel safe, while London Assembly Opposition member Darren fears super cycleways still lulled cyclists into a false sense of security…

Johnson v Johnson... Mayor Boris and Assembly Member Darren

Johnson v Johnson... Mayor Boris and Assembly Member Darren - Credit: Green Party + Getty

London Mayor Boris Johnson says...

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Imagine if we could invent something to cut road and rail crowding, noise, pollution and ill-health — something that improved life without the cost and disruption of new roads and railways.

Well, we invented it 200 years ago — the bicycle in its modern form in 1818, with a curved metal frame and metal wheel spokes.


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After that early spurt, London rather forgot the ‘velocipede’ as gyratories and flyovers carved up our city, plus roundabouts and fast-moving traffic. Car ownership was how ambitious young men showed off to upwardly-mobile young women.

But cycling in the past decade has almost trebled. Thames bridges like Tower Bridge throng with commuter cyclists.

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In the cooler parts of east London, a bike is the fifth limb for everyone under 30.

Cycling must be treated as part of the transport network with capital spending and road space — not as a niche, marginal afterthought.

Among the greatest joys of the 2012 Olympics at Stratford were our cycling triumphs. The main cross-London legacy will be a proper network of cycle routes.

My flagship route will run 15 miles from the west to the City, Canary Wharf, through Newham to Barking in the east, the longest substantially-segregated continuous cycle route of any European city. I want cycling to be everyday life, something you feel comfortable doing in ordinary clothes, as well as the Lycra-wearers and enviable east Londoners on fixed-gear bikes.

We will improve fast routes on busy roads for cyclists in a hurry as well as quieter routes in side streets.

But nothing I do will affect cyclists’ freedom to use any road they choose.

I am doubling the cycling budget to £145m in the New Year, or £18 a head, to improve routes and junctions.

Helping cyclists means less traffic, more trees, more places to sit and eat a sandwich.

It means more seats on the Tube, less competition for a parking place and fewer cars in front of yours at the lights.

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But London Assembly Green member Darren Johnson believes many of the cycleways the Mayor laid out are actually far more dangerous because they put cyclists in the path of fast-moving traffic...

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The idea of cycle ‘superhighways’, dedicated cycle lanes providing safe, direct routes through London, should be basic common sense.

So when Boris Johnson announced he would install them, it sounded like good news.

Sadly, the first batch of cycle superhighways were often little more than blue paint splashed on the road. They didn’t separate cyclists from the traffic. Several deaths, sadly, followed.

Rather than making riding a bike safer, they actually lulled cyclists into a false sense of security, particularly at some of the really dangerous junctions along the A11 like the Bow Roundabout, scene of several tragic deaths.

The Mayor appears to have learnt from his mistakes and the new batch of cycle superhighways, including the planned east-west route, are better designed. But it means that progress on making London cycle-friendly has been painfully slow, with so much time and energy spent on correcting the mistakes.

There has also been ferocious opposition from the business community, like the Canary Wharf Group.

It is disappointing that these rich men in limos hold such outdated views and try to block measures to improve cyclists’ safety.

Thankfully, public consultation has generated a strong response favouring the new cycleways. I will be pressing the Mayor not to dilute the plans.

Promoting cycling and decreasing road danger have been consistent priorities for the Greens on the London Assembly.

As well as pushing to make sure the cycleways are completed sooner rather than later, we will continue urging this Mayor and the next mayor to redesign our dangerous junctions and enforce a safer lorries scheme, to make London a cycle-friendly city.

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