Cycling in London - a crisis of progress

Earlier today (Monday 18 November), a cyclist in his sixties was killed in Camberwell in south-east London when he collided with a lorry. This made him the sixth cyclist killed on London’s roads in the past two weeks, and brought the total number of deaths up to 14 for the year. This has led many to call for lower speed limits and segregated cycle lanes to address the problem. But before we start planning multi-million pound projects, it’s worth putting these deaths into perspective.

Last year, 14 cyclists were killed on the roads of London. Of course, any death on the road is a tragedy, but when compared to the 69 pedestrians, 27 motorcyclists and 19 motorists who lost their lives, cycling could be seen as relatively safe (according to statistics from Transport for London). While the recent spike in fatalities has stoked concern for cyclists, the special deference paid to them seems to predate the last fortnight.

Firstly, aside from the remarks made last week by the London mayor, Boris Johnson, urging cyclists to obey the rules of the road, responsibility for these incidents never seems to fall on the cyclist’s shoulders. Whereas with motorcycle accidents the burden of safety is often placed on the riders, anyone who suggests cyclists may be at fault is likely to face heavy criticism, as Boris soon found out.

Over the past decade, cyclists have been endowed with a certain moral superiority. So much so that it is common to see most top politicians cycling into Downing Street (usually with the state Jag in tow). In a supposedly pollution-choked city, cycling is presented as a green and economical alternative to driving or taking the tube. As a result, from Boris Bikes to recent calls for cycle highways, investment has been poured into promoting this one, archaic form of transport.

What lies beneath the panic over these recent deaths is an anxiety about progress. Instead of putting so much energy into promoting an outdated and, in some ways, rather dangerous form of transport, we should invest in the future. This means increasing capacity for cars, buses and trains, as well as looking for new and innovative modes of transport that will keep this growing city moving.

Felix Denton is currently interning at spiked.

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