A black day for the Olympics and cycling in London

Yesterday was a fantastic day for cycling in Britain. In the afternoon, after an astonishing performance in the time trial, Bradley Wiggins won the Gold medal while his Team GB mate Chris Froome got Bronze.

(Wiggos views on road safety are barmy, however.

Update: On Twitter, the Lord of the Cyclists later said his views on helmet laws were misreported: “Just to confirm I haven’t called for helmets to be made the law as reports suggest. I suggested it may be the way to go to give cyclists more protection legally I involved In an accident.”)

However, yesterday was also a black day for cycling in Britain and for the Olympic games. Only a few hours after Brads triumph,  an “Olympic bus” carrying journalists killed a male cyclist on the junction of Ruckholt Road and East Cross Road.

The crash happened at 7.45pm very close to the Olympic Park in East London. The victim is the 10th cyclist who died in a traffic accident in London in 2012 (full details about all cycling fatalities  in London since 2006 are available here).

Update: According to the London Fixed Gear and Singlespeed Forum, the killed cyclist was Dan Harris (@gecko84 on Twitter). On his blog, Dan describes himself as “social media strategist, community manager and web editor” and a physicist by training. Rest in Peace, Dan.

This death makes me very sad and very angry at the same time. The fatality is related to the Olympics in several different ways. The most straightforward connection is that he was killed by an official games vehicle. (Here’s an appalling report by an eye-witness of the crash.)

The bigger story is that the games are making cycling much more dangerous in London. Important and safe cycle lanes around the Olympic Park have been closed due to security (= terrorism) concerns for months. Yesterday’s fatality apparently happened 120 meters beyond entrance to a closed segregated cycle-path, as cyclist Donnachadh McCarthy wrote on Facebook.

The most disturbing thing is that the crash was rather predictable. Cyclists are forced to use busy and dangerous urban motorways instead. This has been severely criticised by the London Cycling Campaign (LCC) and cycling bloggers like Danny Williams (“Cyclists in the City”) for months. However, the organisers of the games did not budge.

As Danny put it on his blog in March:

“I don’t know the people behind the Olympic organising team. But they really don’t seem to ‘get’ that cycling is a legitimate form of urban mobility. (…)

[I]f you want to cycle to the Olympics, you can expect to take a detour, dismount from your bike, cross the motorway, may be you’ll be able to get back on your bike again after that. (…)

I managed to buy tickets for the Olympics. I’m quite excited. And I’d like to cycle there. But I’m not going to bother cycling. It seems like too much hassle, frankly. I’ll take the tube. Or I might drive instead. Because the Mayor of London is letting people make London a city for driving in. ”

I don’t know the area where the crash happened but according to a number of cyclists, Ruckholt Road and East Cross Road are a nightmare for riders. However, at the same time they seem to be part of the road network that the organisers suggest for cyclists who want to get to the games, as cyclist James Taylor wrote in a comment on my blog last night:

“Since the canal route has been closed to cyclists due to the Olympic games, I now have to divert along Ruckholt Rd through many fast junctions, and sadly where this young man was killed this evening, at East Cross Rd to Victoria Park.

It is not safe for any cyclists to have to ride there, even though it is on the designated diversion route. No thought has gone into this despite Locog claiming to be a ‘ cycle-friendly Olympics. Instead we have a diverted route where one cyclist was killed and many risk their lives.”

Emma Woodcock, another London cyclist, wrote on LCC’s facebook page:

 “I had written and sent video to Newham, and Waltham Forest Council, last year to state how inadequate the cycle lanes were around the edges of the Olympic park in their development, particular Eastway where heavy goods vehicles use New Spitalfields Market and the proposed Bus Terminal would be for coaches for the Olympics.

I was told they were sufficient. Believe me they are non existent. Tonight a man was killed on his cycle minutes ahead of me on this very route. A day when are celebrating cycling in Britain, there has been billions spent on building the Olympics and all they provide for cyclists around the edges (when we are all being encouraged to ‘get on our bikes’ and cycle there) of the fenced off park is a painted white line.

Where the cyclist was hit there isn’t even that, its a very dangerous junction, especially where you have coach drivers from out of town who don’t know roads, or used to looking out for cyclists. I’m just sickened.”

I encourage everyone who knows the ares to share his thoughts in the comment section of this blog.

The big, tragic irony is that the London games are supposed to be the “greenest games” in history. Additionally, they are supposed to “inspire a generation” to do more sports. Kudos to the fantastic cycling parking facilities at the Olympic venues. It’s nice  that the bikes are safe at the games. However, it would be even better if the riders were safe as well.

However, this is only bits and pieces. In general, there is no integrated plan how to make London safe for cyclists. In particular, the Olympics put the life of cyclists on the line. The wilful neglect in terms of traffic planning is just one example. The excessive use of police force against peaceful participants of the critical mass ride on the day of the opening ceremony as another one.

The fatality was an appalling reminder of the dark side of cycling in Britain in general and in London during the Olympics in particular. The traffic planning priorities have to change. Otherwise more cyclists will unnecessarily die on our streets.

8 thoughts on “A black day for the Olympics and cycling in London

  1. Pingback: 2012-08-01 - Rider Down/Fatality, Ruckholt Road/East Cross Road (Olympic Bus) - Page 3 - London Fixed-gear and Single-speed

  2. Ricardo

    Terrible news. It would be great if current golden boy Bradley Wiggins would speak out against the Olympics organisers total disregard for cylcists’ safety in his home town.

  3. JonF

    I don’t know whether the dead cyclist was wearing a helmet, but I do know that if he was, when that coach wheeled over him, the helmet was wearing him. Please stick to what you’re good at Bradley.

  4. Bill

    It could be worse than you think, depending on where the incident occurred. The stretch of Ruckholt Road between the junction with Oliver road and Leyton High road was dug up prior to the Olympics to lay lovely new paving for off road car parking.
    That space should have been used for a segregated cycle lane, instead we get a tiny stretch of shared use pavement followed by some dotted white lines.

  5. Pingback: An Olympic Legacy for Cycling | Cycling UK

  6. “I think things are improving to a degree. I mean, you know, I think there are organisations out there that are kind of attempting to make the roads sort of safer for both parties; but at the end of the day, they’ve all got to co-exist on the roads. And cyclists aren’t never going to go away, as much as drivers moan, and as much as cyclists maybe moan about certain drivers, they’re never going to go away, so there’s got to be a bit of give and take really. And as I say, kind of, cyclists have perhaps got to have–there’s got to be kind of laws for both parties as well, that protect both parties. Alright, cyclists … you know, things like legalising helmets, making them the law to wear, because, ultimately, if you get knocked off and you haven’t got a helmet on, then how can you kind of argue? Or if you get killed and you haven’t got a helmet on. Shouldn’t be riding along with iPods and phones and things on, and should have lights and all those things. So I think once there’s laws passed for cyclists, then you’re protected, and you can say, “Well, I’ve done everything to be safe against, you know…” So I think there’s a lot of things that need to be addressed with cycling at the moment, with the roads in this country, ‘cos things can’t continue going the way they are, everyone moaning at each other.”

    I was recently reminded of a concept known as ‘critical rationalism’, i.e., criticism, not support. With this way of thinking, people set out to prove that something is right by establishing that it is not perhaps wrong. We could say, for example, that all swans are white. But whereas no number of positive outcomes could confirm this, a single counterexample would be logically decisive. From this we get the term ‘falsifiable’, which does not mean that something is made false, but rather, if it is false, it can be demonstrated to be false. Critical rationalism therefore strives for questioning, or falsification, of hypotheses, instead of proving them.

    Now, how many cyclists have been killed in London whilst wearing a helmet, with their lights on, probably wearing hi-viz as well, and without an iPod or some such plugged into their ears? How many? It must be dozens. These people were able to say, “Well, I’ve done everything to be safe against, you know…” and still they were killed.

    There has to be some give and take, it is true, but not the sort that people like Bradley Wiggins and the Women’s Institute talk about. The Dutch recognise that road space, like any other limited resource, has to be shared. This is the sort of give and take that I think needs our attention.

  7. Daniel

    I work in Stratford and I have written to elected London Assembly members with this comment:

    I am a cyclist, although I no longer cycle to work as I live in Stratford too. However I am very concerned about the off-road cycle routes, such as towpaths and the Greenway being closed to cyclists. The Greenway has always been a pedestrian route where responsible cycling is also permitted. Clearly if there are huge crowds of pedestrians using the Greenway then cycling would not be responsible and Games officials would be entitled to advise cyclists authoritatively. However I was asked to dismount on the Greenway when it was virtually empty. This makes no sense at all and makes the Olympics appear anti-cyclists.

    Further I am most distressed that a cyclist has died near the Olympic park where off-road cycling is normally permitted but has been prevented during the Olympics. The A12 and the Bow roundabout/flyover are notoriously dangerous for cyclists and this is another death after two deaths around the Bow roundabout recently. This is a danger to number of my cycling colleagues who cycle from the other side of the A12 to our office and are currently prevented from usual the normal safe cycling routes.

    I understand the towpath is closed not for security but for crowd control. Can you confirm whether this is correct? If it is, then surely the experience of the last few days (no serious crowd control issues/one cyclist killed) can ensure a re-evaluation. Alternatively can alternative temporary off-road cycling routes be provided?

  8. I really hope the CTC or BC give Bradley some media training on the topics that really matter. He is a great rider but as a spokesman for safer riding he is apt at getting his sideburns caught up in his mouth.

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