The last time I went to London I observed the most curious device: A motorist had an enormous steel box attached to the rear of his car. It was probably 8 ft wide, wider than most cars, 8 ft high, higher than any car, and 40 ft long, as long as a bus. The car with the box must easily have weighed 30 tons – as much as 300 cyclists with their bikes. He was pulling the contraption, which barely enabled him to see more than through his front windshield, through the inner city at rush hour.
When I enquired with a road safety police officer he told me they ‘knew what they were doing’. Apparently people had been carrying goods in those ‘HGVs’ on this route for years, and he probably thought the annoying tourist was ‘unfair’ on motorists. He insisted they WEREN’T putting people in danger.
Since my return from London, six cyclists have died in London in just two weeks. They were run over by HGV trucks, lorries, and buses, often in their own separate bike lanes. While the above encounter (including the capitalization) is a fictitious response to a quite outrageous Daily Mail article, the rate of accidents is very much real, making it obvious where the dangers lie, and where to look to improve the situation.
London, like many other places, has recently experienced a bike boom, and cyclist-friendly mayor, Boris Johnson, is now struggling to turn his multi-million-people city around like a sluggish supertanker, reacting to the increased demand for cycling safety. When he erected bicycle lanes, people complained that they were merely “blue lines painted on the road” and this was insufficient. When cyclists stop on the inside of HGVs, in the drivers’ blind spot, “they may well have the right to be there”, as acknowledged by Met Traffic Command chief Jones, but they are maimed anyway. And the current approach of Johnson and Jones – increased police presence allegedly seeking for reckless drivers and riders alike, yet stopping 70 lorries and 100 cyclists – is a desperate measure and is looking in the wrong places.
The fact is, and it is the same in London or Düsseldorf,
- that city traffic is on the verge of collapse,
- that any cyclist is one less car and therefore actively helping relax this threat scenario,
- that all we have to stop each other from killing us is a feeble construction of rules, lines, white or blue alike, and blinking lights that barely anyone is following,
- and while any participant not following those rules is a troublemaker, a truck of 30 tons IS putting people in danger, a cyclist on a bakfiets is only a threat to himself.