On your bike: cyclists fight for their right to ride

A "ghost bike" in Dalston. One of many such memorials in Hackney to victims of cycling accidents. Photo: Edgar

In spite of a spate of  deaths and accidents involving cyclists, the latest statistics show that the number of cyclists killed or seriously injured on London’s roads has actually fallen by 24 per cent since 2000 while cycling journeys have increased by  117 per cent.

Transport for London say that, after the 7/7 terrorist attacks, many commuters were scared of taking the tube and turned to their bike instead.

Then, after the closure of the East London Line, the poor infrastructure in the Hackney area created the perfect opportunity for the biking community to flourish. In the past 10 years Hackney has become the borough with the most cyclists, bike shops and cycling cafes.  The two-wheeled transport has become more than just a way of getting from A to B.

The recent accidents in Hackney, however tragic, should not prevent people from conquering their fear and getting on their bike.

A spokesperson for online cycling journal, Cycling Weekly, said: “There is international evidence that cycling gets safer the more cyclists there are, because drivers get used to sharing the roads with them.”

Alexsis Jansz, a cycle mechanic at the trendy cycling café Look Mum No Hands, said: “The facilities help, but it is really the attitude towards cycling that needs to change.”

Since Boris Johnson was appointed Mayor, a great deal has been done to improve safety for cyclists in London, especially since the launch of the famous blue “Boris Bikes”.

Transport for London and Hackney Gazette have launched an awareness campaign for lorry drivers, promoting extra care and awareness of cyclists in the traffic. The campaign aims to change the way drivers think about cyclists and to show cyclists that their safety is important to them. Jansz hopes that the new campaign will help cyclists “gain confidence to get on their bike.”

Jansz, who has experience of cycling in bike-friendly Amsterdam said: “What makes Amsterdam so great for cyclists is knowing exactly where to be in the traffic.” He suggests that it would be impossible to make cycling lanes in London, like they have in Amsterdam, but that a firmer set of rules and guidelines for road users might help insecure riders feel more protected.

He says that “buddying” up with somebody who is more confident on the road is a good way to feel safe and gain confidence.

Cyclists also need to take responsibility for their own safety. Mehli Rykhsar, a driving instructor at Hackney Driving College said: “Cyclists tend to weave in and out of traffic and therefore are very unpredictable at times.”

Bikes are often seen as straddling the middle ground between car and pedestrian, which makes it difficult for the cars to predict where and how they are going to move.

So while it’s obvious that jumping on a bike and riding through the most dangerous borough in London could make even the most experienced and confident cyclist nervous, the only way of riding freely and safely through London is simply to get out there, get visible and cycle predictably.

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