Cycling needs to be safer in London – but there’s one group that can make a massive difference

The Bradley Wiggins and Shane Sutton cycling accidents will no doubt put cycle safety firmly back in the spotlight – and rightly so – but more than two months into becoming a daily cycle commuter, my own view on bike safety in London has changed somewhat.

Firstly to put it in context. Last year there were 107 cycle deaths, compared to 256 in 1990. However,  injuries were up, from 2,660 to 3,085. In London itself fatality figures* vary enormously. Last year there were 16; in 2010 there were 10; while in 2005 there were 21. There have been 12 cycling related deaths so far.When you see the ghost bikes around London, it’s a sobering sight.

What isn’t known is whether the rise in popularity of cycling in London, particularly channeled through the Boris Bike scheme, will increase accidents and fatalities.

I’ve cycled for years, but riding regularly in London in relatively new to me. The received wisdom is that truck drivers are deadly dangerous, especially when turning, and taxi drivers are a menace. That hasn’t been my experience so far.

The biggest danger to cyclists – at least from an injury rather than fatality perspective – is the cyclists themselves.

Ghost BikeEvery day I see at least one near miss and it’s usually a cyclist’s fault (although pedestrians not looking where they’re going, while on iPhones come a close second).

Cyclists without helmets. Cyclists without lights. Cyclists playing headphones (usually those massive Dr Dre-style ones). Cyclists cutting each other up. Cyclists riding the wrong way down a cycle path (that’s a scary one, I can tell you). And worse of all, cyclists running red lights across crossroads.

OK, aside from jumping lights at crossroads, I know most of these “misdemeanors” are unlikely to cause fatalities, but it’s intimidating for new cyclists and, as Bradley Wiggins would attest, broken ribs aren’t fun. I agree with calls for  transport plans in London to be built around cyclists – the pleasure I get from cycling is enormous and I love to share it with others. But if London cyclists want more of the road to be built around them, they need to respect each other a lot more.

* Figures via the London Cycle Safety Wikipedia page and the Daily Telegraph – don’t shoot me down if there are errors

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