“The first thing I noticed today was that the LFGSS logo was black instead of the usual light blue. The black logo means that a cyclist has been killed on London’s roads. Lately it seems to have been black almost as much as it has been blue.”
I’m a member of the online LFGSS (London Fixed Gear Single Speed) cycling forum – it’s a good place to keep up with a lot of cycling related chatter (and loads of non-cycling stuff as well) and it’s a pretty good barometer of what a wide range of people who also happen to be cyclists feel about everything from the banalities of cat memes to the seriousness of current affairs. There is also a hell of a lot of crowd-sourced bike knowledge on there. I check in on a few favourite threads most days.
The first thing I noticed today however, was the same horrible thing that I immediately noticed a week last Friday and also on the Wednesday of the week before that. The colour of the LGFSS logo was black instead of the usual light blue. As on the previous occasions in the last few weeks, and 14 times last year, my heart sank. The black logo means that a cyclist has been killed on London’s roads. Incidents are reported, facts are checked, fingers are crossed. And if the news is confirmed as being the worst then the logo is changed. It stays black for a couple of days and then goes back to normal. This past month however, it seems to have been black as much as it has been blue.
The sight of the black logo starts a process of questioning? First the external questions. Where? How? Who? Three cyclists have been killed in London over the last 21 days on roads that I and thousands of other cyclists use every day. I come home after each black logo and tell my partner the grim news. Even though it scares the Hell out of her; I tell her because I’d rather she found out from me and know that I am aware of what is happening out there. I ride conservatively, I wear a helmet and have lights when it’s dark, I wear bright colours in autumn and winter, I don’t jump red lights. I ride the exact same route every day because I know the dodgy spots and I can pay even more attention than usual around them. But I also realise that it might not be enough. I realise that a “That was close!” could be something far more terrible. That’s when the internal questioning begins.
I don’t want to stop cycling in London. My 15 mile round trip commute puts me in a better frame of mind for both arriving at work in the morning and arriving at home in the evening. I’m a noticeably better person for those 35 minutes at the start and end of the day. I enjoy it as much in sun as in rain; in shorts as in full thermals. On the few days I have to take the train for a meeting I feel robbed of my ride. It was my commute which initially brought me to the cycling forums and also to the neighbours with whom I cycle at weekends. My commute brought me here writing this piece and those which came before and which will come after. I don’t want to stop cycling in London but tonight I find myself seriously considering it. Where is the line that something terrible begins to happen so regularly around that commute that you can no longer brush it aside with false thoughts of vigilance and safety? What would be the tipping point to make me hang up my weekday cleats? Three cyclist deaths within a month seems perilously close to that previously unimaginable line..
There are a lot of individual people, a lot of cycling groups, and even some press, who have spent years working hard to highlight these issues and make the roads safer for you, me and everyone else on two wheels. How they must view each new black logo or Metro headline announcing another death is beyond me. Shouting loudly – and campaigning cyclists are pretty good at this – doesn’t seem to get any results. Having a Mayor and a Prime Minister who are both supposedly pro-cycling doesn’t seem to be fast-tracking any meaningful solutions. Instead other cyclists mourn, a memorial ride is organised, a ghost bike is chained to some nearby railings… And the busy city carries on. The world carries on. But not in the homes and workplaces of those who are gone, nor in the hearts of those whom they left behind:
26.06.13 – Loampit Vale. Paul Hutcheson, 41. Husband. Father.
05.07.13 – Aldgate East. Phillipine Degerin-Ricard, 20, from France. Student. Daughter.
15.07.13 – Holborn. Male. Name and age not yet known.
R.I.P. Fellow Cyclists.
Addendum – LCC’s Space 4 Cycling campaign is leading the way. Please support them.