I arrived at the office an hour ago, and my hands have just stopped shaking enough to allow me to type.
The phrase ‘it could have been me’ was brought home with shocking clarity when I passed the body of a cyclist beneath a lorry at Ludgate Circus, half-a-mile from St Paul’s Cathedral and half-a-mile from my office.
Emergency service personnel surrounded the scene. People stopped to stare at the lorry, the crushed bicycle beneath it, and next to it, the body – the face covered but the mangled remains clearly visible. Several bystanders – witnesses to the accident, presumably – wept openly.
As a former newspaper journalist, I have been to my fair share of road accidents. I have interviewed my fair share of bereaved relatives. It is one of the many reasons RCUK does not routinely report cyclists’ deaths. Each represents a personal tragedy: the loss of one person’s life and an irrevocable change in the lives of scores of friends and family members.
Today, however, feels different. I am a cyclist and in the privileged position of warning hundreds of thousands of my kind. But what to say? The phrase ‘shocking clarity’ seems apt. Here, for what they’re worth, are the thoughts that flooded my mind as I left the scene and continued my journey to the office.
Cyclists are as vulnerable as pedestrians and need the same protection – a segregated road space. Until this is recognised, deaths will continue. We do not know the cause of today’s tragedy, but by placing lorries and cyclists on the same strip of tarmac the potential for disaster is massively increased. The idea of placing pedestrians among lorries would strike most people as insanity. Tragically for cyclists, it is the norm.
No appointment is worth risking your life to keep. I push my bike along the pavement from Blackfriars Bridge, and walk the last half-mile to the office, past the scene of today’s tragedy. If I’m a few minutes late, at least I have arrived. I am lucky – perhaps the cyclist beneath the lorry did not have the same luxury. If you can dismount and seek the sanctuary of the pavement for the worst parts of your journey, please, please do so.
Motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians are the same species: they are human beings, typically in a rush. To characterise the tragic death of cyclists as the result of a ‘them and us’ culture is wrong. There is no ‘war on Britain roads’, unless the phrase is used to describe madness on all sides and avoidable casualties.
Yesterday, I drove in central London for the first time, coming into the City of London from the A11, across the notorious Bow roundabout, and passing close to the scene of today’s tragedy. The vehicle was a long-wheelbase van with no rear window and only wing mirrors for rearward visibility.
I was passed left and right by cyclists and motor cyclists, who appeared as if from nowhere. Cars pulled in front of me with no signal, and pedestrians wandered into my path with terrifying regularity. When I returned the van to the rental depot, I vowed never to drive in London again.
I will now go about my day. The cyclist beneath the lorry will not. London is another country and the law of the jungle rules its roads. If you cycle in the capital, or any big city, take every precaution. And if that is not enough, get off and walk where you need to. The provinces and countryside are less congested, but vigilance is essential even there.
If you are cycling today, tomorrow, the day after, then be careful out there. Please.