A year ago, there was a spate of six cyclist deaths in London over a period of a few days, sparking the ‘Stop Killing Cyclists’ campaign, which staged a huge die-in outside the Transport for London offices.
Since that event, and despite one PR release after another from Boris Johnson, the reality is that not a single penny extra has been spent on improving cycling infrastructure, and in fact, in the interests of “traffic flow”, the Mayor has cut the times on pedestrian crossings, making pensioners and disabled people even more vulnerable to traffic violence.
So the campaign has broadened, becoming Stop The Killing, and yesterday’s funeral and die-in was a public call for ten demands to stop the cull – 2.4 million people have been killed or injured in road accidents in the past decade.
Several hundred people gathered in Bedford Square and followed a horse-drawn hearse in a slow protest march along Oxford Street, handing out hundreds of flyers to passers-by.
At Marble Arch, the crowd listened to some poetry and singing, including ‘Ode to Freedom’ and ‘Ave Maria’, before flowers were laid on the coffin and a powerful ten-minute die-in took place.
A wide variety of speakers then addressed the packed area. Tom Kearney (Safer Oxford Street Campaign) spoke of his near-death experience after being struck by a bus on the UK’s most polluted and London’s most dangerous street.
Professor Brendan Delaney spoke about how Dutch style cycle facilities could transform our city and lessen the 4000 deaths per year caused by particulate pollution, as well as reducing diabetes and obesity rates, with huge savings to the NHS.
Bart Chan also thanked the NHS for saving his own life after he was hit by an HGV while cycling in the City of London, where the authorities maintain a ban on segregated cycle lanes.
Andrew Smith, a professional actuary, told us that among 20-40 year old women, the biggest cause of death was road collisions, while among men in the same age range it was only second to suicide. Traffic pollution accounts for 1 in 5 cancer deaths, and obesity, which is partly due to car culture, inactivity, and lack of exercise, is linked to more than half the death rate in our society.
Dominique Vesco, the mother of a French student living in London who was killed, aged 19, while cycling with friends to Brighton, spoke of the fact that the driver was never prosecuted, and gave her support for the need for a “Liability Law”.
Terry Hurlstone took the stage and described how he helped organise a sit-down by around 150 protesters in Oxford Street 42 years ago, bringing traffic to a stop with a huge chain between lamp-posts across the road. He was arrested and given a large fine, but with the help of Peter Hain (one of the demonstrators), an appeal was launched, the police withdrew, and he was left without a blemish on his name.
Islington Green Party councillor, Caroline Russell, made the link with climate change. Around a fifth of carbon emissions are from transport, and it continues to expand. She said we need a huge shift in culture and transport systems in cities, pointing out that we have the means, but not the political will.
Donnachadh McCarthy, one of the main organisers of the event, finished the afternoon by comparing UK and Dutch expenditure on cycling. In Holland, the government spends £28 per person on cycle infrastructure, whereas in the UK, Labour spent only £1, and the Con-Dem govt, just £2.
He took us through the ten demands that the campaign is making, finishing on a positive note, thanking the hundreds who had attended the event, and reminding us of the benefits to climate, health, and community, as well as the economic benefits, lessening the strain on the NHS, and changing the quality of life and culture of cities.