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Alice E. Vincent

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Girls on Bikes - We Need Awareness, not Scaremongering

Posted: 31/10/2011 00:00

Last week, a Ghost Bike was placed in King's Cross to commemorate the death of Min Joo Lee, a 24-year-old student cyclist who died under the wheels of an HGV at the beginning of the month.

I'm female, in my early 20s and I cycle every day. I ride because it's effortless exercise, because I baulk at paying for London transport and because I live in a beautiful city. I'm made genuinely happy bypassing the camera-toting tourists on Westminster Bridge, knowing I get an eyeful of that view twice a day, just by going to work.

However, the news of Min Joo Lee's death was stomach-churning. It still is, the same way that every cycling accident story is, passed around from cyclist to cyclist, in between discussions about routes and moaning about white van men.

While these stories bring a reminder of mortality, they also build awareness of how road users and cyclists can prevent future tragedy. The static white Ghost Bike locked up on the pavement of the York Way/Euston Road junction where Lee was killed was placed, like the other 450 Ghost Bikes around the world, with an intention to create much-needed awareness from memorial and tragedy.

Lee has in some ways become a martyr to a long-standing cause from cycling communities, the Green party and Camden councillors and residents for TfL to improve road safety around the King's Cross junction, a now-deadly cycling blackspot. But we must be careful that her memorial retains a message of cycling awareness and not fear for other female cyclists.

It's true - the statistics for women cyclists in London are not good. In 2009 it was found that 10 out of 13 cyclists killed on the road were female. Considering that three times the amount of men on two wheels are hitting the roads than women, that's a daunting statistic. It's a well-known fact that women are more vulnerable on the roads, especially to HGVs and trucks, as they are generally less assertive and prefer to stay kerbside of large vehicles, rather than establishing their own space in front of them. However, while the media will roll out this information time and time again, it's not just the girls - Google "cycling statistics London" and the results are pretty bleak.

That's only half the story, though, albeit one half which gets far more press that the other. If you've been living in London for the last few years, you'd have to have had your head in a box not to notice the increase in pedal power on the roads. Even without the slightly comedic Boris Bikes dotted around the capital and the matching 'super cycle highways' on which they are meant to run, people are using two wheels now more than ever. There are now more bikes than cars crossing London's bridges during rush hour, and 4000 cyclists on the city's roads in comparison to 750 in 1999.

From experience, I can say that the cycling commute is tribal. Safety is very much in numbers, and even on a blustery, rainy autumnal morning there will be at least a half dozen other cyclists pausing for breath with you at a red light. It's a good feeling, and the vans, buses, and yes, HGVs are taking note.

This is why Min Joo Lee's death will raise awareness, yes, but should never inspire enough fear that potential cyclists, especially women, won't take to the roads. More cyclists may, sadly, result in more accidents, but the numbers of people on the roads and taking up two wheels far outweigh those of Ghost Bikes in our capital. More people on the road means more awareness for other road users and cyclists alike.

It's too easy to quote stats and talk of roadside deaths - before I started cycling I heard plenty from naysayers, and still do now - but fear won't improve road awareness, and it won't get more cyclists out there to encourage TfL to make junctions like King's Cross safer. Because even if cycling wasn't better for our bodies, our carbon footprints and London's chronically-full transport system, there's nothing quite like the buzz that comes from zooming past some of the world's most famous landmarks on a daily basis - and the more people that can enjoy that, the better.

 

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