How many more Londoners must die before City Hall gets a grip on this tragedy?
In late September the Department for Transport published road death statistics for 2016. The figures vary across Great Britain. Based on a five year average, fewer road users in London are being killed except for, horrifyingly, motorcyclists.
Thirty three motorcyclists were killed on London's roads in 2016. The people who die are not numbers. They are mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, people riding to work: a carpenter, a courier, a tube driver and respected Scout leader, people who keep London's heart beating. The stories of their deaths are both tragic and shocking: a person whose body lay in a ditch for two hours after they were killed, an awful hit and run, the preventable death of a young man at a junction recently made more lethal for motorcyclists through a "redesign", one of several at that fateful location.
The data is disturbing for anyone who rides a motorbike in this city. On the five year average the number of cyclists killed in London is down by 45%. The deaths of car drivers are down 47%. Pedestrian deaths have reduced by a more modest 7.5%. Meanwhile the deaths of motorcyclists on London's roads have increased 13% on the five year average. It has long been acknowledged that motorcyclists are the most vulnerable group of road users, followed by pedestrians. But we are also the only group of road users in London for whom the situation is deteriorating, costing dozens of lives.
So why are so many Londoners who ride motorcycles dying? A wise US-based colleague used to say that the ultimate measure of public policy success or failure was to "count the bodies". Whilst other outcomes may have differing interpretations, this measure is entirely binary: either a person dies or they do not. As 33 motorcyclists lost their lives in London in 2016, eight cyclists were also killed that year. Each death is a tragedy and even one is too many. Cycling has had billions spent on it by mayors Boris Johnson and Sadiq Khan and the improved safety and significantly fewer deaths of that particular group of road users is the welcome outcome.
Meanwhile the statistics which tell the chilling story of the deaths of Londoners who ride powered two wheelers are a clear indictment of the mixture of abdication and entropy which characterise City Hall's apparent policy response to this ongoing catastrophe. An excellent Transport for London handbook on junction design which prioritises motorcycle safety is seemingly routinely ignored by TfL itself and by many local authorities. There has been no noticeable progress in implementing the recommendations of the 2016 London Assembly report Easy Rider on improving motorcycle safety. Sadiq Khan has thus far made no visible advancement towards fulfilling his pre election promise to London's quarter million strong motorcycling community (made in a letter to the Motorcycle Action Group) to lead on ensuring that motorcyclists have access to all bus lanes in the capital which would significantly reduce accidents and improve the safety of all Londoners, including cyclists and pedestrians. Planners have lurched from one shambolic kneejerk scheme to another, like the closure of Bank junction which has caused chaos, confusion and congestion. It feels as though each new set of roadworks brings with it the narrowing of lanes and more hard infrastructure like protruding kerbs and killer "armadillos" which can be lethal to motorcyclists. And as the data shows, Londoners who ride motorbikes continue to die as a result. The campaign group We Ride London warns that we are literally being squeezed off the roads, often at the cost of our lives.
The destructive reimagining of many of London's roads is concurrent with the devastation of high streets and communities which depend on them, from Chiswick to Enfield. Community is a crucial part of the story here: the motorcyclists who are dying are often working class Londoners who keep this city moving. We have to ride our motorcycles because frequently people work two "gig economy" jobs on opposite ends of London and cannot afford the exorbitantly expensive slow unreliable public transport, nor indeed the sky high rents anywhere inside zones one to four. Is it acceptable that we run a significantly higher risk of death compared to all other groups of London's road users simply for trying to get to work, or home to our families? As Anna Minton asks in her excellent recent book: who is London for?
Motorcycles reduce congestion and pollution, and are a crucial part of the solution to London's transport predicament. The human cost of City Hall's inaction makes this even more urgent. The Mayor must appoint a motorcycling policy lead as a matter of priority. He has to fulfil his promise of ensuring that motorcycles can use bus lanes for everyone's improved safety, and guarantee that the recommendations of the GLA's Easy Rider report and TfL's Urban Motorcycle Design Handbook leave the realm of theory and are put to use in saving the lives of London's motorcyclists with immediate effect. Transport policy needs to stop squeezing motorbike and scooter riders off the road and killing us by the dozen in the process.
How many more Londoners must die before City Hall gets a grip on this tragedy?Suggest a correction