14/11/2013 12:21 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

London Cycle Deaths: Victim Blaming Is Not the Answer

The carnage on the streets of London over the last nine days is horrifying. Five cyclists have tragically lost their lives in separate collisions with either a Heavy Goods Vehicle or a bus. My thoughts are with all those families now coping with the brutal experience of road death and injury.

Last night I joined cyclists and some pedestrians at Bow Roundabout where we gathered to mark the death of a woman as yet un-named who was killed on Cycle Super Highway 2 on Wednesday morning. The streetscape at Bow is bleak and hostile to people on foot and on bikes. Massive roads punch through the city severing communities and there is little provision for people to cycle safely and none for those attempting to cross the road on foot.

The vigil brought the traffic to a halt for just seven minutes, while we walked and cycled round the roundabout pausing at the collision location. The attempt at a minute of silence to mark the recent death was disrupted by noisy and aggressive hooting by drivers anxious to continue their journeys.

I witnessed a passer-by standing by the tea-lights marking the outline of a bike proclaiming in a loud voice that cyclists had a lot to answer for, that they should wear hi-vis and helmets, carry lights and stop jumping red lights. Debbie Dorling, the wife of Brian Dorling killed on his bike at Bow last year was standing just behind him. Her calm and restrained response to the implied victim-blaming was exemplary. Shockingly, she said that she is used to it. I felt ashamed of our city.

bow roundabout

Waking up this morning to news of yet another cyclist fatality overnight, I was astonished to hear the Mayor of London on the radio calling for cyclists to take more care. Of course cyclists should take care, but so should all road users and those in charge of the vehicles that can cause most harm should take particular care. For the Mayor to suggest otherwise is insensitive and cruel beyond belief. His failure to invite those at the wheel to look out for cyclists and pedestrians demonstrates that he just does not understand what is happening.

The Mayor must change his policies and allow Transport for London to design streets that are safe for people to walk and cycle rather than prioritising freight and vehicle movement at any cost. Streets must be designed and managed to allow the most vulnerable to navigate the city in safety and comfort. While freight and vehicle capacity trumps safety in the public realm we will struggle to make London more live-able.

Like many who care about making more people-friendly streets, I am shocked, saddened and bewildered by these recent deaths and by the defensive response from the Mayor and Transport for London who seem intent on laying the responsibility for safety on the behaviour of cyclists. The seemingly casual acceptance of a certain amount of death and injury on our roads is unbearable. A moment of inattention on the part of a pedestrian, a cyclist or someone at the wheel of a vehicle should not lead to the death of anyone. There is a systemic safety problem on our roads and Boris Johnson needs to treat it as an emergency rather than encouraging populist myths about victims being to blame.