diamond geezer

 Saturday, November 19, 2011

Last night, mid rush hour, hundreds of cyclists converged on the Bow roundabout for a candlelight vigil. They'd turned up because, one week earlier, Svitlana Tereschenko had died in a bike accident on the eastern side of the roundabout. And they'd turned up because, three weeks earlier, Brian Dorling had died in a bike accident on the western side of the roundabout. Both were entering the roundabout, both were hit by a left-turning tipper lorry. One roundabout, two distressingly similar deaths - not really what was intended when Cycle Superhighway 2 reached Bow in the summer.

The vigil had been organised by the Tower Hamlets Wheelers, an august body of local biking enthusiasts, here to pay their respects. They'll have been very pleased with the turnout, if not for the reason it was necessary. So many turned up that the only safe place to congregate was the centre of the roundabout - the bleak central circle where normally nobody goes. They surrounded themselves with candles, laid out in a flickering arc on the concrete. They draped a banner across a pile of Skanska barriers ("Safer Junctions For All"). And they stuck posters on the traffic lights where passing drivers could clearly see them ("Two deaths too many"). Too late for Brian and Svitlana, but maybe timely enough to prevent a third E3 casualty.

All ages of cyclist turned up for the vigil, some on their first ride along the Superhighway. A lot were in bright yellow fluorescent jackets - taking no chances on this dark East End night. Brian Paddick was here - the Lib Dem Mayoral candidate - as well as Rushanara Ali - the local MP. So too was Debbie Dorling, widow of the first CS2 victim. It must have been tough returning to the site of her husband's death, again, but immensely reassuring to see how many people cared.

On Brian's side of the roundabout, outside McDonalds, a ghost bike has appeared. A pure white chassis, plus a "Remember Me" tag on the lamppost - a stark reminder of mortality beneath the sodium glare. The flowers here have been refreshed, now pert bright blooms, with the toppermost roses dedicated "in memory of my dear husband". There's a larger collection of flowers on Svitlana's side, plus a haunting full-colour portrait, laid out along the wall to mark the more recent death. Here too a line of candles, the largest burning brightly in an empty jar of crunchy peanut butter. Even an hour after the vigil had packed up and ridden off, cyclists were still turning up to read the cards on the tributes and to pay their respects.

And we have a result, of sorts, as TfL have pledged to reassess the Bow Roundabout and report back to the mayor on "as a matter of urgency." He'll listen this time, unlike the team who installed CS2 in the first place. The pre-construction report from the Jacobs consultancy warned of dangerous traffic flow and proposed that toucan crossings be built to ease westward and eastward travel. As it turns out those two toucan crossings might have saved one life each, had they been built, which other priorities determined they were not. It is of course over-simplistic to cherrypick consultants' reports after a series of tragic events, and to claim that they could obviously have been prevented. But either lack of money or the smoothing of traffic flow took precedence, and cyclists received merely lip service rather than protection.

TfL have also promised to review all the junctions on the existing cycle superhighways, which would be a massive undertaking if done properly, and one fears that any review will be either glacially slow or superficially cursory. There's also no commitment to investigate the sections of superhighway between junctions, which means those pathetic half-blue shared lanes will continue, and continue to be rolled out elsewhere. It's not best practice, but in these times of austerity apparently it'll do. Only at Bow do I think we can guarantee action, because a road junction which kills your electorate isn't a vote winner. Something'll happen here, before the Olympics, because the force of public opinion has made its voice heard. But whether it'll be cosmetic tweaks or life-saving transformation, that's yet to be seen.

» London Cycling Campaign report on the vigil (with photos)
» Just Giving collection in memory of Brian Dorling

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