Out of the eight London cyclists to have tragically been killed on the capital’s roads so far this year, six were women. All six died following a collision with a heavy goods vehicle (HGV).
In fact, every female cycling death in London since August 2011 has involved a lorry and out of the 33 female cycling deaths since January 2009, a staggering 27 have involved a collision with an HGV.
The high frequency of serious cycling incidents involving HGVs, particularly in London has long been a concern for safety campaigners. Around 50% of all London cyclist deaths involve HGVs. This is despite lorries only comprising about 5% of traffic.
Construction lorries carrying material to and from building sites are responsible for a disproportionate number of cyclist deaths – a high number of which occur when lorries are turning left and drivers fail to see cyclists in their blind spot.
Compared to last year when only one woman died among the 13 London cyclists killed, this year’s statistics are all the more shocking considering that according to Transport for London women only make up 26% of all cycling journeys made in the capital. Despite this, they represent 39% of all fatal cycling incidents in London over the past six-and-a-half years.
When a 36-year-old mother-of-two was crushed to death under a lorry in Victoria in February, the Automobile Association’s president, Edmund King, said the tragedy bore “all the hallmarks of a ‘typical’ London cycling death – a female cyclist killed by a tipper truck turning left.”
So why are women so poorly represented among London cyclists? And why do cycling fatality statistics in the capital imply that women are more susceptible to HGV collisions?
Some have speculated that women are less visible than male cyclists because they are less assertive. Women are supposedly less aggressive around larger vehicles such as lorries. As such, they may attempt to hug the kerb or undertake rather than cycling around the outside of vehicles at junctions, which puts them in a vulnerable position.
Women are said to be more concerned with safety than men, and the vast majority of those attending cycle safety training classes reflects this. According to an unpublished Transport for London study, female cyclists are far more likely to be killed by lorries because, unlike male cyclists, they tend to obey red lights and wait at junctions in driver blind spots.
Male cyclists outnumber women by three to one. I cycle to work every day and the gender disparity is always apparent. The overriding reason for this is widely believed to be simply down to safety concerns.
Many of our European neighbours are doing a much better job at dispelling fears and reducing gender disparity in cycling. In Denmark and the Netherlands, female cyclists outnumber men at 55% and 56% respectively, while, in Germany, 49% of cyclists are women.
In London, we’re repeatedly told that cycling is a priority, ostensibly to reduce congestion and to ease pressure on public transport. Boris Johnson says he wants more women and older people to cycle while Transport for London have said they want to treble the number of bike journeys in the city from 500,000 to 1.5m over the next 10 years and double the number of people who cycle as part of their daily commute.
This is all very well but in order to achieve this, London’s general cycling infrastructure needs massive improvement particularly in regard to segregated cycle route networks and improving dangerous junctions notorious for cycling accidents, such as the Elephant and Castle roundabout which saw 80 reported accidents over a four-year period.
It is encouraging at least that there are plans to build more cycle routes across the capital and step up efforts to combat the dangers HGVs pose to cyclists. However, the current Transport for London budget plan for cycling over the next 10 years amounts to only £11 per person, per year, which is less than half of what many cities in Denmark and the Netherlands spend.
This isn’t enough to make meaningful improvements to infrastructure which are required to attract new cyclists and reassure people who are put off by a fear of having to share the road with fast moving traffic that includes large lorries. A London Assembly survey conducted last year found that more than 80% of the 6,333 cyclists polled said they were worried about cycling in London.
Segregation was revealed as the biggest requirement for cycling, together with the need for better designed junctions. As a result, the London mayor's office announced that £300m was due to be spent on 33 separate junctions.
Put simply,the current gender imbalance on the capital’s roads reflects the widely held view that the current road environment is too dangerous.
Gil Penalosa is the founder of the Toronto-based consultancy 8-80 Cities, a Canadian non-profit organisation dedicated to transforming cities into more walking and cycling friendly ‘people-places.’ Penalosa describes female cyclists as the “indicator species” for how cycle-friendly a city is.
“If there aren’t at least as many women as men, then usually it’s because cycling is not safe enough,” she said. “It’s an indicator that you do not have good enough cycling infrastructure.”
Oliver Jeffcott is an Associate Personal Injury Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.
Oliver is a keen cyclist who has written extensively on cycling and road safety for numerous national publications.
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