Cyclists Die

As I’ve mentioned here before I’m a cyclist, though not a very active one at the moment, just jumping on a bike to go down our local shops or post a letter etc, and the very occasional longer ride. When I taught at a local college, I cycled to work and back every day, perhaps around five miles in all, except on half a dozen days in many years when thick snow halted traffic and I made it in on foot – to find none of the students had made it. Cycling was a little exercise that helped keep me healthy, but also the fastest, most reliable and certainly the cheapest way to get there.

In the suburbs where I live, the main danger for cyclists is fast-moving traffic, and drivers who fail to see cyclists. There are also those drivers who believe that cyclists have no place on the roads – and recently the UK’s Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has suggested cyclists are not road users, just a few weeks after he knocked one off his bike opening his car door.

Central London’s slower moving traffic can actually make cycling there safer, and the danger in London is mainly from lorries and other large vehicles with restricted views turning left over cyclists. But there is another hidden danger which kills many cyclists and pedestrians – air pollution from traffic fumes.

Research by scientists at Kings College for the Greater London Authority and Transport for London published in 2015 established that 9,5000 people per year die early in London due to high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5s). Over 60% of these were attributed to NO2, and Oxford Street has the worst NO2 levels in the world, mainly because of diesel vehicles, particularly the large number of buses. But all internal combustion engines – diesel or petrol – produce NO2.

It isn’t just deaths. Many of those who die early have suffered for years from lung diseases, heart problems, cancers, asthma, emphysema and lung infections. And along with Birmingham and Leeds, NO2 levels in London have been well above EU safety limits for more than 5 years.

Cyclists are particularly effected by air quality because they are more active than the average street user and closer to vehicle exhausts. So Stop Killing Cyclists called a die-in outside the Department of Transport to demand the government take urgent actions to address the problem, with 8 demands which I list at Stop Air Pollution Killing Cyclists.

Sian Berry

The protest took place ahead of the London Mayoral elections, and all of the candidates were London asked to respond to this list of demands, and their answers were commented on at the event. Those from the two main candidates, Sadiq Khan, who became Mayor and Zac Goldsmith were disappointing. Despite his claims to be an environmentalist, Goldsmith showed an almost complete lack of concern, and Khan was little better. One candidate – Sian Berry for the Green Party – both accepted the full list and came to take part in the protest, though we all knew she sadly had little chance of winning the election.

Donnachadh McCarthy, Co-founder Stop Killing Cyclists, taking part in the die-in

The publication of the report has so far led to a few minor changes or promises of future change. Two bus routes have become zero-emission, and others are to follow, and the High Court in November ruled that the government really had to take some effective measures over diesel vehicles – and revealed that the Treasury had previously prevented them doing so.  Mayor Sadiq Khan has stated the intention to bring in pollution charging this year and to bring forward establishing the Ultra-Low Emission Zone to 2019.

Environmental campaigner John Stewart, best known for his campaigning against Heathrow expansion

But at the same time, the government has announced its intention to back a new runway at Heathrow, which will seriously increase pollution in London, both from aircraft and from the extra traffic the runway will generate.  There is simply no way that pollution targets can be met if Heathrow is allowed to expand.

As usual, to capture overall images of the die-in the 16mm full-frame fisheye was useful, though the image at the tops of the post was made with the rectilinear 16-35mm lens.

Stop Air Pollution Killing Cyclists.


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