Posts Tagged ‘cyclists’

Workers, Cyclists & Palestine – 2012

Sunday, April 28th, 2024

Workers, Cyclists & Palestine – Saturday 28th April 2012 I began by covering the Workers Memorial Day protest at the statue of the Building Worker on Tower Hill before going on to The Big Ride, London’s largest ever cycle protest. My final assignment was opposite Downing Street where people were showing their support for the more than 1200 Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails.

Workers Memorial Day – Tower Hill

Workers, Cyclists & Palestine

Around a hundred trade unionists and pensioners met at the statue of the Building Worker at Tower Hill on Workers Memorial Day to remember those killed and maimed at work, laying wreaths and releasing black balloons.

Workers, Cyclists & Palestine

According to official figures 20,000 people in the UK die every year as a result of their work though campaigners believe the true figure is at least double this. At least 1.9 million people of working age are living with injuries caused or made worse by their jobs and many of these are in the numbers Rishi Sunak complains about as being economically inactive and the Tories want to force back into work.

Workers, Cyclists & Palestine

The UK has a poor safety record for workers, 20th out of 34 in the OECD industrialised countries and governments have contributed to this by cutting workplace safety inspections dramatically. They respond to lobbying by employers to “cut red tape” which has meant a lowering of safety for workers – and for others including those killed by the Grenfell fire where the local authority was allowed to avoid proper fire safety inspections.

Workers, Cyclists & Palestine

Workers Memorial Day began in Canada in 1988 and was recognised by the TUC in 1999 and the Health and Safety Executive in 2000. The UN adopted it as the World Day for Safety and Health at Work in 2002. Its message is “Remember the dead – Fight for the living.”

This year, 2024, the theme for International Workers Memorial Day is the Climate Crisis and Workers’ Health, exploring the impacts of climate change on occupational safety and health. Events are taking place across the world, and in London in Waltham Forest, Barking and Stratford today, Sunday 28th April and tomorrow, Monday 29th April in Old Palace Yard, Westminster at 1-2pm.

More from 2012 on My London Diary: Workers Memorial Day.

Big Ride for Safe Cycling – Park Lane to Temple

This was a huge family-friendly ride for cyclists, with and estimated 10,000 riders taking part, calling on the next London mayor to show their commitment to making London’s streets safer and healthier by encouraging walking and cycling.

All three main candidates have signed up to select three high-profile locations for Dutch-style cycling infrastructure, which encourages cycling and walking although I only saw one of them, the Green Party’s Jenny Jones, actually taking part in the ride.

Many of those taking part dressed up for the event and there were some weird and wonderful machines taking part. For many it was a family day out and there were some very young participants both in trailers and on various small bicycles among the crowd.

More at Big Ride for Safe Cycling.

Support For Palestinian Hunger Strike – Downing St

This was an emergency protest called at the last minute to support the over 1200 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails on hunger strike against administrative detention and other issues.

Among those held in Israeli jails in 2012 were 27 Palestinian MPs, 8 women and 138 children. Around 320 of them are in administrative detention, held without any charge or trial, and their numbers had risen considerably in the previous 18 months.

Hunger strikers are being punished by the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) who have confiscated personal belongings, transferred some to other prisons, put some in solitary confinement and denied them visits from family members and lawyers.

Support For Palestinian Hunger Strike

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St Omer & Arques 1993

Sunday, May 7th, 2023

Mostly I’ve photographed London over the past 50 or so years, with just a few earlier pictures that I think I have lost, including the first film I ever had processed, of ancient oak trees in Richmond Park back in 1962. It cost me 17s 6d to get it processed and it was years before I could afford to do more. I think all of the pictures are now lost. But I have also photographed elsewhere, particularly in Hull and Paris, and also on a number of holidays, some where I’ve perhaps taken photography more seriously than others. But I’ve always had a camera with me.

Cyclists, France

A few of those holidays have been cycling holidays, including a ride up the Loire valley and a couple of others in northern France. France is a better place to cycle than the UK for various reasons. It still has mile after mile of largely empty rural roads and French drivers have a much more positive attitude towards cyclists. More of them are cyclists themselves or have been.

le Marais Audomarois, St Omer, France

One such holiday was in late August 1993, when I went with my wife and two sons, aged 14 and 17 to northern France. Our rides were fairly leisurely with not the slightest whiff of Lycra and frequent stops for me to repair the punctures of the others or carry out other running repairs. My own bike, a 1956 Cinelli bought secondhand for me by my eldest borther for my 13th birthday performed without any such problems. I’ve recently scanned and put the pictures from our holiday into a Flickr album.

Water Tower, near Cassel, France

Two things made that difficult. One was the poor trade processing of the colour negative film I used, with one film having two large gouges across most frames along with some other damage which required extensive digital retouching. I tried out Photshops new AI filter which removed them perfectly – but also took out some other parts of the image, so I went back to doing the job manually.

Tower, Hauts-de-France, France, 1993, 93c08-01-71

But what took as much or rather more time was trying to identify the locations for many of the images. I’ve done my best, but some are still rather vague and others may be wrong. I’m hoping that some viewers on Flickr will help and tell me more. If you know the area around Calais, Ardres, St Omer, Arques and Cassel please do take a look. The pictures are rather mixed up in order, and I was using two cameras, both with colour negative film, for reasons I can not now understand.

Canal, Rue des Faiseurs de Bateaux, Saint-Omer, Hauts-de-France, France, 1993, 93c08-01-41

On 23 August 1993 we made an early morning start on a train to Clapham Junction and rode from there to Victoria. The train to Dover and the crossing to Calais for the four of us cost £42 for a fivee-day return ticket and our bikes travelled free. We arrived in mid-afternoon and an easy ride took us to the hotel we had booked in Ardres.

Bridge, Canal, Hauts-de-France, France, 1993, 93c08-01-43

The following day was a more difficult ride, and we had a nasty few minutes when Joseph’s chain came off and jammed between sprockets and hub far from any town or village, close to the high speed line then being built for Eurostar, work on which had involved us in a number of detours, and for years I’d look out of the window a few minutes after we came out of the tunnel and recognise the short uphill stretch were it happened.

Blockhaus d'Éperlecques, Éperlecques, France

Eventually after much sweating I managed to free it and we could proceed. For some reason we had decided to visit the Blockhaus d’Eperlecques, built in 1943 as a base to launch V2 rockets at Britain, but destroyed by bombing and now a French National Monument with some very large holes in its concrete roof.

Bridge, near St Omer, France

Our route to it involved a rather large hill but we were able to rest a bit and look around the site before continuing on our journey to St Omer. Here we found another slight problem with our French map, which showed what looked like a nice quiet route on to Arques. It turned out to be an abandoned railway track, complete with sleepers and impossible to ride. After struggling for a while we turned back and took the N42 instead and soon reached Arques.

L'Ascenseur à Bateaux des Fontinettes, Arques, France

At Arques we were just in time for the last guided tour of the day of the 1888 boat lift, L’Ascenseur à Bateaux des Fontinettes, modelled on the Anderton lift in Cheshire, replacing 5 locks and taking 22 minutes to transfer boats up and down by 13.13 metres – 43 ft. It was closed in 1967 as traffic had grown considerably and replaced by a single modern lock.

A la Grande Ste Catherine, Hotel, Hauts-de-France, France, 1993, 93c08-01-52

At Arques we had booked a three night stay at ‘A la Grande Ste-Catherine’ . Including breakfasts for us all and a couple of dinners for the two of us (our two sons wouldn’t eat proper French food) this cost 1832 Francs, then a little over £200. They ate frites and burgers from a street stall, though one night we did all manage to find food for all of us at a supermarket restaurant.

le Marais Audomarois,, St Omer, France

The next day we returned to look around St Omer, and then rode to Tilques, abandoning saddles for a boat trip around le Marais Audomarois, one of the more interesting parts of our visit.

Rooftops, Cassel, France

And for our last full day in France we took a ride to Cassel, a town on a hill that rises to the highest point on the Plain of Flanders, surrounded by flat lands in all directions, taking an indirect route via the Forêt Domaniale de Rihoult (Clairmarais), rather disappointing as it was full of noisy schoolkids from their colonies de vacances.

Radio Uylenspiegel, Cassel, France

It was a struggle up the hill to Cassel, and we were glad to rest for a while at the cafe inside the grim fortress of a Flemish language radio station – former a casino and I think the local Gestapo headquarters. Our ride back to Arques was by the direct route and began with a long downhill stretch where no pedalling was needed for a very long way.

A Cathelain,  Bavinchove, France

Finally came our last day, and I planned an easy route back to Calais, mainly beside canals. But the others objected and demanded a visit to the Eurotunnel exhibition on the way, which held us up considerably, not least because most of the roads had been diverted to build the high speed line and our map was fairly useless. We finally managed to catch the 19.15 ferry, a few hours before our ticket expired.

Many more pictures in the Flickr album Northern France – St Omer.

NHS, Shaker, Drax, Gurkhas, Herbalists & Bikes

Monday, April 24th, 2023

Wednesday 24th April 2013 was a busy day for protests in Westminster. And there was one in the City.

Protest the Privatisation of NHS – Old Palace Yard

NHS, Shaker, Drax, Gurkhas, Herbalists & Bikes

The House of Lords was debating NHS regulations which imposed full competitive tendering on the NHS, a key part in the escalating backdoor privatisation of the NHS.

Unite had set up a ‘Wheel of Fortune’ game show hosted by people wearing ‘David Cameron’ and ‘Jeremy Hunt’ masks and listing the likely costs of various procedures due to the tendering system. They feared “that the coalition’s NHS policies, including a multi billion pound funding squeeze coupled with a massive reorganisation, will destroy the 65 year old health service, paving the way for a new marketised system where paying up to £10,000 for maternity costs or £13,450 for a new hip is the norm.”

NHS, Shaker, Drax, Gurkhas, Herbalists & Bikes

Unite said that already more than £20 billion of health costs go to private companies, who take their decisions on the basis of profit rather than the interests of patients. The Lords were debating a motion for the annulment of the regulations on the grounds that Parliament had been assured “that NHS commissioners would be free to commission services in the way they consider in the best interests of NHS patients“.

Protest the Privatisation of NHS

Bring Shaker Aamer Home – Parliament Square

NHS, Shaker, Drax, Gurkhas, Herbalists & Bikes

Following a petition with 117,387 signatures to bring Shaker Aamer home from Guantanamo, a debate had been held that morning by MPs in Westminster Hall, where most of the 17 MPs who spoke called for his release, including Shaker’s own MP, the Conservative MP for Battersea, Jane Ellison, who also came out to speak with the protesters.

NHS, Shaker, Drax, Gurkhas, Herbalists & Bikes

Unfortunately such debates, although they do increase pressure on the government to take action have no actual consequences. But perhaps it did help to persuade the government that it had to ignore the embarrassment of British agents at being complicit in his torture by the US and make clear to the US government he should at last be released after being held for 12 years, long after he had been cleared of any involvement in terrorism. As I noted, “The facts about torture are now largely public and totally indefensible and it is time for justice to be done.”

Bring Shaker Aamer Home

Drax Biomass Threat to our Planet – Princes St, CityDrax AGM, wpp

Green Party leader Natalie Bennett speaking at the protest

I had to take the tube to the City to attend a protest outside Gocer’s Hall where the AGM of Drax, the huge coal-burning power station near Selby in Yorkshire was being held. Drax was planning to convert half its capacity to bio-mass and become the largest biomass-burning power station in the world, using 1.5 times the total UK wood production per year.

The wood pellets would come mainly from devastating clear-cutting of highly diverse forests in North America, and although re-grown will eventually remove the same amount of carbon this will take a hundred years or more – during which time the carbon Drax emits – roughly 50% greater than burning coal – will be contributing to disastrous global warming.

Drax already has a disastrous impact in South America were land is being grabbed from traditional communities for open cast coal mining, usually with complete disregard for their human and civil rights, cleared of its biodiverse forests and diverted from food production – often in places where food is desperately needed. Conversion to wood-burning at Drax will result in even more environmental and social destruction.

The incentive to change to wood-burning is that under current government policies Drax will receive huge government subsidies from funds intended to promote renewable energy, diverting funds from schemes for energy production and conservation that actually will help to combat climate change.

Drax Biomass Threat to our Planet

Gurkhas Call for equal treatment – Old Palace Yard

I returned to Westminster, where Several hundred Gurkha pensioners and supporters were holding a rally on the 198th anniversary of the first recruitment of Gurkhas into the British Army to deliver a petition to David Cameron asking for equal treatment to other British Army ex-soldiers.

British Army Gurkhas who retired before 1997 were granted the right to settle in the UK in 2009, but their pension remains only a fifth of that of other British soldiers, and is impossible to live on in the UK, being based on the cost of living in Nepal.

Gurkhas Call for equal treatment

UK herbalists Want Regulations – Old Palace Yard

Also in Old Palace Yard were UK herbalists, both traditional and Chinese, protesting against the failure of the government to bring in the statutory regulations they had promised to do by 2012.

Under EU regulations from 2004, traditional remedies then in use could continue to be provided until 2011, but after that had to be covered by national policies to regulate their safety and effectiveness. Although the government had promised to set this up, it has so far failed to do so, and they are now unable to prescribe many commonly used and effective common herbal remedies.

UK herbalists Want Regulations

Get Britain Cycling Report Launch – Parliament Square

Finally, in Parliament Square, Christ Boardman, a gold medal cylist in the Barcelona Olympics posed with MPs from the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group to launch their report ‘Get Britain Cycling.’

This calls for more to be spent on supporting cycling and that it should be considered in all planning decisions. They want more segregated cycle lanes and for the 30mp urban speed limit to by reduced to 20mph. Children should be taught to ride a bike at school and the government should produce and annually report on a cross-departmental Cycling Action Plan. Cycling has enormous advantages both individually and for us all in better health and reducing pollution with reduced health spending.

Get Britain Cycling Report Launch

Cyclist Deaths and Militant Muslims – 2013

Tuesday, November 29th, 2022

On Friday 29th November 2013 I went to two very different protests in London.

Islamists Protest Angolas Ban on Muslims – Angolan Embassy, Friday 29th November 2013

I’d had an interest in the rise of extremist Islamic movements in the UK since 2004, when I first photographed a march by Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain, and the activities of Anjem Choudary had attracted my attention for some years before this event in 2013. In 1996 he had been one of the founders of the Islamist al-Muhajiroun, an organisation which dissolved itself shortly before it was banned by the UK government as a terrorist organisation in 2010, going on to found a series of new organisations considered by many to be al-Muhajiroun under different names.

I can’t now remember under what title Choudary had announced ‘DEMONSTRATION AGAINST THE CHRISTIAN TYRANNY UPON MUSLIMS IN ANGOLA!’; another group he was associated with, Muslims Against Crusades, had been banned in November 2011, but I think many of those at this protest were the same individuals. The many posters they held named no organisation.

I’d gone to the Regents Park Mosque where a march had been announced to start to the Angolan Embassy, but as the crowds emerged after Friday prayers there was no sign of Choudary or his followers. Asking people there I learnt a small group had been present earlier but had left before the time announced and I gathered it had been made clear they were not welcome at the mosque.

I hurried down to the Angolan Embassy in Dorset Street, arriving to find a noisy demonstration taking place, but with no sign of Choudary. Another photographer told me I had missed them setting off firecrackers when they arrived. There were some loud chants echoing the message on the placards that ‘Muslims Will Destroy The Crusade & Implement ISLAM!’

As I wrote in the captions, “I came to the protest thinking for once that Amjem Choudary and his supporters had a just cause – Angola is clamping down on non-Christian religions including Islam. But it isn’t a ‘crusade’ but something that most Christians around the world and secularists would firmly oppose. But they would oppose it in the name of freedom. This was something rather different.

Finally Choudary himself arrived and began a lengthy speech. It was interesting and there was much that many including myself would agree with, as the Angolan regime has embarked on a purge of all non-Christian religions in the country. According to a report in The Guardian, there are only 83 approved religious organisations in Angola, every one of them Christian, and a statement from the Angolan embassy in the US claimed that they had ‘lots of religions’, citing “Catholic, Protestants, Baptists, Muslims and evangelical people.” In other words, freedom of religion – so long as it is Christian.

But what Choudary and his supporters advocate is not freedom of religion but the establishment of an Islamic Khilafah (caliphate), establishing Sharia law, where the only religion tolerated would be their extremist distortion of Islam. There was something new in his speech, when he talked about Islamic armies rising to “establish the Sharia” which at the time I thought was just wishful thinking on his part, but was in fact a chilling reality which became obvious as ISIS rose to occupy not Angola but a large territory in the Middle East around six months later.

Many of us were convinced in 2013 that Choudary was, if not an MI5 agent, at least protected by them and the police as a ‘honeypot’ for Islamic extremists, gathering them together to enable them to be readily recognised and kept under observation. It’s difficult to see otherwise why he had not been arrested for some of thee statements in his speeches at protests, careful though he was. But it was the rise of ISIS and his support expressed for Islamic State that led to his eventual arrest and sentencing in 2016 for five and a half years under the Terrorism Act 2000.

Islamists Protest Angolas Ban on Muslims

Cyclists ‘Die in’ at TfL HQ – Blackfriars Rd,
Friday 29th November 2013

Cyclists are the most vulnerable of road users, riding unprotected among cars and lorries whose drivers are cased in powerful and heavy metal shells. Pedestrians also lack any protection, but are usually provided with pavements which cyclists cannot legally use.

That of course is stating the obvious, but it’s an obvious that is almost always obscured by heated anti-cyclist opinions forcefully expressed, about cyclists who get in the way of motorists, or who ride aggressively on pavements, cross red lights and fail to wear cycle helmets etc.

I write as a cyclist and a pedestrian, and a former if reluctant driver. As the latest Highway Code makes even clearer, cyclists have a right to be on the road and are a part of traffic just as much as any car or lorry. And there are probably about as many bad cyclists as there are bad drivers, perhaps rather more given the number of people too young to get a driving licence who ride bikes.

We now have many shared paths for bicycles and pedestrians and accidents on them are rare, and very seldom cause significant injuries to either party, though the few that do get great publicity. Many of us also occasionally ride on pavements which are not officially shared, and do so with care for those on foot, in places where the roadway is dangerous and there is no separate provision for cyclists. I won’t get into cycle helmets in depth, but they provide little protection and may well decrease the safety of cyclists as well as making cycling a rather less convenient activity. And the emphasis on their use is simply trying to put the blame on the victims of road accidents rather than trying to make the roads safe.

There are many reasons why cycling should be encouraged and proper facilities provided. It improves the health of those who cycle and leads to a cut in expenditure on health services, is an almost non-polluting form of transport and much more efficient in the use of road space, reducing congestion for others, and a cheap solution particularly to many shorter distances in cities. Many cities have become better places to live by welcoming and providing proper provision for cycling.

The protest outside the London HQ of TfL demanded safer road provision for cyclists. It was organised after 14 cyclists had been killed in London over the previous years. For more than 50 years the design and provision of roads has been almost entirely based on increasing the flow of motorised vehicles, with other considerations being largely ignored. And faster traffic becomes more dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists – congestion actually makes cycling in central London safer.

Even where TfL has begun to provide cycle ‘superhighways’, these have been badly designed at many junctions, and marked cycle paths are often used as parking places, forcing cyclists into the heavy traffic the path is meant to avoid. Some cycle lanes in my area are far too narrow and on uneven road edges making them dangerous to ride on even where they are not obstructed by parked vehicles, others have stop signs at every minor road or even injunctions to dismount.

On My London Diary you can read the list of eight demands the protest made to improve safety and get more people using bikes. As well as spending more money on cycling infrastructure they included a ban on vehicles whose drivers are unable to see adjacent road users. Most deaths of cyclists are caused by drivers who turn left at junctions unaware that there is a someone on a bike in their path.

After a short introduction to the event there was a long silent vigil while a cellist played solemn music, and those who had brought candles came and lit them around a bicycle. Then there was a speech reminding us that Amsterdam had become a much more pleasant city with high bicycle use following a series of protests in the 1970s had prompted the city into action – with die-ins such as that which followed. Police at the scene estimated a thousand bicycles and cyclists took part, though organisers thought it was double this. The BBC reported it as ‘hundreds’ in a typical media response to cyclists and protests. Then the rally continued, with more speeches and the reading out of the names of cyclists killed on the streets.

More at Cyclists ‘Die in’ at TfL HQ.

Cyclists’ Die-In And A Visit To The Oral Squat

Tuesday, November 8th, 2022

On Wednesday 8th November 2017 I spent the evening in Islington.

Vigil for Islington cyclist killed by HGV – Islington Town Hall, Wed 8 Nov 2017

On May 2nd 2017, City trader Jerome Roussel was cycling to work along Pentonville Road when he collided with a heavy goods vehicle which had stopped in the cycle lane. He was seriously injured and died in hospital on June 25th, seven weeks later.

Police say that the cyclist had told them he had put his head down and had failed to see that the lorry had pulled in ahead of him and he crashed into the back of it.

Cycling around parts of London there are many streets with ‘cycle lanes’ marked at the edges of the roads but often obstructed by parked vehicles. The driver in this case had only just pulled into it, intending to turn into a side street, but for many others the cycle lane is a convenient parking place, perhaps for a few minutes while they visit a shop, or for much longer.

These roads have cycle lanes because there is enough faster moving traffic on them to make them dangerous for cyclists. But cars and lorries parked on them mean that cyclists have to move out into this traffic. We need a law which makes it an offence to park on cycles lanes – and for it to be enforced.

Islington Labour – For the few who drive

Better still we need far more physically separated cycle lanes, though where these exist there are also sometimes cars parked on them, rendering them unusable, and sometimes road surfaces so poorly maintained that they are uncomfortable to ride on and even at times dangerous. Even small potholes that a car would cruise over can send the unwary cyclist flying.

As I wrote back in 2017, “Islington has not built a single protected cycle route in over 20 years and Transport Minister Jessye Norman has so far failed to sign the the commencement order to allow TfL to fine HGVs and traffic that drive into mandatory cycle lanes, such as the one on Pentonville Road where Jerome Roussel was killed. Islington, responsible for 95% of the roads in its area has reserves of £277 million (and growing) and campaigners say it should spend some of this on making its streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians.”

I don’t cycle in Islington, but although the council on its web site states it is “on a mission to improve cycling in Islington” I get the impression that relatively little has changed since Roussel’s death on a cycle lane in 2017. At the 2022 elections the London Cycling Campaign was calling on Islington Council to provide protected cycle routes on all busy roads by 2026, for low traffic neighbourhoods to cover the borough by 2024, to provide sustainable freight hubs, to set more ambitious targets for sustainable transport and provide secure cycle parking.

Cyclists gathered on the pavement outside Islington Town Hall and listened to a number of speeches before police stopped traffic and the campaigners held a 5 minute silent die-in on the road in memory of Jerome Roussel, after which there were more speeches and a final address by Donnachadh McCarthy.

More at Vigil for Islington cyclist killed by HGV.

ORAL squat empty NatWest Bank – Upper St, Islington, Wed 8 Nov 2017

As I walked back from Islington Town Hall to the Underground station with another photographer we met activists who knew us outside the squatted former NatWest Bank on Upper St and stopped to talk.

Inside things are a little messy, but there is no real damage

This had been squatted around a week earlier by the Order of Rampaging Anarchist Lunatics (ORAL) and they were using it as a centre to provide tea, coffee, clothing and shelter for the street homeless of the area.

The building was well lit and warm – the squatters are paying for electricity

We were invited inside for a tour of the squat and to take photographs. The squatters were expecting to be evicted in the near future, and actually were a few days later, after which they published a ‘final communique’ on their Facebook page. You can read this in full on My London Diary, but here is the first paragraph:

Several years ago, what began as a ridiculous idea to form a satirical nation of squatters evolved into one of the most infamous land pirate crews known around the world. Originally coined the Autonomous National of Anarchist Libertarians [ANAL] we’ve penetrated deep into London, forming a property portfolio that undoubtedly far exceeds any other crew; Having taken roughly 60 buildings in zone 1 over a period of around 4 years. Most notably Admiralty Arch.

My London Diary

Their communique goes on to say that they felt their activities had acheived nothing and that they would be forming a new group focused on “setting the example of how to evolve society & humanity” though “construction & creation” and would shortly be opening “a new community hub”.

My assessment was rather more positive, in that they and other activists had drawn attention to the scandal of so many empty properties while we have a housing crisis. Thanks to the Tory programme of austerity we had seen a huge increase in the number of homeless people and there should be legal ways to bring these properties into use. The current situation remains shameful in what is still one of the world’s wealthiest countries.

ORAL Squat empty NatWest Bank.

Funeral for Cyclists, Against Islamophobia, Iranian Repression

Thursday, October 13th, 2022

London, Saturday 13th October 2018

National Funeral for the Unknown Cyclist

I’ve been a cyclist since my sixth birthday, when my parents bought me a second-hand two wheeler to replace the trikes I’d been on since before I could walk. By the end of the day I could ride it, if rather unsteadily, along the pavement of our street.

The bicycle gave kids like me a new freedom, and within a couple of years I was riding miles either on my own or with a couple of mates to play both in local parks and green spaces and further afield. We cycled away from our dusty streets into the countryside, often going along some of the busiest roads in the country, the A30, A4 and A3 out west from our grey suburbs.

We didn’t think much about safety back then, and though traffic was heavy, vehicles were smaller and speeds were lower. Drivers were I think more considerate back then, and almost all will have been cyclists before getting behind the wheel. So I survived, though there were a few close shaves, later mainly thanks to teenage stupidity.

Over seventy years later I still ride a bike, though with rather larger wheels, and usually just to the local shops, but I feel less safe on the roads. I’ve been knocked off it a couple of times in the past twenty years or so, both times by drivers who were extremely apologetic and confessed they hadn’t seen me as they drove out onto a main road or came up behind me on a roundabout. I was lucky and only sustained minor cuts and bruises and the motorists paid for the repairs to my bike.

During the first Covid lockdown the roads were almost empty and I went out each weekday morning for a ten-mile ride to keep fit. But then traffic began to come back and the fumes and too many close passes put me off the roads again.

In the past few years we seem to have come out of the long era where cyclists were almost completely disregarded in terms of traffic planning (and pedestrians too) but still we are largely failing to get the kind of separate provision to make cycling more safe that we see in some European countries.

Some councils are still dementedly anti-cyclist, and too many drivers see cyclists as an impediment to their progress rather than as fellow road-users. Some still accelerate past me then cut in across me to turn left at junctions, some pass where there is clearly not enough room to do so safely and some even shout insults as the drive past.

Cycling is good for individual health and for the health system as a whole, though less than it should be because of the pollution from traffic. By reducing car journeys it is good for the environment too, and good for motorists as people switching to bikes cuts congestion in cities. As a country we should be spending far more to encourage it and make it safer. In particular that means more separate provision – fears over safety when bikes are on busy roads is one of the main things that stops many getting on bike, but also driver education and improvements in vehicle and road design.

Among those at the protest were a number of families whose members had been killed on our roads, including some from Tony Spink’s family. He was killed cycling through Wakefield city centre by a lorry driver who didn’t stop, dragging him under his lorry as he hung onto the windscreen wipers and thumped on the side of the truck. His mangled bike was pulled from the lorry by the driver at a layby and then dumped in bushes miles away. The driver was jailed for two years. This was an extreme case but the sentence seemed risibly short, as are many of the sentences given to drivers who kill both cyclists and pedestrians.

Protests by Stop Killing Cyclists such as this National Funeral for the Unknown Cyclist have publicised the problem and the organisation lobbies for £3 billion a year to be invested in a national protected cycling network and for urgent action to reduce the toxic air pollution from diesel and petrol vehicles which kills tens of thousands of people every year, and disables hundreds of thousands.

Several hundred protesters on bicycles met in Lincolns Inn Fields before riding in a funeral procession behind a horse-drawn hearse to Westminster where instead of following the route the police wanted across Westminster Bridge they turned into Parliament Square and staged a 10 minute die-in before proceeding to a rally in Smith Square.

National Funeral for the Unknown Cyclist

Rally opposes Islamophobic DFLA – Parliament St

I left the National Funeral for the Unknown Cyclist as it went on to Smith Square and walked up Parliament Street to a rally opposing the racist, Islamophobic Democratic Football Lads Alliance who were ending their march with a rally at Downing St.

Stand Up To Racism and Unite Against Fascism had organise a rally here, but the DFLA marchers had not arrived at the expected time. Far fewer than expected had turned up for their march, and it had been blocked for some time by more militant anti-fascist protesters on the route.

Some of the DFLA had given up and gone to pubs along the route, but a few had walked across St James’s Park to Parliament Square from where they shouted for a while at the SUTR/UAF protest as police stopped them from getting closer, and after a while persuaded them to move away. The number who finally arrived for their rally was rather small and it didn’t seem worthwhile to take a long walk around the police barricade to try to photograph them.

Rally opposes Islamophobic DFLA

Ahwazi protest Iranian repression – Parliament Square

Instead I went back to Parliament Square where I met Ahwazi protesters marching into the square carrying Ahwaz independence flags. They protested noisily facing the Houses of Parliament calling for Iran to end the repression of their people and to get out of their land.

Al Ahwaz, the oil-rich northern side of the Persian Gulf was under British control until 1925, with the population enjoying considerable autonomy as Arabistan. The emirate was dissolved by the Persian regime following a rebellion in 1924 and the area occupied by Persian troops, and a process of ‘Persianisation’ imposed on the area, attempting to destroy its Arab culture. They renamed the area Khuzestan.

Discrimination against the Ahwazi increased under the Islamic Regime, impoverishing the area which contains much of Iran’s natural resources and there has been widespread civil unrest since 2015, with massive protests in April 2018 on the anniversary of the 2011 Ahwaz Day of Rage, itself an anniversary of the 2005 unrest. In September 2018 militants from the
Ahwaz National Resistance attacked an Iranian Revolutionary Guard parade in the city of Ahvaz, killing 25 soldiers and civilians.

Ahwazi protest Iranian repression

City Cleaners Strike, Cyclists mourned

Friday, June 10th, 2022

City Cleaners Strike, Cyclists mourned – A rally on Wood Street on Friday 10th June 2016 marked the third day of what became the longest strike ever in the City of London, and later at City Hall a vigil remembered 11 road users killed on London streets since the mayoral election last month, including three cyclists.

Day 3 UVW Wood St Cleaners Strike – 100 Wood St, City of London

City Cleaners Strike, Cyclists mourned

Cleaners belonging to the United Voices of the World union employed by anti-union cleaning contractor Thames Cleaning to clean the 100 Wood St offices managed by CBRE held a rally at the end of their picket on the third day of their strike.

City Cleaners Strike, Cyclists mourned
The picket

The offices there are mainly used by Schroders and J P Morgan, both large and highly profitable companies, but the cleaners are on poverty wages and several union members had been sacked and others served with notice by Thames Cleaning for organising the workers to demand a living wage.

City Cleaners Strike, Cyclists mourned
Measuring the 10m required by the injunction

Rather than talk with the UVW, Thames’s response to the strike threat had been to spend over £20,000 in the High Court trying to get an injunction to prohibit the strikes and protests. Although the court would not stop them, they issued an injunction which set down strict conditions for the picket and protest and this left the UVW with crippling legal costs.

The UVW is a small grass roots union supported only by dues from its members and unlike the large established trade unions has little or no money to run its activities which include educational workshops as well as supporting its members in the workplace and at employment tribunals. Those who perform duties for it are paid the London Living Wage for the time spent and there are no highly paid union officials. The union had to issue an emergency appeal for cash – and received support from people and union branches across the trade union movement.

Candy Udwin, PCS Rep at the National Gallery holds a banner

One aspect of the injunction was that any protest connected with the strike had to keep at least 10 metres from the doorway of the offices. Of course picketing is covered by strict trade union laws and a lengthy code of practice that requires it to be as reasonably close as possible to the entrance and exit, and limits it to six or less clearly identified pickets with a supervisor (and possibly also a union organiser) behaving in a peaceful manner.

The protest took place over a carefully measured 10 metres away on the opposite side of the street after a picket which had begun in the early morning when the cleaners would normally have arrived for work. The strike continued for 58 days before the UVW was able to announce that a satisfactory agreement had been reached with the employer and all further action was ended.

There are four posts about the Wood Street Strike on My London Diary for June (and more in later months) :
UVW Cleaners on Strike in City
Day 3 UVW Wood St Cleaners Strike
UVW Wood St Strike Day 10
UVW Wood St Strike continues

London Traffic Deaths Vigil – City Hall

Although London had an impressive purpose-built County Hall on the south bank just downstream of Westminster Bridge, this was sold off when Margaret Thatcher vindictively disbanded the Greater London Council, leaving London rudderless for 14 critical years. After the Greater London Authority was created in 2000, it was without a proper home for two years before leasing and moving into a purpose-built oddly spherical building by Norman Foster in the misleadingly named ‘More London’ currently owned by the Kuwait sovereign wealth fund who disguise themselves as St Martins Property Investments Limited.

Many saw the move to the new building as a failure of purpose by the Labour government in noy re-acquiring County Hall for the new London-wide authority – but then Labour under Blair continued most of Thatcher’s policies rather than move away from her individualist greed-based approach towards one getting back to the social welfare which had been at the heart of post-war Labour.

London’s City Hall moved in 2022 to Kamal Chunchie Way, Newham, E16 into the former ‘The Crystal’ exhibition centre beside the northern end of London’s ‘Dangleway’ cable car, though this is expected to close fairly soon as no replacement sponsor has come up to keep it running.

Sadiq Khan had retaken London as a Labour Mayor on May 5th 2016, with a decisive win over Conservative Zac Goldsmith and the Green candidate Siân Berry trailing badly in third place. Since then, 11 people had died on the streets of London, roughly around the average for that period in Greater London (in 2019, the total for the year was 125.)

Siân Berry

Protests are – at least theoretically – not usually allowed in ‘More London’, but this one was hosted by Green Party London wide Assembly Member Caroline Russell, a member of the GLA Transport Committee and organised by London Women on Bikes (LWOB), #LondonBusWatch, Westminster Living Streets and BMX Life. Of the 11 who died, 3 were cyclists and the others were on foot.

Most road deaths are not ‘accidents’ but “happen because road users make mistakes, often made harder to avoid because of poor vehicle or road design. Many of them result from a lack of proper facilities for pedestrians and cyclists in a road system which prioritises getting motorised vehicles from A to B as fast as possible rather than safety. Some are caused by the failure of police to enforce road traffic law – for example on advanced stop lines at traffic lights.”

One of the cyclists killed was BMX rider Dan ‘Cash’ Stephenson, hit by a bus on the Strand during a BMX Life charity ride and many other BMX riders had come to the vigil, wearing tartan ribbons in his memory as he always rode in tartan. There were a number of speeches and then the names of those killed were read, followed by an eleven minutes of silence when those at the vigil were invited to stand in silence or to lie down, with or without bikes, in a silent ‘die-in’.

As the vigil came to an end and people were beginning to leave we were all called back for a highly emotional moment when Dan ‘Cash’ Stephenson’s daughter spoke through tears about her father.

London Traffic Deaths Vigil

Refugee Children, Dead Cyclists & A Squat

Friday, February 11th, 2022

Refugee Children, Dead Cyclists & A Squat – 11th February 2017

Dubs Now – Shame on May

Five years ago, on Saturday 11th February 2017, a crowd of supporters of Citizens UK and Safe Passage joined Lord Alf Dubs at Downing St to take a petition to Theresa May urging her to reverse the decision to stop offering legal sanctuary to unaccompanied refugee children.

The Tory government had been forced into an unusual humanitarian response when Parliment passed the Dubs amendment, and they were then given a list of over 800 eligible children – although there were known to be more whose details were not recorded. And because of Lord Dubs, around 300 have been allowed into the UK. But although twice that number remain in limbo, many in the Calais camps, Prime Minister Theresa May decided to end the scheme.

Lord Dubs speaks

Among those who spoke at the protest before an emergency petition with over 40,000 signatures was taken to Downing St were speakers from four London Labour councils who all said they had told the government they would take more children but their offers had not been taken up.

Dubs Now – Shame on May

Invest in Cycling – Stop Killing Cyclists

Cyclists and supporters met in Trafalgar Square to march to the Treasury on the edge of Parliament Square to call for a significant increase in spending on infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians on our streets.

That week five people were killed on London streets as a result of careless or dangerous driving – accidents are rare, but such deaths are made much more likely by a road system engineered around the needs of car and other vehicle drivers and cutting their journey times through the city. Facilities for cyclists and pedestrians have long been treated as secondary and chronically underfunded.

But these 5 killed, who were remembered in the protest and die-in are a small fraction of the numbers who die prematurely each week in London as a result of high and often illegal levels of air pollution – estimated at around 180 per week, as well as the much higher number of those whose lives are seriously affected by health problems – both figures including many who drive. Powerful lobbies for motorists and vehicle manufacturers have led to the domination of our cities by cars and lorries.

There are huge health benefits from cleaning the air by cutting down traffic and congestion, and also by encouraging healthy activities including walking and cycling. And the main factor discouraging people from taking to bikes for journeys to school, work and shopping etc is the danger from cars and lorries. Better public transport also helps, particularly in cutting pollution levels, and anything that cuts the use of petrol and diesel vehicles will reduce the major contribution this makes to global warming.

Invest in Cycling – Stop Killing Cyclists

ANAL squat in Belgravia

My final event that day was a visit to 4 Grosvenor Gardens, a rather grand house short distance from Buckingham Palace (and more relevant to me, from Victoria Station.) Squatting collective the Autonomous Nation of Anarchist Libertarians (ANAL) had taken over this house on February 1st after having been evicted from the Belgrave Square house owned by Russian oligarch Andrey Goncharenko which they occupied for a week.

I’d meant to go there a week earlier, but a domestic emergency had called me away earlier in the day from a protest at the US Embassy before a programme of workshops and seminars in the seven-storey squat had begun. There was nothing special happening on the afternoon I visited (though some things were happening in the evening) but I was welcomed by the occupiers, several of whom recognised me, and they were happy for me to wander around the building and take photographs.

Apart from being careful to respect the privacy of some of the occupiers who were sleeping or resting in a couple of the rooms I was able to go everywhere from the basement to the top floor, but the door leading onto the roof was locked, probably to stop any possible access from there by bailiffs. Like many other houses and hotels in the area it has a view into the grounds of Buckingham Palace, but I had to make do with the view from a rather dusty window, or the less interesting view from lower down where windows could be opened.

Few squats have blue plaques – this one for soldier and archaeologist Lieutenant General Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt-Rivers, but more recently it has been in use for offices, business meetings and conferences. The squatters have tried hard to cause no serious damage and had last week turned out some people who had come to make a mess of the place.

There are around 1.5 million empty buildings in the UK, many like this deliberately kept empty as investments, their value increasing year on year. The number is enough to enough to house the homeless many times over. ANAL say that properties like this should be used for short-term accommodation while they remain empty and they have opened it as a temporary homeless shelter for rough-sleepers.

It remained in use for almost month, with the squat finally evicted at 8am on 27th February. As I ended my post, “There clearly does need to be some way to bring empty properties back into use, and councils should have much greater powers than at present to do so. Until that happens, squatting seems to be the only possible solution.”

ANAL squat in Belgravia

Waving to Copenhagen – 5th Dec 2009

Sunday, December 5th, 2021

Remember Copenhagen? This was COP15, and generally thought to have been a great failure, with developed countries’ refusing to adopt targets on limiting emissions by 2020 and developing countries insisting on their right to develop their economies and catch up with the big polluters.

But 2009 did see an upsurge in general interest in climate change, and one of the largest events in London against it, with many large charities combining in the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition and conducting what seemed more a PR exercise than a protest, culminating in a ‘Big Wave’ outside the empty Houses of Parliament at 3pm. Everybody around Parliament waved, made a lot of noise and then wondered what to do next.

As I wrote at the time:
Although it was good to see a wider participation – although despite that huge potential and massive publicity the march was perhaps only a little more than five times the size of previous years – this year’s event, entitled ‘The Wave’ did seem more a stunt for the media than an informed political event. Surely with the backing of 11 million the coalition should be making demands, not just waving, and it’s perhaps hard to see the significance of blue hands and faces in a demonstration about global warming.

It did appear to have been an opportunity lost to adopt a more robust attitude and push our government at least into some action. The day of protest also involved all the other groups who had been protesting over climate change for some years – and seemed to me to rather be hi-jacking the annual climate march by the Campaign Against Climate Change rather than getting behind them and working with them. That feeling underlies much of my reporting of the day, which I split into the seven sections on My London Diary – as below.

Climate Emergency Bike Ride

After two speeches at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the ride, organised by the Campaign Against Climate Change went on to hold demonstrations outside the London offices of two multinationals guilty of activities that are contributing to climate change, BP in St James’ Square and E.On in Pall Mall. Speakers there outlined some of the damage the companies were doing to the environment and how their activities were accelerating climate change.

Climate Emergency Bike Ride.

Climate Emergency Rally

The Campaign Against Climate Change had also organised a rally in Hyde Park before the march organised by the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition who were gathering in nearby Grosvenor Square, presumably to avoid anything political. While the Coalition were simply calling for “a fair and effective international agreement” , CACC made clear that “there is no chance of an effective agreement until the North wins the trust of the South and it will only do that if Northern countries like the UK match words with action and take radical emission-reducing measures at home.” The failure of Copenhagen showed they were right.

Climate Emergency Rally

World Association of Carbon Traders

The ‘World Association of Carbon Traders’, group of around 50 smartly dressed ‘city gents’ – who included a few ‘gentesses’ and rather more bad false moustaches – along with power-dressed business women, joined the joined the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition march under the banner ‘Carbon Trading: The Final Solution’. Their ‘ CO2$’ logo and placards including ‘Trust Me, I’m a Banker, Capitalise On The Climate’, ‘In Markets We Trust’, ‘One Solution. Trade Pollution’, ‘Greed is Green’, ‘Carbon Trader = Eco Crusader.’ and ‘Cash In On Climate Change’, which as well as the ‘Permits to Pollute’ they were handing out made their ironic intention clear.

I recognised some of the faces of these agents from previous demonstrations by the Space Hijackers, a group who call themselves ‘Anarchitects’ whose various projects over the last ten years given a new creative face to protest.

World Association of Carbon Traders

The Wave – Before the March

I took a few pictures of the crowds gathering in Grosvenor Square for the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition march on my way to and from the CACC rally.

The Wave – Before the March

Anticapitalist Block – Not Much Waving

For a minute or two this banner led the march as it came through Berkeley Square while march stewards came and argued with them. After a short while and the intevention of a rather stout cop these protesters were persuaded to roll up their banner and suggested they join the march rather further back.

There they joined a few others dressed mainly in black, some carrying red or black flags behind another black banner with the message “NO BOMBS NO BAILOUT NO CAPITALISM“. The block left the march and went to Jubilee Gardens rather than stay for the wave at Parliament.

Anticapitalist Block

Marching to the Wave

Marching to the Wave

The Wave

They waved. And then the stewards tried to get them to disperse. Some stayed on in Parliament Square., and I photographed some of them with banners, including Climate Rush. Their banner with a large heading ‘EQUITY’ carried the message “Emission Quotas Must Be Per Capita. The RIch Have No More Right to Pollute Than the Poor”.

In my caption I commented “It’s a principle seemed certain to prevent real progress at Copenhagen – as the rich and in particular the USA – won’t accept it.” And so Copenhagen was doomed to fail.

The Wave

Clean Air – 1990 cyclists and 2019 XR East London

Monday, July 12th, 2021

Cyclists protest, Whitehall, Westminster, 1990, 90-11c-14
‘Let London Breathe’ – Cyclists ride down Whitehall to a Trafalgar Square rally – November 1990

Back in 1990, I rode with hundreds of cyclists from the London Cycling Campaign and others protesting about the terrible air quality in London from Battersea Park to a well-attended rally in Trafalgar Square. Following the rally, some MPs raised the issue in Parliament.

XR East London marches for clean air – 12 July 2019

Almost 30 years on there has not been a great deal of progress – and the statistics now show almost 10,000 excess deaths per year in the city due to air pollution, and untold misery from various respiratory conditions, some crippling. In 2019 XR East London met at Bethnal Green on Friday 12 July to march to Hackney behind a banner ‘The Air That We Grieve’, calling for a rapid end to the use of fossil fuels.

Much of the pollution comes from road traffic, and the already announced end to the sale of new trucks, vans and any other combustion-powered vehicle from 2030 onwards will do a little to improve air quality, but existing petrol and diesel vehicles will continue to be used for many years, though we may see more stringent ultra-low emission zones to restrict their use in cities.

But although the switch to electric will cut down pollutants such as nitrogen oxides as well as reducing climate changing carbon dioxide, it will still leave other harmful substances such as particulates from tyres and brakes in the air. And the carbon footprint is only lowered so long as the electricity used to charge those car batteries comes from truly renewable generation.

Cleaner air in cities also needs us to move away from the car to more eco-friendly means of transport – such as public transport and bicycles. Even electric scooters and electric bikes also have a part to play.

Better public transport means more trains, light rail, trams and buses. The simplest and most cost-effective solutions are probably more dedicated bus lanes and bus-only routes, and giving buses greater priority in traffic. Many years ago I cycled in French cities where buses had priority and motorists (and cyclists) had to give way whenever they wanted to pull out from a stop, and changes like this to our Highway Code and traffic rules would make a difference.

In 1990 cyclists were calling for 1000 miles of dedicated cycle routes through London. We do now have some ‘cycle superhighways’ and ‘quietways’, although many of these – we are now supposed to call them ‘cycleways’ – still involve sharing with often dangerous traffic. Progress is still slow, and there is bitter opposition from some interest groups, particularly black cab drivers.

We need too an overhaul of London’s taxi system, with rules still made in the days of horse-drawn Hackney cabs. I’ve often stood at bus stops in the City waiting for my bus, held up by traffic while 20 or 30 or more black cabs drive by, the great majority of them empty. A move away from ‘ply for hire’ to smartphone based systems summoning a cab from a nearby taxi rank would hugely cut both congestion and pollution in the centre of London.

More at XR East London marches for clean air. You can click on the black and white image above to go to the album with more pictures from the 1990 cyclists protest.

As always I was travelling around London on public transport (I sometimes bring up a folding bike on the train) and as the march neared its end I boarded a bus in the opposite direction back to Bethnal Green where I took the tube back to Holborn, then took the short walk to the University of London’s Senate House, where exploited outsourced workers were holding a noisy protest after the newly appointed Vice-Chancellor Wendy Thomson had failed to reply to a request to meet them and discuss their grievances. You can see more about this at IWGB welcome new Vice Chancellor.

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.