Cyclists form ‘human barrier’ in Old Street safety protest

Campaigners taking part in Thursday morning’s protest  (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)
Campaigners taking part in Thursday morning’s protest (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)

Cyclists have formed a “human barrier” to protect other riders from vehicles in protest at the lack of action to improve safety on one of London’s most dangerous routes.

Campaigners protested at Old Street on Thursday to highlight the dangers of the Old Street to Holborn “Clerkenwell boulevard” route on World Car-free Day.

Camden Cycling Campaign and Cycle Islington say there has been “eight years of inaction”, despite promises from Camden and Islington councils and Transport for London in the wake of hundreds of injuries and a spate of fatalities around the Holborn gyratory.

Since 2016, there have been 201 cyclist casualties, including 30 seriously injured people, in the Old Street to Holborn corridor, according to CycleStreets’ BikeData.

Recent cycle fatalities at Holborn include Dr Marta Krawiec, 41, a paediatrician who died in August last year, and Shatha Ali, 39, a former City lawyer, who was killed in March. Both died in collision with a lorry.

Under the terms of its £1.2bn Government bailout last month, TfL is required to spend £80m a year on “active travel” – namely, walking and cycling. Campaigners want some of these funds directed to Old Street.

The “make the lane” protest – which involves activists stepping into the road to form a corridor for cyclists to ride along – is a repeat of action three years ago.

The protesters on Thursday included Victoria Lebrec, who lost a leg in a horrific skip lorry crash in 2014, plus London Assembly Green party members Sian Berry and Caroline Russell.

Up to 6,000 cyclists are thought to use the route daily, despite it having no protected cycle lanes.

Steve Prowse from Camden Cycling Campaign: “We held a protest here in 2019 and we were promised action. Since then, more people have been hurt.

“We’re fed up with waiting for action on this corridor – one of the busiest for cycling in London despite the dangers here and despite the lack of any safe cycle infrastructure. We’ve been promised action by Camden and Islington councils. How many more people must be injured or killed before it arrives?”

Prior to the last protest, an Islington cabinet member said the council was “developing plans to close Old Street and Clerkenwell Road to through traffic”. Nothing has happened.

Eilidh Murray from Cycle Islington said: “If commitments from the mayor and our councils to the climate crisis and to a ‘Vision Zero’ of no more road deaths mean anything, then safe space for cycling is urgently needed here.”

An Islington council spokesman said: “The council is currently working, alongside TfL and Camden council on proposals to introduce segregated cycle lanes on the corridor, to make cycling easier and safer while protecting bus journey times.

“Given the corridor’s status as one of London’s most heavily-used cycle and bus corridors, devising these ambitious proposals is likely to be challenging, complex, and time-consuming, involving the re-designing of several key junctions.”

Camden cabinet member Adam Harrison said it had a Vision Zero target of ensuring no one is killed or seriously injured on borough roads by 2041.

He said: “We know, however, that there is still much more to be done: we want to build out a borough-wide network of safe cycle routes, which should also link into similar changes in neighbouring boroughs.

“One of our planned routes is Theobald’s Road - Clerkenwell Road. We intend to build the Theobald’s Road section as part of the Holborn Liveable Neighbourhood project, which remains at an early stage and depends on securing large-scale funding.

“For the Clerkenwell Road section, in 2023 we intend to consult on replacing the current, intermittent ‘advisory’ cycle lanes with segregated lanes, as well as carrying out upgrades for pedestrians and cyclists where the road meets Gray’s Inn Road and Rosebery Avenue."

TfL’s £45m transformation of the Old Street roundabout, which includes cycle lanes, has fallen behind schedule and has increased in cost, with work not due to finish until Spring next year.

Helen Cansick, TfL’s head of healthy streets investment, said: “We’re determined to reduce danger to people cycling across London and new cycle infrastructure will play a vital role in this.

“Our recent funding deal with the Government makes it clear that investment in walking and cycling will continue to be important. Though this deal provides us with less money to spend on active travel compared to pre-pandemic levels, we are working closely with the boroughs to see where it can best be targeted to make roads safer.

"The roads along this corridor are controlled by Islington and Camden, who would be responsible for working with their residents to develop the changes needed to make them safer.

“We know that making this corridor safer is a hugely important for everyone who cycles here and we’ll continue to work with both councils to support the development of these proposals.”

*Other events to mark World Car-free day include the transformation of a former petrol station in Borough Road into a “cycling haven” by the bike firm Brompton.

A poll of 1,000 Londoners released today found that 61 per cent supported the idea of a car-free day once a week in the capital. Eighteen per cent of respondents were against the idea.

Oliver Lord, UK head of Clean Cities Campaign, said: “It’s clear that Londoners want more car-free days and more often. I don’t understand why they happen so regularly in places like Paris and New York but we have to beg to get them once a year in London if we’re lucky.”