In late 2013 this mass die-in took place outside the TFL headquarters to protest the spate of deaths and injuries to London cyclists. Photo: Stop Killing Cyclists.
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Stop Killing Cyclists - the birth of a movement
15th January 2014
Following the death of 44 cyclists on London's 'killing roads' since 2011, the city has a new cyclists' movement with a radical edge and a focus on direct action. Donnachadh McCarthy is a co-founder of Stop Killing Cyclists.
This deathly pyramid of transport violence demands the creation of an urgent direct-action but peaceful human-rights movement.
On Friday 27th July 2012 Daniel Harris was killed by a press-bus on a criminally-badly designed road outside the Olympic Stadium in London. I helped organise a vigil cycle-ride to mark the tragedy.
There I met Steve Routley, another cycling campaigner. Since then we met with depressing regularity as another 19 cyclists were killed on London's roads.
Something cracked inside me
But it was at the vigil for the third death at Bow Roundabout on November 13th, that something cracked inside me. I had been a political cycling campaigner for 18 years but still the killing continued. Our political systems are broken. I felt we desperately needed a radical direct-action protest movement.
I asked Steve to go for a coffee and found he too was seething about the killings. I suggested we take the protest to the front doors of the people responsible for London's roads - Transport for London and the 32 London boroughs.
We needed to copy the successful Dutch Die-In protesters from the 70s, who staged die-ins outside Town Halls right across the Netherlands. Steve agreed.
The following day, he set up a Facebook Page with the slogan Stop Killing Cyclists, with a montage of the iconic 1970's Die-In outside Amsterdam Town Hall superimposed on London's Admiralty Arch.
I knew we were creating something special
The second I saw Steve's graphic, my gut knew we were creating something special. Within hours over 60 people had already committed to joining the die-in.
And over the really brief 16 days to the event, a tsunami of volunteers appeared out of nowhere to do websites, design leaflets, organise feeder-rides, do press work and to leaflet cyclists on London's streets.
We were contacted by victims and victims' families with moving stories and as the Die-In gained momentum, we got support from way beyond the cycling community ... parents who wanted their kids to cycle but were afraid to let them do so, women who wanted to ride to work but were afraid to, pedestrians who wanted to help as they knew a safe cycling city, would like Amsterdam be a safe walking city.
Even bus, car and truck drivers contacted us - they did not want to be killing us either.
1,500 cyclists at Mass Die-In
On the night of the Mass Die-In cyclists and pedestrian protestors filled up the entire plaza in front of the TfL HQ to overflowing. The event opened with Handel's Ode to Freedom sung by opera singer Louise Beard.
The following 30 minutes of silent vigil were accompanied by the mournful cello playing by Emma Butterworth. And then the moment came. The moment London followed Amsterdam's example.
We asked all 1,500 cyclists to lie down with their bikes and represent the thousands of killed and seriously injured vulnerable road-users in London since 2008.
They lay there in an eerie hush for 15 minutes with only the clicks of the cameras disturbing the silence. At the end they stood up and cheered and rang their bells.
There followed a rally addressed by Nazan Fennell mother of 13 year old cycling lorry fatality Hope and Tom Kearney coma survivor following being nearly killed by a TfL Bus , as well as Steve and myself. We then formally handed over our 15 demands for a safer London to Leon Daniels, Managing Director of TfL.
The event was positively covered by all the major TV networks and even almost all the UK tabloids! It was relayed around the world with US, Russian, French, Swiss and Turkish TV stations also covering the Die-In.
A new human rights movement
All this had been created by two fed-up cyclists in 16 days with no money and no professional organisation backing us. We decided that there was actually a potential real human rights movement out there begging to be created.
A follow-up meeting was held of those interested and it was agreed to set up a cycling direct-action protest group called Stop Killing Cyclists, whose Facebook Group already has over 1,500 members in just 6 weeks.
To harness the wider potential coalition, it was also agreed to seek to create an umbrella coalition for all road safety campaigners and groups called Stop the Killing.
Stop Killing Cyclists has since then already organised a very successful early morning 'Requiem Die-In' at the lethal Vauxhall Cross and an internet subvertisement poster blitz protest.
Since the November Die-In, we have spoken to , had or have meetings arranged with the Minister for Transport, The London Transport Committee Chair, the Managing Director of TfL, the London Mayor's Cycling Commissioner and the Chair of the Parliamentary All-Party Cycling Group.
Cyclists must be represented!
Our key London demands are:
- double the Netherlands per person investment in cycling infrastructure, so we can catch up on 40 years of UK failure;
- a comprehensive segregated cycling network within 5 years; and
- two places for cyclist representatives on the TfL Board.
The TfL Board despite it being in charge of London's main roads is composed of 5 bankers, 2 taxi reps, 2 aviation reps, 1 HGV rep, 3 Tory Politicians, 1 trade unionist and 1 disabled representative.
These vested financial corporate interests are hijacking London's public transport and streets for corporate financial gain. There is no-one formally representing the millions of London's pedestrians or cyclists. This has urgently got to change.
Direct actions for 2014
For the new year, Stop Killing Cyclists is planning various direct-actions to highlight:
- the need for cyclists on TfL Board;
- the refusal of TfL traffic-engineers to allocate segregated space for cycling at dangerous junctions; and
- the failure of freight and construction corporations to invest a measly £500 per vehicle to make their HGVs safer for pedestrians and cyclists.
But we are planning a major national Stop the Killing Die-In event in November 2014 to mark World Remembrance Day for Victims of Road Violence on Oxford Street, the nation's retail high-street which has a shocking high level of traffic deaths and serious injuries.
We believe a huge coalition must be built for this event. Whilst over 1,000 UK cyclists have been killed in the last decade, they are just the smallest pinnacle of a transport pyramid of violence and death.
It's not just cyclists that get killed by road transport
Next come the over 4,000 pedestrians have been killed and over 8,000 car-occupants. And the numbers dying in our cities from vehicular pollution dwarfs the numbers of pedestrians being killed, with a staggering 130,000 estimated to have died over the decade.
And while the death toll in future centuries from the climate crisis will be staggering, the UN estimates over 3 million people to have died already from its impacts over the last 10 years. Transport emissions contribute about 15% to the current global total.
This deathly pyramid of transport violence demands the creation of an urgent direct-action but peaceful human-rights movement. Stop Killing Cyclists aims to be part of such a wider Stop the Killing from transport violence movement.
A crucial human-rights direct-action movement has been born. Time has run out and your participation, swelling the ranks of those prepared to take peaceful direct-action, has never been more urgently needed. Join us today.
Also in The Ecologist today: Metropolitan Police - stop persecuting cyclists!
Donnachadh McCarthy FRSA is co-founder of Stop Killing Cyclists. He is also a former Deputy Chair of the Liberal Democrats. His third book The Prostitute State will be published in 2014. He can be reached via his website 3acorns.
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