Thursday, August 4, 2011

Cavendish Road Fatality

A 49-year-old woman is the 11th cyclist to die on London’s streets this year. A van collided with her bicycle at around 11am on Sunday 31st July, on Cavendish Road in Clapham, part of the South Circular near Clapham Common.

Few reliable details have emerged, but it has been the subject of considerable discussion on various internet forums. The collision seems to have occurred near the junction between Cavendish Road and Poynders Road. The van was travelling south-east away from Clapham Common, but it’s unclear whether the cyclist was travelling in the same direction.

Witnesses writing on the forums give harrowing accounts:

“I am still in severe shock ... I keep thinking about her poor family.”

“To look at his [the driver's] face and see the horror of what he had just did will stay with me, his first reaction was to cover her modesty, by taking off his tshirt and putting it over her, I was touched by this. He looked sooo lost, tears come to my eyes just remembering his moments, some kind lady was sitting down with him and talking to him”

“i was taken in to a house after about 5 mins as i passed out from the shock”

“What we saw will stay with us forever.”

I’m not going to speculate on what happened but as a regular user of this cycle route, I do know that it is hostile for cyclists and there are many hazards. However, this particular stretch, unusually for London, does have an off-carriageway alternative in the form of a cycle path on the north-east pavement between Abbeville Road and the Poynders Road junction. Unfortunately, it’s not very obvious. Approaching from the south you could quite easily cycle past without knowing it was there. From the other direction, there’s a ‘shared path’ sign on the pavement but nothing more obvious. There are a number of separate crossings to negotiate at the Poynders Road junction to get back onto the carriageway, so staying on-carriageway is quite likely quicker and easier in many respects.

A couple of final thoughts:

Just reading the witness accounts is profoundly disturbing, and really brings home the horror of a fatal collision. I wish that Boris Johnson and TfL would read the testimony and perhaps they’d give more thought to whether a couple of seconds on journey times are a worthwhile tradeoff for compromised safety and its inevitable consequence: more bereavement, more wrecked lives, more traumatized witnesses. It’s also worth sparing a thought for the paramedics and police who, unlike the witnesses, have to deal with this kind of scene on a regular basis.

Do bear in mind though that any death is a terrible trauma. There are on average only around 120 fatal cycle collisions every year in the UK, whereas there are 111,000 heart attacks (not all fatal, but those that aren't  often have life-altering consequences). By cycling, you are massively reducing some of the biggest risks you face (fatal illness as a result of a sedentary lifestyle) and only marginally increasing your chance of dying on the roads.

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