Tag Archives: protest

A very British protest

I’ve taken some time away from cycle campaigning stuff these past few days, partly to get on with some real work, and partly because I was annoyed at myself.

I went to the Bow roundabout vigil/protest on Wednesday evening, after having written the article calling for civil disobedience at the event. But once there, I found I didn’t know how to start it. There seemed to be few opportunities to change the planned course of events.

The hundreds of people there rode around the roundabout (which had been closed off by the cops for us) and had a minute’s silence. Then after a few megaphone-amplified words from an LCC bod, we were asked to leave as quickly as possible to minimise disruption to the roads.

That really annoyed me. I should have shouted something then. I should have yelled out that I was not leaving. What’s the point in turning up to mourn and protest a needless death if we leave without making a fuss?

But the moment passed and the crowd was moving away. Looking back, I know I’d have got at least a few voices of support from the crowd. Hindsight is always 20/20.

I hung around afterwards there at Bow junction, living the 1960s dream for quarter of an hour or so. The traffic jams cleared within minutes and Bow junction was soon flowing normally.

The protest was a kitten’s meow, not a lion’s roar. Most of the drivers in the queues probably weren’t even aware of what was happening, or even that anything was happening at all.

It’s clear that I’m not the only one who feels frustrated by the polite meekness of these protests. Enough with the British reserve, at long last someone has organised a protest with some growl.

A die-in at TfL’s headquarters opposite Southwark tube station on Blackfriars Road has been organised for 5 to 6.30pm on Friday 29th of November.

The event page on Facebook already has over 700 people claiming they’ll attend. Even if half this number show up, it stands a good chance of being a successful and highly visible, headline-grabbing protest.

I am not a cyclist, I’m just riding a bike

I do think that the protest can be about more than just “cyclists” (there’s that toxic word).

In TfL’s world, everybody who isn’t currently in a motor vehicle comes second to those who are, and this movement could easily widen out to include people with disabilities, parents with prams and pushchairs, elderly people who can’t walk fast, people with asthma and other respiratory problems.

Do we want to live in cities where everyone drives everywhere, places where walking or cycling is dangerous and deviant? Or would we prefer pleasant communities with a wealth of transport options, breathable air and an absence of death-horror-crash stories in the newspaper?

It’s not just TfL, of course – our government is hell-bent on locking us all into our cars and forcing Britain to drive everywhere for everything, all the time. They are predicting that cycling as a mode of transport will stagnate, and will plan accordingly to create the conditions to fulfil their predictions.

Perhaps the Friday 29th protest is just the starter, a catalyst that starts a wider campaign off. I’d love to see a broad amalgamation of people who are angry at the way our cities, towns and villages are all subservient to the dictatorship of the petroleum.

I’ll be there, and I really do hope it’s the start of something big.

 


By the way, I’ve had nothing at all to do with organising the die-in protest outside TfL HQ, despite rumours to the contrary. I’ll be tackling the “Nazi” thing in a separate post, in case you were wondering.

 

 

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Another death at Bow roundabout. Are we angry yet?

The article below is a call to attend a protest at Bow roundabout from 6pm tonight.

I’ve previously criticised these things for being too mild, for not causing the kind of disruption – and grabbing the kind of headlines – that the Dutch did in the 1970s.

If a “die-in” is to occur then tonight is probably as good a time as there ever will be.

A black-and-white photo of hundreds of people and their bikes laying on a wide road in Amsterdam

Safer streets campaigners stage a die-in outside Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum in the mid-1970s.
Taken from Mark Wagenbuur’s video “How The Dutch Got Their Cycle Paths“, which I insist you watch now. (I don’t know where the original photo is from.)

If it hadn’t been for the people in the photo above doing what they did, the Netherlands wouldn’t have the great cycling conditions it has today. Now it’s our turn.

 


 

The details of today’s cycling death at Bow roundabout are not clear yet. All we know is it involves a left-turning lorry (again).

But one thing which is very clear is that TfL’s changes to the layout here are sub-standard. They are not good enough, and they were warned about this.

Despite the addition of blue paint and a bit of kerb, the primary function of Bow roundabout is to handle a huge number of motor vehicles. Anything else must be fitted around this core premise. This must change.

Even walking around this area on foot is awful, as there are no pedestrian crossing signals. You merely have to guess the best time to cross, hoping that the traffic lights are red and won’t change while you’re in the middle.

How are people expected to get around here? Clearly it isn’t suitable for someone who can’t move fast, as even on foot you have to stay alert and nimble.

The message is clear: if you want to travel here, get a car. Are we surprised that two thirds of motor journeys in London are under 3 miles long?

Today’s death is a shock, a wake-up call, a headline-grabber.

But what of the thousands who die due to air pollution caused by all those easily-cyclable motor vehicle journeys? (See here, here and here.)

What about the pensioners who don’t leave their homes because it’s too stressful to get around?

What about the mothers who don’t let their children play outside for fear of an “accident”?

What about Britain’s high rate of childhood obesity and heart disease caused by lack of activity?

This is about more than just cycling. This is more than just a “cyclists” protest.

For every shocking collision there are thousands of untold stories of harm caused by our motor-centric towns and cities. It’s a tragedy on a national scale.

The way we’ve designed the areas we live gives most people little choice but to use a motor vehicle, as the alternatives are too unpleasant or unsafe to consider. This must change.

Another “always stop” cycle light at Bow roundabout won’t cut it. We need to create safe space for cycling, and safe space for walking, and safe space for prams and pushchairs and wheelchairs and Zimmer frames and tartan zip-up trolley bags.

We need space that isn’t subservient to those using motor vehicles, space which allows and encourages other modes of transport.

So please do come down tonight. It’s a sad day, but also an angry one.

As the Dutch might say, “stop de moord”.


 

It turns out that iBikeLondon was writing a similar post, which includes more details of tonight’s protest. He rightly points out that we’ve been hearing promises from the Mayor and his associates for far too long. The time for action is now.

 

 

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Nazan Fennell, Me, You, and Everyone’s Future

Most readers of this blog are probably already aware of the tragic case of Birmingham teenager Hope Fennell. She was killed by lorry driver Darren Foster after he had been distracted by text messaging while operating dangerous machinery.

Her death has caused discontent and desire for change in Kings Heath, the area of Birmingham where she lived. People have taken to the streets in memorial, and also in protest at poor road planning (mainly aimed at too many large lorries being on their streets), the widespread practice and acceptance of using mobile phones while driving, and the lenient sentence handed down to the killer lorry driver.

But something extra special happened on Saturday.

During a protest and memorial bike ride, Hope Fennell’s mother sat down in the road.

A simple gesture, but a powerful one. It wasn’t planned, it just happened. She was joined on the ground by others and there they stayed for 30 minutes.

When police asked her to move because her sitting down had caused long tailbacks of motor traffic, Nazan Fennell is reported to have said “So what? My life has been destroyed.”

We are all Nazan Fennell

Nazan Fennell’s spontaneous sit-down protest was fuelled by personal grief at the loss of her daughter. But isn’t her grief ours too?

Surely as a society we all feel the hurt of not only Hope’s death, but of the thousands of other people who are killed and seriously injured on our roads each year. Surely we should all be angry with a system which prioritises the most greedy, wasteful and deadly mode of transport, which not only kills and maims in huge numbers but which also locks millions in to dependency on it, harming their freedom and health?

Or have we become numb to the flowers by the roadside?

Nazan Fennell deserves our congratulations and support. It is because of actions like hers that things start to change.

Meanwhile, in London…

Each time I walk down St George’s Road in London, dark clouds gather in my mind as I am reminded of Hichame Bouadimi, the 5 year-old killed by a lorry driver while crossing the road almost one year ago.

What changes have TfL and/or Lambeth Council made in response to that tragedy? As far as I can tell, none at all. St George’s Road remains an unnecessarily wide racetrack. And unless those of us who want to live in a city free of motor-terrorism make our voices heard, it will remain so.

Where’s our sit-down protest? Why wasn’t Elephant & Castle blocked by angry residents? Why won’t we ‘Stop the Child Murder‘?

In Amsterdam in the 1970s, protesters sat down on Museumplein and blocked it. Back then, it was a wide road. Today it’s a park.

A black-and-white photo of hundreds of people and their bikes laying on a wide road in Amsterdam

Safer streets campaigners stage a die-in outside Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum.
Taken from Mark Wagenbuur’s video “How The Dutch Got Their Cycle Paths“, which I insist you watch now. (I don’t know where the original photo is from.)

Now it’s our turn

Without this type of civil disobedience, it seems the authorities will continue with business as usual.

It’s a shame that more protests don’t go this way. The feeling I’m often left with after the LCC protest rides is, “is that it? They got thousands of us here and now they want us all to go home after such a short ride?” I know I’m not alone in feeling that way.

I expect that the LCC would be reluctant to officially endorse such an action. I can see why they’d feel that way, having made links with TfL and being a proper charity with wages to pay and all that.

But you know what? The next protest ride could stop.

Imagine if just a few riders suddenly broke free at the front then stopped across the front of the ride. The whole thing would grind to a halt.

If these theoretical people then made it clear that they were turning a nice short ride into an actual disruptive protest – you know, the sort that upsets the authorities – surely the vast majority of those riding would agree and join them?

Perhaps the ride would even be stopped long enough for all the names of all those killed on our roads this year to be read out.

I wonder if that will ever happen?

If it does, then perhaps 40 years from now someone will be looking back at the time when Britain turned a corner, and you can proudly say: “I was there.”

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