PUBLISHED: 13:12 13 December 2017 | UPDATED: 10:23 14 December 2017
The ‘human cycle lane’. Picture: Polly Hancock
Cyclists deliberately put their lives on the line this morning to raise awareness of Islington’s “horrible” infrastructure for bikes.
During the morning rush hour, some 15 riders lined up on the Penton Street cycle lane, near its junction with Pentonville Road, to form a human shield for passing cyclists.
The campaign, organised by Active Travel Now and promoted as a “happy” protest, was designed to highlight the lane’s lack of protection – although Islington Council today committed to making improvements.
Heavy traffic is common in Penton Street, which is part of a major cycling route into central London. Parked cars, bikes and lorries are regularly pictured blocking the lane.
The protest started at 7.30am, with one activist roaring: “When people cycle through, give them a round of applause!” The first cyclist looked bewildered as she passed through, and another muttered to herself: “Weird.”
But, soon enough, others caught on with nods of solidarity towards the campaigners, and cheerful bell ringing. One said: “This is lovely.”
With the Gazette watching on from the safety of the pavement, John Ackers, of Cycle Islington, shouted over from his position in the road: “This is a really major route, the second most popular in Islington, running from Clerkenwell up to Finsbury Park. To get 10,000 people down this route into central London every day, it has got to be filtered and segregated all the way.
“This protest is great because it reminds councillors what segregation is all about. It’s an absolutely ideal location to have the protest. Look at all this – all the rat running traffic going into work. A main cycle route shouldn’t be completely congested with people driving into work.
“There are several schools along this route. If they remove the traffic and segregate the route, we’d have a hell of a lot more people doing the school run on bikes, and going to work on bikes, and there’d be less pollution. Win, win, win.”
He continued: “But Islington Council is very slow. It’s not as progressive as Camden and Hackney. A survey we did yesterday showed that Islington is by far the weakest of the boroughs. Councillors are in some kind of denial. They think they’re doing great – they’re not doing great. They have got to do a lot more work and up their game. They don’t do ambitious schemes.”
The town hall has come under furious criticism from cyclists over the borough’s cycling infrastructure.
But this afternoon, transport boss Cllr Claudia Webbe said: “We want to make cycling in Islington as safe as possible, and we’re designing safer routes that are convenient, easy and more direct.
“We agree Penton Street needs improvement. I have met with Will Norman, London’s walking and cycling commissioner, and we’ve agreed that we will make improvements to Penton Street.
“We will make these improvements as part of the Quietway 10 route from Farringdon to Bowes Park, and the improved Penton Street will also link up with the Amwell Street to Lever Street route.”
Cllr Caroline Russell was the only Islington councillor to attend this morning’s Penton Street protest.
She said: “There is visceral anger that every time you cycle to work, you are taking your life in your hands. It’s not OK.
“This bike lane needs proper protection. That’s why we are using our soft, fragile human bodies to protect other cyclists. It’s highlighting how there’s nothing here.
“An Islington Council lorry was parked in this bike lane just the other day. It is constantly [full of parked vehicles].”
She continued: “Bike lanes in Islington are being painted right next to parked cars so cyclists are in the door zone.
“If you paint a bike lane in the door zone of cars,” Cllr Russell continued, “you’re going to have what happened to Sam Harding on Holloway Road five years ago. The car door opens, the cyclist gets pushed off into the road and the next vehicle, and in Sam Harding’s case it was a bus, comes along and kills them.
“This is about saying we need more bike lanes – more protected bike lanes to keep cycling safe.
“Most of my journey here, I have been cycling in a really grim and horrible situation, cars crashing past me. People on bikes need protecting.”