We were lying amongst prone bikes on the tarmac of a London road, in the dark, on a cold evening in November, gathered round a 'Stop Killing Cyclists' banner. A thousand other people were doing the same and 'protesting’ certainly described what we were doing - but not quite.
When we looked up at the offices of Transport for London, their lights were still on, and we could see the figures of people watching us from the upper floors inside. I couldn’t tell what they (whoever they were) were thinking and I wondered what sort of event they had concluded they were witnessing, whether all they saw was a mass protest on their doorstep.
Most of the people watching us wouldn’t have been able to hear much, I imagine; not RoadPeace’s long, long list of pedestrians and cyclists who have died on London’s roads, some named, some not; or Nazan Fennell telling us that her 13-year-old daughter Hope was still always with her and would have been with us in London too, had she not been killed when a lorry ran her down as she pushed her bike over a crossing on her way home from school two years ago. They probably wouldn’t have heard Nazan calling on the authorities to share her outrage that such huge, heavy vehicles are allowed free access to urban streets like Kings Heath High Street in Birmingham where her daughter died. Hundreds of schoolchildren, she said, have to cross that road every day.
Even if TfL couldn’t hear what was going on, though, the sight in the street outside their brightly lit offices was there to explain everything. A thousand people were, as I say, lying in the middle of the road, intermingled with prone bikes.
In his final speech, one of the organisers Donnachadh McCarthy emphasised the positive contribution that cycling makes to London. He also said that TfL had told him that they would receive the 'Stop Killing Cyclists' manifesto, but only if the protest proved to be peaceful. How, Donnachadh said, could it be otherwise? Cyclists are peaceful people. Maybe our determination and the silence of our vigil was why the word ‘protest’ doesn’t entirely capture the essence of what we were doing.
Yes, the die-in was a peaceful protest; but it was equally a very articulate explanation. It explained just how much cycling and walking in London means to so many people, and how much we want to keep on cycling and walking, but with the threats taken away and the killing stopped. We explained this from the tarmac, remembering the pedestrians and cyclists who’ve died or been injured in London and elsewhere, and we did it simply by lying in the road amongst hundreds and hundreds of bicycles. More than anything else, I think, it was a quiet, potent and very human-to-human explanation of our vulnerability - and of our strength.