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‘Safety delays are an insult to victims’ says Islington cyclists

Woman who lost her leg in lorry crush slams lack of improvements, as protesters stage 'die-in' outside the Town Hall

10 November, 2017 — By Joe Cooper

Cyclists stage a ‘die-in’ outside the Town Hall on Wednesday

A YOUNG woman who had her leg amputated after being crushed by a lorry has branded delays to cycling improvements in the area “insulting”.

Victoria Lebrec was lucky to survive the ­horror crash at the junction of Clerkenwell Road and St John Street three years ago. Aged 24 at the time, she was only saved because a London Air Ambulance doctor successfully performed an emergency procedure at the roadside to stop her bleeding to death.

She later met senior figures from Islington Council, Transport for London (TfL) and the London Mayor’s office to work on improvements to the road that runs from Old Street to Clerkenwell.

But three years on, Ms Lebrec said not enough has been done as she spoke out at a cyclists “die-in” outside the Town Hall on Wednesday evening. She said nothing had changed since the death of Harriet Tory at the same spot nine years previously.

Victoria Lebrec calls for cycling safety action

“Nothing changed after Harriet’s death and if Islington Council had taken action then a lot of suffering on my behalf and my family’s behalf would have been stopped,” said Ms Lebrec.

Speaking about the meeting, she said: “All of the plans were drawn up and more or less ready to go and I felt encouraged that, despite what had happened to me, at least the powers that be had taken notice and seemed committed to preventing collisions like mine ­happening again.”

“Works haven’t begun and public consultation will be well into next year,” she added. “That’s three years since the plans were originally drawn up. Three years is a really unacceptable length of time and there is no way that traffic modelling takes that long to do.

“I think Islington Council should know that it is insulting to me and the victims of these collisions to delay any further. The longer these plans take to be put into effect, the more people are going to die. Truthfully one of my biggest fears is that somebody else dies or has a life-changing accident at the junction I had mine.”

Ms Lebrec, who now has an artificial leg, made national headlines when she hugged and forgave the driver of the lorry, saying he had “just made a mistake”.

Protesters set up a headstone outside the Town Hall to make their point

Wednesday’s protest, where cycling campaigners stopped traffic in Upper Street, was called in memory of Jerome Roussel, who died in June, seven weeks after hitting a stationary lorry in Pentonville Road – a road which is controlled by TfL, not the council. Organiser Donnachadh McCarthy led the crowd with chants of “shame on Islington Council” after citing the fact that the borough has not built any segregated cycleways in 20 years.

Opposition councillor Caroline Russell said after the protest: “In a borough where a majority have no access to a car – and many of those that do have cars use them infrequently – it’s shameful so little is being done to fix the traffic-dominated hostile roads and make them good places to walk and to ride a bike.”

A similar protest was held in Camden Road in September, at the spot where Albanian national Ardian Zagani was killed after being struck by a van. That too is a TfL road.

It came just days after campaign group Cycle Islington wrote an open letter to Islington’s transport chief Claudia Webbe after their own members accused them of being too “restrained” in their criticism of the council.

A protester spells out her message

While acknowledging their regular meetings with council, the letter said: “Yet sadly, our regular input and advice is still rebuffed rather than incorporated into a strategy for improvement. Progress on the ground has never extended beyond minor tweaks, in contrast to more ambitious work in other boroughs – Islington has fallen behind its neighbours.”

Cycle Islington did not call Wednesday’s protest but said “many members will support it, and we recognise and understand the need for it”.

Speaking to the Tribune about the protest, and campaigners’ claims that the council does not care about cycling, Cllr Webbe said: “It is wrong for them to say we are not up for this.”

She criticised the campaigning tactics employed, saying the council shared their goals, unlike some car users in the borough who are anti-cycling.

Cllr Webbe added: “We are opening the door to them and it is being slammed in our faces. I have been a campaigner all my life and this is not how you go about campaigning in my view.”

The Old Street to Clerkenwell stretch falls in Cllr Webbe’s ward of Bunhill, and she said she had battled to get residents on-side for changes. “We have got to get the residents on-side. If they say no, there is nowhere to go.”

She said the council had initially agreed a totally segrega­ted route there, but TfL blocked it as it would delay buses. Instead, the current plan is to block cars along the road.

Cllr Webbe added: “I can’t make the engineers go faster. Change does not happen overnight. But the future of this route is car free.”

She said she hoped the scheme would be completed by the time the Old Street gyratory – where work is due to start in late 2018 or early 2019 – is removed.

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