It started as I sat out for lunch one Saturday afternoon and was disturbed by the sound of an air ambulance. I thought nothing of it as a red helicopter hovered above North London, presumably looking for somewhere to land, until I ventured to the supermarket about an hour later.
The busy Holloway Road was closed in both directions. Blue lights flashed and a crowd had formed. At the checkout all the talk was about the awful thing that had happened outside McDonalds. “They said he’s dead.” “Apparently the paramedic was sick when he got there”.
Another, month, another cyclist killed on London’s streets. When you consider the booming popularity of cycling, fatal accidents are mercifully rare (about a dozen a year in London) but they are affecting when they visit your doorstep.
I was editing The Independent’s news pages a day later, on Sunday, and included in Monday’s edition a “news in brief” about the accident. At that stage we only knew that a 25-year-old man had been run over by bus after apparently swerving to avoid an opening car door.
I kept an eye on the story as local newspapers took up the case, eventually naming the victim as Sam Harding. He lived further north in Crouch End and, on that Saturday, was cycling across town to move in with girlfriend, Rachael, 27.There followed a familiar pattern: The car driver was bailed to appear in court; the bus driver was hospitalised with shock; the police appealed for witnesses; friends of Sam, who had just started working with a travel company in central London, gathered at the scene one evening to remember him; the lamppost by the side of the road was festooned with flowers; Rachael mourned the “love of my life”.
I thought about Sam as I rode around the same roads in the days after the accident. Not having known him, what really got to me were the reactions of the people at the checkout when they learned the body under the bus was that of a cyclist. “Well, you see how they ride, and, well, y’know…” The checkout girl nodded. “If they will weave in and out of buses,” said another customer.
I kept quiet, something I now regret (as they now, I suspect, regret blaming the cyclist). Sam’s fate did not put me off cycling and nor should it put you off. But, whoever was to blame – and the accident may well have been nobody’s fault - it should give us all pause for thought.
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