London cycling deaths: Sister of young entrepreneur killed at Bow roundabout wants tragedy to be a force for good

Venera Minakhmetova was killed in London on Wednesday. Her sister Dinara says she wants it to be the last

Jamie Merrill,Jonathan Brown
Friday 15 November 2013 19:43
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Dinara Minakhmetova doesn’t want her sister to have died in vain. Venera Minakhmetova, 24, was an “ambitious” and “fun-loving” Russian entrepreneur living in east London, who on Wednesday became one of the latest victims of a fortnight of bloodshed on Britain’s roads.

Eight cyclists have died so far this month in a “scandal” that has left campaign groups calling for action and figures, including the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, the Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe and the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, rushing to comment.

Dinara was too upset to speak about her older sister’s death today, but in an email exchange with The Independent she said she wanted Venera’s death to be “the last” and that her family “still can’t believe the reality of what happened.”

Calling for witnesses to the accident, which involved a lorry at the controversial Bow roundabout in east London during morning rush-hour, to come forward, Dinara added: “Venera has been on a bike for three years, starting at Oxford, where we chose her a pretty white bike together.

“There are actions required from both sides. For cycles to be more careful on the roads, always remember about common logic and safety. For authorities – to work on infrastructure for cycling… I honestly don’t know where exactly the balance is.”

Venera, who ran a tech start-up, graduated from City University business school in 2011. Professor Richard Payne, who taught her, told The Independent that “Venera was a bright, inquisitive and charming young woman. Her entrepreneurial spirit and drive to succeed were obvious to anyone who spoke to her.”

Following the death of Venera and four others in the capital, more than 17,000 people have signed a petition calling for Mr Johnson to overhaul cycling in the city. Bruce McVean, 37, a London cyclist and campaigner who signed the petition, was one of 1,000 riders who attended a cycle vigil at the site of Venera’s death organised by the London Cycle Campaign on Wednesday night.

He said: “The atmosphere was sombre and angry. It’s not the first protest in these circumstances and we’re angry at how long it is taking to address. We get lots of very good rhetoric from Boris Johnson, but people are really annoyed that it’s not turning into anything happening on the ground.”

The London Mayor provoked more criticism on Thursday morning when speaking to LBC Radio. He said: “You cannot blame the victim in these circumstances.

“But what you can say is that when people make decisions on the road that are very risky – jumping red lights, cycling across fast-moving traffic to get to somewhere in a way that is completely unexpected by the motorist and without looking to see what traffic is doing – it’s very difficult for the traffic engineers to second-guess that.”

This drew sharp words from CTC, the national cycling charity, which said that bike riders were “sickened by the continuing failure to protect cyclists”.

Today an influential parliamentary group called on Mr Johnson to hold a safety summit following the spate of cyclists’ deaths in the capital. There was “a need for urgent action,” said the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (Pacts).

Ian Austin MP, of the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, said he was “saddened” by the spate of deaths and called for a “national audit” of dangerous junctions.

That view was echoed by Mr Clegg, who called for cycling “to be made safer”. Sir Bernard warned that large vehicles can be “killing machines” and that just “one wobble” can put cyclists in the path of a lorry or a bus.

Speaking on LBC 97.3, he said: “It's a tragedy that we've had so many deaths in the last few days. I think overall it looks as though there are fewer cycle deaths per cycle journey, but that's no comfort to the poor families who've lost someone.”

However last year the number of pedal cyclists killed on Britain’s roads increased by 10 per cent. Department for Transport figures showed that 118 people lost their lives whilst the number of serious injuries among cyclists also increased to 3,222 despite decreasing accident rates in all other modes of transport.

Figures from Transport For London also showed the number of cyclists killed or seriously injured per journey increased in the capital between 2008 and 2011. . Thirteen cyclists have been killed on the streets this year so far. This compares to 77 pedestrian fatalities in 2011.

Val Shawcross, deputy chair of the London Assembly transport committee, said: “The Mayor came in with an aspiration for a cycling revolution but he wanted the gain without accepting any of the pain of making some difficult decisions about giving cyclists more space on the roads.”

Gordon Seabright, chief executive of CTC, today wrote to Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport Robert Goodwill MP calling on him to hold hauliers to account over cycling deaths.

He said: “We know from the Freight Transport Association’s disparagement of even modest efforts on behalf of cycle safety by your Department that hauliers refuse to take this issue seriously. Until they do, CTC urges you to call in the leaders of the haulage industry so they can be held to account by yourself and representatives of pedestrians and cyclists whenever a vulnerable road user is killed by a lorry.”

Next week cyclists in York, a city of wide cycle paths and plenty of students, could start feeling a little bit more secure though, as a new warning system designed to reduce the number of deaths is phased in.

Ten Transdev buses in the city will be fitted with £450 sensors able to detect bikes in their blind spot, whilst the first of 500 students from the University of York will begin carrying tags which flash an alert signalling their presence in a vehicle’s blind spot.

Its inventor Peter Le Masurier said he is in talks with another major bus company, as well as two haulage firms, including Eddie Stobart, over fitting his Cycle Alert System to their fleets. The system is expected to be introduced to other parts of the UK next spring.

“There are currently no systems on the market that can tell an HGV driver whether a cyclist is close to their vehicle. Everybody needs to take responsibility for their own safety on the road. Cycle Alert empowers cyclists to make themselves more obvious to HGV drivers,” he said.

The three part system comprises a number of sensors attached to the structure of the vehicle. There is a responder tag carried by the cyclist, possibly on the helmet, and another device mounted inside the driver’s cab creating a three way communication network.

When a bike is detected close by, it triggers a warning sound and flashing dashboard light indicating a potential danger allowing the driver to tale defensive action.

Mr La Masurier rejected claims that the system could make drivers complacent and put cyclists who did not carry a tag in even greater danger. “Of all the drivers I have spoken to in the transport industry and police, they have said it will make us more not less aware of cyclists,” he said.

The system was flagged up to London Mayor Boris Johnson by a senior London coroner following the inquests into the deaths of two cyclists in separate incidents earlier this year.

The sensors take just 45 minutes to be attached to trucks or buses and cost £450 whilst the tag carried by the cyclist can be purchased for £20.

Ms Shawcross welcomed technology, but warned: “You don’t want HGV and bus drivers to delegate their thinking and awareness to a piece of kit… instead you need to have the best driving training possible, awareness from all road users, including cyclists, and junctions that are designed properly.”

November's cycle deaths: A timeline

November 3

Eric Colding, 55 – Sheffield

The first death of the month was a Sheffield father of two who was knocked off his bike during an early morning ride.

November 5

Brian Holt, 62 – East London

A porter at Mile End Hospital for 40 years Mr Holt was killed in a collision with an HGV while on his way home from work. His manager at the hospital told The Independent: “He was a valued member of the team… his loss has been a huge shock to everyone.”

November 8

Francis Golding, 69 – Central London

Prominent architect Francis Golding died after a crash involving a coach in Holborn. Architect Norman Foster lead the tributes to the RIBA fellow, who was one of the country's leading architectural, planning and conservation consultants

November 12

Roger William De Klerk, 43 – Croydon

The IT consultant from Forest Hill in south London, died after he was struck by a bus outside East Croydon train station.

November 12

Stewart Gandy, 65 – Nantwich, Cheshire

Mr Gandy was cycling towards Whitchurch when he was killed in a suspected hit and run by a lorry. Police arrested a 36-year-old man in Wigan in connection with the incident on Wednesday.

November 13

Venera Minakhmetova, 24 – East London

The Russian-born entrepreneur was killed in a collision with a lorry travelling west along the A11.

November 13

Not yet identified – East London

A male cyclist died in hospital after colliding with a bus in Whitechapel late on Wednesday night. The cyclist, who was not wearing a helmet, has yet to be identified.

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