|14 riders dead and counting, London cyclists dice with death in unfriendly capital
When a cyclist is killed on London's roads, a flower-decked white bicycle is sometimes placed at the scene – as a tribute to a lost friend and a warning to others.
More of these poignant “ghost bikes'' may appear for the six cyclists dragged under lorries and buses in two weeks – a spate of deaths that has shocked Londoners and raised tough questions for authorities.
Mayor Boris Johnson loudly trumpets the benefits of cycling but critics say he could do more to keep them safe.
“Some of the cases that we've seen in the last few days really make your heart bleed,'' Johnson told London's LBC radio station this week.
“But unless people obey the laws of the road,'' he added, “there's no amount of traffic engineering that we invest in that is going to save people's lives.''
The deaths have sparked a war of words between cyclists who blame the city's poor infrastructure and critics who say too many riders take foolish risks, including by jumping red lights.
Cyclists complain that London's shortage of segregated bike lanes forces them to dice with death by traveling alongside huge lorries, while the “cycle super-highways'' sometimes amount to little more than strips of blue paint.
“It's just not very friendly out there,'' said Matt Renton, a 28-year-old product manager, one of thousands heading home on bikes in the evening rush hour despite the bitter cold.
“You go somewhere like Amsterdam, and they've got a completely different attitude towards cycling,'' added Renton, who was wearing a luminous yellow jacket to signal his presence to motorists.
“[In London] we're mostly just seen as a nuisance.''
At 14, the death toll for 2013 has drawn level with that of last year and is comparable with Amsterdam and Berlin, although far above the single fatality recorded in Paris since January.
But the recent rise in deaths has piled pressure on officials to act.
London police have tasked 2,500 officers with stopping badly-driven lorries and misbehaving cyclists, while Mayor Johnson hinted he would back a ban on people wearing headphones while on their bikes.
“Call me illiberal, but it makes me absolutely terrified to see them bowling along unable to hear the traffic,'' he said.
The mayor also faces renewed calls to consider banning heavy goods vehicles from the city center during rush hours.
Such vehicles were involved in more than half of London's cycling deaths since 2010. All six of the recent casualties, who included a 24-year-old Russian woman, were hit by lorries, buses or coaches.
Riders, often stereotyped as a brigade of Lycra-clad daredevils, are an increasingly vocal force.
Protesters from the Critical Mass pro-cycling movement sporadically hold up the traffic with their jubilant, hundreds-strong bike rides.