‘So much to live for’: Tributes paid to two cyclists killed in Hackney as campaigners stage protest ride to demand change

Cyclists take part in the protest ride. Photograph: Becky Mursell / HCC

Cycling campaigners were this week joined by the loved ones of two people killed recently while riding their bikes in Hackney – as they staged a protest ride to demand “urgent” safety improvements.

On their way to the Town Hall on Wednesday, members of Hackney Cycling Campaign (HCC) visited Kenworthy Road, where 27-year-old music student Harry Webb was seriously injured by a car in September. He later died in hospital.

The riders then stopped at Whiston Road to pay tribute to Gao Gao, 36, a mother-of-two who was killed in a collision with a car there, just 11 days after Webb was struck.

Residents on both roads have been calling for additional safety measures for years.

Garmon ap Garth, HCC Coordinator, said: “We acknowledge that Hackney Council has done more than most London boroughs to enable cycling over many years, including introducing traffic filters, leading to the highest cycling levels in London.

“Yet the recent deaths highlight that more action is required to make Hackney’s streets safer.

“We propose a bus gate on Whiston Road to prevent through-traffic, and a toucan crossing for pedestrians and cyclists on Kenworthy Road.

“If Hackney Council or Transport for London (TfL) have a better solution, we are keen to hear it, and we look forward to them bringing forward a solution urgently.

“We are also calling on the council to implement the actions that we know will reduce road danger, so that we can move towards Vision Zero as quickly as possible.”

Vision Zero is a global target to eradicate all traffic fatalities and serious injuries by 2041.

Ella Gao speaking on the steps of the Town Hall. Photograph: Becky Mursell / HCC

Ella Gao, the sister of Gao Gao, thanked protesters for attending to “remember and honour her, and to fight for what should have been her right: to get home safely”.

She added: “Gao Gao’s life, and friendships, have spanned all corners of the globe. She’s lived in Germany, China, the US, and the UK. She has visited countless other countries for her work, as well as through her own personal adventures – whether that be scaling the Cuillin on Skye, surfing in Morocco, or scrambling up mountains in Sri Lanka six months pregnant.

“Some of those closest to Gao Gao would describe her as unusual. She had a talent for developing relationships and a special ability to inspire confidence in people lucky enough to know her. Sometimes it was a simple quip like, ‘Don’t be sorry, be sexy’. Other times it was a question like, ‘What brought you joy today?’, delicately delivered in a way that could disarm even the most guarded of us and lead to unexpected and genuine conversations and connections.”

She said her sister “had so much more to give, and so much more that she wanted to do with her life”.

Harry Webb had just moved into a new house-share near Kenworthy Road. The day after the collision was to be the start of his second year of a further masters course at the London College of Contemporary Music.

He was the only child of Pat and Mike Webb, who had dropped him off in London just hours before he was hit on his way to London Fields Lido for an evening swim.

Webb underwent an emergency operation but his injuries proved too severe, and he passed away two days after the crash.

His parents told HCC that the grief and devastation his death has brought to the family is unbearable, and his loss has been keenly felt in their close-knit community in South Wales.

They said that Harry believed the roads in London could be made much safer, and they hope that their support for the protest will help prevent further tragedies.

Harry Webb was described as a kind, warm, generous and loving person. Photograph: Webb family / courtesy Met Police

At least 225 people have been killed or seriously injured cycling in Hackney in the past five years – 45 people a year on average.

Tom Fyans, CEO of London Cycling Campaign, said: “Far more people cycle in Hackney than most of the rest of London, partly because it has invested in cycling infrastructure including low traffic neighbourhoods to make it safer for everyone.

“But these recent tragedies show how much work there is still left to do.

“We cannot accept that roads like Kenworthy and Whiston either wait another decade for anything or get a half-baked treatment that means speeding drivers, big lorries and a lack of safe infrastructure mean an ongoing death toll every year.

“That’s why it is so important that the Mayor of London and TfL and the next Mayor of Hackney, hear loud and clear from communities that they must not roll back or slow progress, but must accelerate it.

“We cannot wait until 2041 to eliminate serious and fatal collisions from London’s streets.”

Earlier this year, Kenworthy Road residents met with TfL, which controls the road, to highlight the inadequate provision for pedestrians and cyclists.

Hackney Cycling Campaign is calling on TfL to implement improvements urgently.

A TfL spokesperson said: “Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the people who were tragically killed while cycling in Hackney.

“We’re determined to end the devastating consequences of road traffic collisions and we’re working with London boroughs to eradicate death and serious injury from the capital’s roads.

“We are carefully considering the suggestions put forward by Hackney Cycling Campaign and will work with the council and the local community to look closely at what changes could be made to make these roads in Hackney safer.”

Whiston Road residents and cycling campaigners have been asking Hackney Council to relocate a previously planned filter on Pritchard’s Road to the Hackney side of the road, or to implement other measures to reduce traffic speed and volume.

Rickardo Hyatt, the Town Hall’s group director of climate, homes and economy, said: “We are deeply saddened by news of the tragic deaths of cyclists on Whiston Road and Kenworthy Road, and our thoughts are with their friends and families. Casualties on our roads are neither acceptable nor inevitable.

“Vulnerable road users (which include pedestrians and cyclists) are embedded at the top of the road hierarchy in council policy, which means that we prioritise their needs in any changes to our roads, and the council has made a commitment to the Mayor of London’s Vision Zero, which seeks to eliminate road deaths by 2041.

“We are aware of the suggestions from Hackney Cycling Campaign but are unable to comment on any potential changes before the current police investigations are concluded.”

A 24-year-old driver was arrested following the incident on Kenworthy Road, and she has been bailed until December.

Following the crash on Whiston Road, 29-year-old Martin Reilly, of Caldecott Way, Lea Bridge, was charged with causing death by dangerous driving and vehicle interference. He is due to appear at Snaresbrook Crown Court on Monday 23 October.

Update: this article was amended at 12:08 on 20 October 2023 to include a statement from a TfL spokesperson.