IT’S RUSH hour on Friday and as the cars zoom along Pollokshaws Road in the southside of Glasgow, cyclists start to gather at the spot where flower tributes are attached to the barriers. They arrive from all four directions at this busy junction with Nithsdale Drive, dozens of Glaswegians on sleek high-end bikes, well-loved cycles and nifty fold-up numbers.

They are here to show solidarity with one of their own. Because it was here that on Wednesday morning a woman was hit by a lorry while on her bike and died at the scene.

The details of the collision that cost the woman her life are not yet known. Police are appealing for witnesses and enquiries are ongoing. Yet to those gathered here this evening her tragic death underlines the vulnerability of cyclists navigating their routes alongside traffic on Scotland’s roads.

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There is a collective feeling of shock and loss here even amongst those who had never met her, a sense too that it could have been any of them. I understand it – this is my regular route home.

Fastening his bike to the railings is James Bonner, a confident cyclist with decades of experience who cycles this route all the time. But, he admits, incidents like this leave him feeling shaken.

“I work in sustainability, I advocate cycling,” he says. “Our government tells us to go out and cycle and yet these incidents happen. It feels difficult sometimes to promote it – if I inspire something to cycle through a blog, or through advice I’ve given, and that puts them in a position of danger that leaves a real emotional contradiction in you. Should I leave the bike at home? Should I tell my sister, my mother, my friend to cycle? Because this is potentially the impact.”

Many can relate. Cycling is energising and empowering – it’s freedom on two-wheels, a way of getting around on your own schedule. Fast and cheap, it boosts endorphins, but has no carbon emissions.

Statistics show that serious accidents are still relatively rare – Transport Scotland says 729 cyclists were involved in road traffic accidents in 2017, while 1350 pedestrians and 5685 car users were recorded as casualties. But the risks are very real. As only 2% of bike journeys across Scotland are done by bike, numbers of serious accidents are proportionately high, and they are not coming down as fast as the figures for other road users.

Last year five cyclists were killed on the roads. Over the last 10 years the average is eight annually. This year there have been four. In February Gwyndaf Bailey was hit by a car killed while out on his bike in West Lothian. In early March Hanno Garbe died following a collision with a car near Aviemore and, less than two weeks later, PhD student and father-to-be Stuart Elliott was killed cycling in Portobello.

Andy Mulholland, head of design and engineering for Sustrans Scotland, regards the latest death as a wake-up call about the need to address safety concerns. “Any accident or injury is one too many,” he says. “But this incident brings into sharp focus the need to redouble our efforts to improve safety for people walking and cycling in our towns and cities. The best way to improve safety for cyclists is to have safe, continuous, segregated cycling infrastructure for all.”

Meanwhile, most cyclists have to share the roads. Inspector Andrew Thomson, of Road Policing in Stirling, is aware of the dangers and oversees Operation Close Pass which sees plain closed officers on bikes fitted with cameras that track cars that pass too closely alongside them. Piloted in Edinburgh in 2017 and rolled out across Scotland earlier this month, motorists will be pulled over further along the road and given a briefing on the dangers posed by failing to leave a car’s width when overtaking bikes.

It’s backed by a Cycling Scotland campaign, launched as a YouGov survey found 73% of over 1000 Scots asked were not aware the practice could result in three penalty points. “It’s about having conversations with drivers and making them more aware rather than punishing them, “ said Thomson. “There are plenty of cyclists who commit offences too. But we want to highlight that when drivers pass too close all it can take is a gust of wind, or a slight body shift and you can put a cyclist in the path of traffic.” Even if accidents are not common, the stakes can be high.

Dave du Feu of Lothian-based campaigning organisation Spokes agrees. “There are plenty of pleasant places for leisure cycling,” he says. “But if you are talking about using a bike for everyday journeys and commuting, that’s where the difficulty comes.” He argues we need separate cycling infrastructure on direct routes – longer term across the country – but alongside urban roads as a priority. Partway routes that don’t connect with main arteries don’t cut it, he argues, as they mean unless you happen to live on an assigned cycle lane and are only going as far as it stretches, cyclists will be forced onto potentially unsafe parts of the route.

“It needs backed up by political courage,” he says. “They need to relocate the space for bikes and that’s a different proposition on main roads than it is on a disused railway line. If people are used to parking their cars on a bit of road that is earmarked for a cycle path they might not be happy, so that’s why politicians have to be clear about the priorities.”

There are examples of tensions – East Dunbartsonshire Council faced furious opposition to plans for the Bears Way cycle track with tacks repeatedly found by those using the part route, which has never been completed as a result. In Edinburgh, posters advertising a consultation on the Roseburn Cycle route were defaced.

Yet campaigners are keen to downplay the “cars v bikes” rhetoric, arguing that it’s unhelpful. And elsewhere cycle routes – such as the well-used South-West City Way in Glasgow – have been successfully implemented. The city is currently developing another major route through Govanhill to Merchant City, announced in 2017 as then-transport minister Humza Yousaf doubled the budget for walking and cycling to £80 million.

The environmental benefits are clear. The latest Sustrans Bike Life report predicts in Edinburgh alone, with adequate funding, that by 2040 just by more cycling, 47,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions would be saved annually, equivalent to the carbon footprint of 10,000 people.

Denise Marshall, an organiser of Pedal on Parliament, which holds an annual Edinburgh cycle to raise awareness of the call for better cycling infrastructure, says there have been positive steps but claims change is too slow. “If you want 10% of journeys to be done by bike then you need to have 10% of the budget spent on it,” she says. Currently only about 3% of the budget is allocated to walking and cycling.

Drivers may claim plenty of valid criticisms of cyclists – going through red lights, undertaking and cutting across pavements. But Marshall claims she faces daily abuse on her commute. Proper infrastructure would de-escalate stand-offs and work better for everyone, she argues.

Back in Glasgow’s southside that is what Iona Shepherd, a member of Go Bike who helped organise this vigil, is also hoping for. “We are really desperate for this never to happen again,” she says of Wednesday’s tragedy. “Every day people who cycle on the roads encounter danger. We need protected spaces and it’s something that we’ve been asking for, for such a long time. Often lanes are so short and unless you happen to live on one, you will have to be on the road at the moment. We want better designed roads and for strong political will to push this faster.”

Meanwhile these cyclists stand together, and fall silent. After two minutes Shepherd rings her bike bell. There are hugs, and some tears and then cyclists put back on their helmets and push off, back into the fray.