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New calls to pedestrianise Oxford Street after top academic’s death at ‘danger junction’

Dr Chesmal Siriwardhana died after being hit by an N98 bus

14 April, 2017 — By Alina Polianskaya

Dr Chesmal Siriwardhana was a leading academic at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

URGENT calls have been made for the pedestrianisation of Oxford Street after a highly-respected university associate professor was killed at a danger junction.

Dr Chesmal Siriwardhana, 38, who worked at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine died around 2am on Sunday after a collision with a N98 bus near the crossroads with Harewood Place and Holles Street.

Tom Kearney has been campaigning for pedestrianisation of the street since he was hit by a bus at the same junction in 2009, putting him into a coma and causing serious injuries. He said: “If someone has died from a bus collision at a junction that has been known for years to be the UK’s most dangerous then, in my opinion, it raises serious questions about the safety culture of TfL’s contracted bus operations.

The death of Dr Siriwardhana was entirely preventable and predictable yet no one at TfL or the bus operator will lose their job or bonus for it. The fact that neither TfL, the mayor, or the local council have done anything to improve the lethality of the UK’s most dangerous junction comes as no surprise.”

Tributes were paid to Dr Siriwardhana from colleagues, including university director Professor Peter Piot, who said he was “deeply shocked and saddened” about the death of “a deeply valued friend, colleague and mentor”.

He added: “Through his work on armed conflict, migration and mental health, he was at the forefront of some of the major public health challenges of the day. His important research helped to improve our understanding of the mental health needs of people affected by conflict, particularly in Sri Lanka, and which services are most effective in supporting them. Our sincere condolences go to his family and friends.”

Dr Siriwardhana was originally from Sri Lanka and lived in Greenwich and previously worked at Anglia Ruskin university.

Also paying tribute was friend Sarah Hormozi who studied alongside him for a masters in psychiatric research at King’s College. She said: “He was devoted to improving mental wellbeing of communities on an international level, but his interests were not limited to his work. He loved animals and cared about wildlife and nature. We will do everything we can to bring justice for Chesmal and get him the recognition he deserves.”

Ms Hormozi, who commutes into Tottenham Court Road station, called for the swift pedestrianisation of Oxford Street. “It is a real struggle to walk on the pavements, as they are always overcrowded. So some pedestrians end up walking on the road and putting their lives at risk. I believe pedestrianisation of Oxford Street will not only make it safer for people but also a more popular and pleasant place to visit. Oxford street is already well connected to public transport with several tube stations, each about 10 minutes walk apart, so it really doesn’t need buses or taxis, that can hardly move, and create a life-threatening hazard for pedestrians.”

Another friend, Maria Gudbrandsen called Dr Siriwardhana a “truly amazing human being”, adding “I cannot even begin to imagine what his poor girlfriend and family are going through right now.”

Living Streets campaigner Peter Hartley said he was “appalled” to hear of another death “on the UK’s most dangerous street”.

The number of injuries resulting from collisions with London buses rose in the last year according to TfL’s own data. Mayor Sadiq Khan announced that Oxford Street would be pedestrianised but this is not expected to happen until 2020.

Tony Akers, TfL’s head of bus operations, extended sympathies to Dr Siriwardhana’s family. “The emergency services attended and there will be a full investigation into the incident,” he said.

Westminster Council said it was “saddened” by the news but were unable to comment as there was an ongoing investigation.

The driver of the N98 bus stopped at the scene and was not arrested. Anyone with information is urged to contact the serious collisions investigation unit on 020 8543 5157 or via Twitter @MetCC.

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