London cyclists need to make themselves heard to improve safety

8:40 am - July 16th 2013

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by Christian Wolmar

Another day, another cycling death in London, yesterday. That makes it two in two weeks, both killed by HGVs which are the cause of most cycling fatalities in the capital.

The London Cycling Campaign has already announced a protest ride, to be held in Russell Square today, at 6 30 pm, following from the demonstration on Friday following the death of the French Boris bike rider at Aldgate a week ago. Several hundred came to that demonstration but, in truth, there needs to be a bigger more forceful response from the cycling community and its supporters.

The fantastic growth in cycling in London in recent years has not been met by a commensurate response from those in charge of our transport and road systems. The increase has been organic, not the result of any government action or stimulus but, rather, a realisation that cycling represents a cheap, health, environmentally friendly way to travel.

Despite vaguely supportive words, the London mayor has failed to realise that this fantastic surge in cycling is a game changer on London’s roads. We need roads that are cycle friendly, where bikes are given priority wherever possible and where high speed traffic is discouraged. More cyclists on the roads would, in fact, lead to a reduction in risk as has happened in countries like Holland and Denmark which have a higher proportion of cyclists than the UK.

There were 16 deaths in London last year, the highest number since 2006, and a 4 per cent rise in serious injuries (a much more accurate assessment of risk since the numbers are greater)

Indeed, in the past year there have been three deaths on what was supposed to be the mayor’s landmark project, the Cycling Superhighways, all on the Aldgate to Bow route. This is a terrible mishmash of blue lines on a very busy road with no protection for cyclists which, remarkably, cost more than £10m to create. Super, it is not.

Thankfully, with the appointment of Andrew Gilligan as the mayor’s cycling adviser, a more coherent and radical policy towards cyclists is being introduced, but Gilligan is still hamstrung by the mayor’s insistence that nothing must be done to impede traffic flow. Without a re-allocation of road space to cyclists, the dangers will persist.

In the Netherlands, when there was a spate of child cycle deaths in the 1970s, the protest by parents of the victims led to a change in policy, ensuring that cycle safety was taken seriously. We need a similarly vocal movement on our streets to bring about quick change.

One policy I advocate is reducing the number of freight lorries in central London at peak times. Several other European cities already havesuch rules. Conversely, in London, there is presently a night time ban on HGVs – implemented in 1985 when lorries were much louder – which dramatically increases HGV congestion during the day.

Separating lorries from cycles at peak times is an urgent priority and greater flexibility on delivery times is c part of the solution. We need more than warm words from the mayor. We need leadership and action on this key London issue.

Christian Wolmar is a transport commentator and broadcaster, who is seeking the Labour nomination for the London mayoral election in 2016. @christianwolmar

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Reader comments

1. Derek Hattons Tailor

Why should bikes be given priority when they do not represent the majority of road users ?

HGV drivers do course on driving in London. Highlighted are several cycling errors. Perhaps cyclists might want to do something similar.

3. Derek Hattons Tailor

“The fantastic growth in cycling in London in recent years has not been met by a commensurate response from those in charge of our transport and road systems.”

I would say the opposite, considering they are a minority of road users, cyclists consume a disproportionate amount of transport resource. Contrary to popular belief, cycling is actually declining in popularity – the % nationally of journeys made by bike as a % of total journeys made peaked some years ago and is now falling. Boris bikes are taxpayer subsidized, and where do you think all those cycle lanes come from ? These accidents are tragic but what they tell me is that if it isn’t safe to cycle in London, then don’t cycle in London.

4. monchberter

@ Derek Hattons Tailor

So 2 people die directly due to TFL policy decisions, making 65 since Boris took office and you think it’s not worth bothering with?


one simple step would be to hold TfL to account in the courts for the road junctions and cycle lanes (superhighways or not) it has either designed or presided over for many years.

Bad TfL designs can put cyclists in harm’s way – the health and safety act and corporate manslaughter acts should apply

see our campaign in kings cross

Cycling already makes up a quarter of rush hour traffic in central London, and on some routes (Theobalds Road) two-thirds of all vehicles are bicycles.

Contrary to the assertion above, cyclign in London has doubled in the last 10 years (quoting UK figures is misleading).

Every bicycle means less tube congestion and fewer traffic jams, so it makes perfect sense to continue to encourage this growth and to keep Londoners safe by providing safe space for cycling.

7. Richard Carey

I think part of the problem is cyclists not paying enough attention. I don’t personally mind when cyclists break the rules, such as going through red lights, as long as they do so safely. I’m sure the ones who are most at risk are those who follow the rules, which are designed for other vehicles. There’s little point arguing about the rights and wrongs of road use. A cyclist’s body is always going to lose against a metal machine.

The main problem is that lorry drivers can’t see cyclists. I suggest a campaign to get cyclists to fit flagpoles to their bikes (you know what I mean, right?) which would make them easier to see from the cab of a lorry. This would be money better spent than massive road re-structuring projects.

8. Christopher Mahon

“Why should bikes be given priority when they do not represent the majority of road users ?”

Why put in speed bumps outside a school when children do not represent the majority of road users?

9. Geoff Goldbum

Why put in speed bumps outside a school when children do not represent the majority of road users?

Because we’d surely all agree that ‘minimising risk to schoolchildren by use of speedbumps in one specific area’ (ie outside schools) is fair enough, please please please don’t confuse/compare this to ‘minimising risk to cyclists by making massively fundamental changes to the entirety of Londons traffic systems, laws/highway code etc’

And of course the schoolchildren have no choice but to use the roads and pavements to get to/from school, please please please don’t confuse/compare this to an adult human who, despite an abundance of transport options, makes the decision to get on his/her bike and ultimately take a gamble with the reaper/HGV drivers.

When cyclists are killed on the roads it is amazing to see that for some it is the cyclists who are to blame. The comment that cyclists should fit “flagpoles” to their bicycles is funny but deaply sad at the same time.

It is the job of roadusers to look out for other roadusers. Motorised vehicle users bring onto the roads their hugely heavy vehicles and it is their responsibility not to drive into people with them.

With the global warming issue and the increase in obesity an increase in cycling is to be applauded.

I think the biggest reason for people not cycling is the fear of being hurt or killed by motorised vehicle drivers. It is the motorised vehicle drivers who are the killers and it is they who must stop hurting and killing people with their vehicles.

Currently about 3000 people die each year in the UK from road accidents. Imagine if a terrorist group were killing that many people each year? I don’t think that people would be shrugging their shoulders in the manner that some do over road deaths.

The deaths from motorised vehicles must stop. When the drivers of motorised vehicles kill they must be held fully responsible. Blaming the victims must stop. I believe that we should see drivers of motorised vehicles tested on a regular basis. We should aim to reduce the number of unnecessary motorised vehicle usage.

As a walker who frequently finds herself about to run down by trail bikers using the same footpaths, I wonder why it is that cyclists seem to feel their sport would be less pleasurable if they attached bells to their machines and used them to warn people of their approach. On the roads, cyclists are vulnerable and the rest of us should be mindful of them. Off them, it is hikers who are at a disadvantage and cyclists should be mindful of us.

Anyone else buzzed/bullied by aggressive driver if TRAD Scaffolding artic this morning about 08.40 Westbound Bethnal Green Road. Took picture of truck & driver (PG 07 RAD – a vanity plate)

Hooted and forced through past us and then squeezed past island with cyclists on n/s whilst o/s tyres ran over island kerbs. Left well behind in traffic queue after that.

2 of last 3 deaths were 32T rigid tippers the most common type of HGV involved – no one reports the site which tipers operate from – very significant is we are to tackle reduction of risk – example of incident in Bermondsey where aggressive driver reported and employer tracked vehicle and driver involved and found driver was using unauthorised route from site on route deemd unsuitable for HGV traffic. Driver reported to have been ‘disciplined’.

Also note that reporting/decalring penalty points to employer/TAO/insurer is at preent a voluntary detail – can this be made automatic, especially with DVLA & VOSA merger?

We also have the clean licence trick. ‘Mislay’ your licence and get replacement. and then the replacement licence gets all penalty points, but clean licence is available to show when applying for driving job – unless employer does paid for check they won’t discover driving history.

Many of the fatal crashes have involved drivers with previous ‘form’ notably Denis Putz (killed Catriona Patel). By spotting these drivers early we may get better control of danger driving.

Also we don’t have monitor of drivers being stopped for prohibition notices (PG9 PG9(S)) Responsible drivers are less likely to take out a truck or bus with defects – discuss?

It would help if more people undertook cycle training. Poor positioning (riding up the left hand side of a vehicle, for example)is most often to blame for cycling deaths. Most councils offer free or subsidised on-road training but many do not advertise it very well.

14. Nick Evans

Agree that more people should undertake cycle training. However, statistics show that driver error is most often the cause of cyclists’ deaths and injuries. So perhaps cycle training should be a compulsory part of the driving test?

15. Richard Carey

@ Patrick,

“The comment that cyclists should fit “flagpoles” to their bicycles is funny but deaply sad at the same time.”

I think you’ve got a bad attitude. Cyclists put lights on their bikes, some wear reflective jackets so they are more visible. Are these things ‘funny but deaply (sic) sad’ also?


You need to read the Highway Code.


I return to my point about poor positioning.

Most drivers don’t even look in their left hand wing mirror. I’ve also seen cyclists trying to squeeze through some of the tightest gaps between a bus and a kerb. My motto is “if it looks dangerous, then it probably is dangerous”. Sadly, there are people who can’t see danger until it’s too late. 🙁

3. Derek Hattons Tailor

Your post has I believe no truths in it at all, despite alluding to factoids.

…”they are a minority of road users”
20 million bikes in the UK [Key Notes Bicycle Report]. 40% of household have a bicycle [1] ‘Frances Macleod, witness for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, reported that 85% of people can ride a bike. More people own bikes than own cars'[2]

“cyclists consume a disproportionate amount of transport resource”.
£1 per head of population is spent on cycling by government; but contributes £2.9B to the economy. DfT figures show their own ridiculous and continued overprediction of growth in car miles per person since the 1980’s [2]. So we have seen overinvestment of transport resources for car drivers.

…”cycling is actually declining in popularity”
…and yet ‘Net addition of 1.3m new cyclists in 2010 of whom 500,000 are Frequent or Regular Cyclists’ [1]

the % nationally of journeys made by bike as a % of total journeys made peaked some years ago and is now falling.
But ‘2011 census measured a 10.1% increase in cycling to work since 2001′[1]. DfT figures cite small increase in cycling miles since 1995, but still smaller than 1975, and a much bigger drop in car miles per person [2 -page29].

Boris bikes are taxpayer subsidized,
– This is the nearest you get to a fact. You mean Barclays are not paying the amount Boris was hoping for, so the taxman is picking up the tab. You could rephrase that and say Barclays sponsorship is being subsidized.

These accidents are tragic
– you have smuggled a fact in here, but you have little sympathy for those who have died:

“…but what they tell me is that if it isn’t safe to cycle in London, then don’t cycle in London.”

People die and you stand by and shrug your shoulders. Meanwhile the APPG have a detailed discussion on how to overcome the perception of danger in order to make cycling safer and for it to realise the 4:1 cost benefit returns it has the potential to do.

key sources
1 LSE report: The cycling economy
2 All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group report April 2013.

12. Dave

Trad Scaffolding website is here

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