Thursday, 27 June 2013

In Copenhagen the number of journeys by bike grew by 50% between 1995 - 2010 yet the risk of cycle casualties dropped four-fold in the same period. In the UK cycle casualties are spiralling out of control and (except for in London) the bicycle is being ignored as a serious transport choice for millions.

Putney Bridge. This is what Transport for London
thinks counts for cycle infrastructure. No wonder
everyone's dressed in lycra and on bikes designed
for maximum speed
Earlier today, Transport for London released figures showing the total number of people seriously injured or killed on bikes on London's roads last year was up 60% (yes, 60%) on the long term average 2005 - 2009.

Across the UK as a whole, the risk of serious injury on a bike grew 5%, faster than the growth in bike use. 
This puts well and truly paid to the idea that more cyclists on the roads = safer roads.

Yet, in other countries where cycling has increased, the rate of people killed or injured on bikes has decreased. Why is the UK bucking that trend?

It's pretty obvious really. The London Assembly (the body which scrutinises London's Mayor Boris Johnson) said it pretty clearly last year: "In the last four years TfL has spent more money than before on cycle infrastructure.... but the budget has not been spent on the type of cycling facilities that maximise safety for vulnerable road users." The same is true in other towns and cities around the country: Money which should have gone into creating safe networks for people to cycle, has instead gone into things like Boris bikes, into PR and into 'active travel plans', whatever those are.

The London numbers are part of a UK-wide trend. As RoSPA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) has at last pointed out, road deaths and serious injuries are down across the country, unless you're on a bike. It is good to see that RoSPA has now joined the call for a "coherent safe network for cyclists" although concerning they seem to think that network should be along canals and rivers.

In the UK as a whole, the number of people killed cycling increased 10% last year and serious casualties were up as well. The Department for Transport acknowledged today that "There is a well-established upward trend in pedal cyclist casualties; this is eighth year that the number of seriously injured cyclist casualties has increased."

Some money secured for investment in cycling in London. Live
outside London, though, and things are looking worse, not better
Actually, if you look at the London data, the numbers are bad for pedestrians as well: a 15% increase in the number of pedestrians seriously injured / killed vs last year (although slightly lower than the longer term trend).

If you're in a motor vehicle, though, things are getting rosier - a 53% reduction in serious injuries and people killed in cars against the long term trend; a 52% decrease in other motor vehicles. That compares with a 60% increase against the long term trend for people on bikes.

Yet, road safety is getting much better if you're in a motor vehicle. It is getting alarmingly worse if you're on a bike. And yet, in other countries, the exact opposite has happened.: Road safety has got better for motor vehicle users AND for bicycle users. As the number of people cycling has increased in cities like Copenhagen, the number of road casualties decreased. And that's down to a whole host of interventions, most of which are lacking in the UK: better cycle networks, slower motor traffic speeds; changes in legislation etc.

Here's London's Olympic Park this week. Cycling and walking legacy
in action. Pic courtesy Ross Lydall
So what should happen on the very same day that the government publishes appalling casualty trends? The government has announced an multi-decade investment plan for UK infrastructure that is entirely about improving capacity for private motor transport only (bye bye bus subsidies). In the entire 82 page document on national infrastructure released today, the government spends 33 pages talking about investment in roads. There is not a single mention of cycling anywhere in the national infrastructure strategy. As BikeBiz magazine points out, the government has been ultra clear about what personal transport is going to look like in this country for the rest of most of our lives when it boasts about investment in roads and in making the Highways Agency able to deliver "the best possible road network for the UK's motorists". Talk about playing to the status quo.

There is one tiny glimmer of hope. The Chancellor's Spending Review did include enough money for Transport for London to go ahead with its plans to invest in the network of cycle routes announced in Boris Johnson's game-changer network of cycling quietways and new Cycle Highways through London. Phew.

Cyclists as % of people seriously injured or killed in London.
Pic courtesy of @geographyjim
In related news, Transport for London also confirmed today that the Mayor of London "will be writing to the Secretary of State with a list of more than 20 detailed requests to the Government and the EU for new powers to make the roads safer for cyclists and pedestrians. These include: the power for TfL, rather than the police, to enforce mandatory bike lanes and bicycle advanced stop boxes at traffic lights; the ability to install cycle-specific traffic lights; the ability to make improvements to pedestrian and cyclist crossings; changes to the HGV and standard driving tests; and the power to require key safety modifications on heavy lorries."

If London can act as a catalyst for changes in the rest of the country, that's a good thing, in my view. But none of this feels like it's moving fast enough, and almost not at all if you're outside London.


  1. While I welcome some of the plans, mainly to spend some money on the huge highway maintenance backlog, the government are determined to carry on investing in the car. What this that and HS2 creeping over £40 billion, it must be time to go back and cater for people's everyday journeys by foot and cycle.

    Incidentally, our casualty-reduction budget under Boris (who lets boroughs be very flexible) is almost a third of what it was under Ken - the Mayor seems to like his big schemes and likes the boroughs to have big schemes whereas Ken was more a fan of smaller schemes at local level.

    1. We shuld be using this money and that highway maintainence backlog to completely rebuild the exisiting network. Instead of resurfacing, roads and streets should come come out of the maintainence looking very different.

      Instead? Extra lane on motorways. FFS.

  2. Good post, and thank you for linking to the TFL doc, which I hadn't seen, and made interesting reading. Like you, I was very depressed to do a Ctrl-F on the Treasury Infrastructure pdf ( for "cycl" and didn't find anything relevant to cycling. The evidence that road spending leads to economic growth is pretty mixed - especially when it means sticking extra lanes on motorways.

    Just in re your first paragraph, I'm guessing you get the 60% figure from the table at the top of page 2.
    Number of Cycle KSIs in 2012: 671
    Number of Cycle KSIs in 2011: 571
    2005-2009 average cycle KSIs: 420.6

    So you divide 671 by 420.6 and get 1.6, so an increase of 60%.

    I agree, the trend is disturbing, but are there any figures on how much more popular cycling has got in this period? TFL has a measure doesn't it? Do you know what this was for 2012 for comparison?

  3. Note that the plans that included that nice Embankment picture are essentially mostly unfunded.

  4. Great post, as ever.

    Do disagree on the slight jab at Boris Bike expenditure though.

    I believe it's true to say that pre-2010 there were still strong vehicular cyclist feelings in significant cycling organisations that hampered the creation of safe cycle networks, right?

    I'd argue that the (relatively) sudden shift to 'Go Dutch' by LCC, CTC, British Cycling, and now TfL and Boris Johnson can be linked (in part) to Londoners using Boris Bikes since 2010.

    Due to their size and slow speed it's pretty near impossible to ride a Boris Bike while attempting to 'mix with the traffic'. Therefore, anyone using a Boris Bike (as opposed to a much faster road bike) is far more likely to favour segregated cycle lanes, 20mph limits, etc. because fast moving traffic is so much scarier when you can't really get above 10mph.

    Did the Boris Bikes help banish the vehicular cyclists in London once and for all? If so, then we have a lot to thank them for...

    (also it may have been politically untenable for the Mayor to invest in safe cycle lanes in pre-2012 due to the politics of road space use and a complete (and continuing) lack of support from the national government - )

    1. It certainly was an eye opener the first time I rode one of those tanks over Vauxhall Bridge. 30mph traffic suddenly felt like 50. It immediately made me a lot more sympathetic towards weaker riders who choose to use the pavement.. now I know how they feel on the roads on a regular bike. I can only hope that some of the committed vehicularists have had a similar experience.

      Now I've never been a vehicular die-hard.. it's how I ride (mostly), but I believe recommending vehicular cycling as a policy for street design is like suggesting wilderness survival technique as a solution to the housing crisis.

      But I think the big driver behind the likes of Go Dutch is that it works for people who don't currently cycle. The majority of people in our lives will never ride vehicular on main roads, even with 20mph traffic - so if we want to see the majority of people using bikes where it makes sense to do so, calling for more vehicular cycling clearly cannot be the answer.

    2. First of all, in no way can the CTC be said to be in favour of Dutch infrastructure. They are as wedded to pretending to be cars as they ever were. Secondly, why would the London cycle hire have much to do with the change in LCC policy, rather than the emergence of many pro-Dutch blogs? It's much easier to pretend that cycling infrastructure doesn't work if your target audience has no experience of it other than the crap they see around them. It's much harder to keep up the pretense when there are blogs with details, photos and videos. Although to give them credit, the CTC have done great work in the "sticking your fingers in your ears and shouting la la la" style of argument.

  5. The most powerful method of improving things for our pedestrians and cyclists would be to adopt the Continental method of determining blame in road accidents according to 'Strict Liability'. The least vulnerable person in an accident has to prove his/her innocence. See my blog at

    1. This is not logical. Imagine saying this to someone. "Hey why not let your kids ride on the ridiculously dangerous and unpleasant streets? If they get hit by a car and suffer serious disability or death, well it's ok cos you'll get a few quid from the insurance." Enticing eh?

  6. It is said in the report that the number of journeys by bike has increased by 61% during the same period. So the rate of casualties has not increased.

    Obviously this is not satisfactory. It shows that putting more bikes on the road do not help to decrease the rate of casualties. To decrease this rate, better infrastructures are needed. With these better infrastructures the number of cyclists will increase and the rate of casualties will decrease.

    There is still a huge potential to increase the number of cyclists in London. A lot of people around me who do not commute by bike tell me that they are scared of biking in London. To increase safety could put all these people on two wheels.

  7. Great stuff as ever, but you’ve had to give the stats a good duffing to make them fit. You’re comparing Copenhagen with the UK. One of these is a city, the other isn’t. If we stick to London (“Cyclists In The City”) you don’t memtion that cyclist deaths are down, both against 2011 and the 2005-9 base. Injuries are up against both, but less than the rise in cycling.
    (“Pedal cyclist KSI casualties were up 60% . This increase should be seen in the context of the considerable increase in cycling over a number of years. Cycling on London’s major roads, the Transport for London Road Network(TLRN), increased by 61% between 2005/6 and 2012/13, and by 176% between 2000/01and 2012/13.”)
    Even ouside London – pace the CTC – it’s not true to claim that “the risk of serious injury on a bike grew 5%”. Even if we accept that 5% is higher than the mileage growth, we’ve no idea whether the people doing that mileage or the way they ride have changed. Those figures don’t tell us whether the risk to any given individual is higher or lower.
    Too many people are killed and injured cycling and we could and should do more about it. Fiddling the numbers isn’t going to help.

    PS Every other blog in the world has a one-line title to fit into RSS readers. Thus “More Cycling Doesn’t Equal Safer Cycling”. Not the whole first para.
    PPS Please just make links one word. Alternate lines of blue and black isn’t a pleasant reading experience.

  8. thank you Sven. Took the words out of my mouth. Manipulating statistics to make the situation look worse than it really is does not push policy-makers into making better provision for cyclists. All it does is cause them to question what cycling advocates are telling them. The argument for Copenhagen/Amsterdam style infrastructural improvements in London is good enough without selective use of stats. It would be counter-intuitive and frankly bizarre if casualties were to increase above the rate of increase in cycle traffic, and lo, it turns out it hasn't! Not suggesting doing nothing, just counselling against alarmism.