Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Telegraph journalist rightly criticises Mayor's cycle super highways but slightly misses the point when he declares cycle safety campaign is about 'dissing' Boris Johnson. It's not. It's about making the Mayor accountable for safe cycling.

A cycle super highway should be more than a bit of blue
paint in the middle of a three lane carriageway

Telegraph correspondent Andrew Gilligan has written an article on his blog this week that criticises cycling bloggers for hyping what he calls 'carnage' on London's roads. He breezily implies that he feels fine cycling around London and points to statistics showing that, over a long term period, cycle casualties aren't increasing.

Gilligan concludes by saying:

"Allowing for the rising number of trips, the trend is, as you can see, clearly down. I’m sorry if that doesn’t help the people trying to diss Boris Johnson, but there it is."

Outside of some very political circles, the topic of safety on bikes is not about 'dissing Boris Johnson'. Nor is it about 'promoting' Ken Livingstone. As I posted a few days ago Livingston's own position has been less than positive in the past although there are signs he's changed his mind on cycling issues in recent weeks, as you can see here.

I think Gilligan's article is slightly late to the game and it's a shame that he misses the actual issues. 

The key issue is fairly simple and represented very well by this comment from Angus Hewlett in today's Times: "A third of my office cycle to work and another third would like to but they’re too scared. It’s irresponsible of Boris Johnson to say ‘get out there’ when it’s not safe to. He should feel responsible. It is things like this and The Times cycle campaign that will make a difference.”

Gilligan has been a vocal supporter of cycling over the year. On this occasion, 
Gilligan is right to criticise the Mayor's cycle super highways. He actually wrote a far more critical commentary of Boris Johnson's cycling strategy in 2010 when he  described the first of the Mayor's cycle super highways as "pointless, verging at some places on the dangerous". However, I'm surprised he hasn't realised that the cycling bloggers aren't trying to 'diss' the Mayor per se. They're trying to raise the issue on to the Mayor's agenda and to have the Mayor show he accepts that he shares a large part of the responsibility for the safety of people cycling on London's roads. 

Until very recently, the Mayor has tended to suggest it's all down to the individual and that the way he designs roads has little to do with it. Increasingly, people are saying the way that the Mayor has Transport for London design roads has everything to do with it. 

The volume of people signing up to The Times's CycleSafe campaign is evidence of some of that. But one thing that really stood out to me this week was an article in the Jewish Chronicle. This year, says the JC, is the year of the bike. Not only are community groups organising a 'rabbi relay' - a bike race from Land's End to John O'Groats they are also campaigning for a "cycle super highway through the Jewish areas of north-west London".

What this demonstrates to me is that people from all walks of life are starting to call for London to be a place where they can cycle to work or to the shops safely and easily. It is no longer confined to 'the cyclists', whoever they may be. What people are calling for - among other things - is a change to the way that our streets and junctions work, to make them places where pretty much anyone feels safe enough to get on a bike and pedal. 

I think it's a shame that Gilligan hasn't realised safe cycling space is no longer a party political issue, but that it is becoming something that a lot of people are beginning to expect from their politicians. All politicians.


  1. Franky I'm shocked that the Torygraph would take such a stance. They're usually so balanced and not at all right-wing.

    1. Sorry but did you read the 'torygraph' blog? I think his comments are quite balanced. He is merly pointing out that there isn't acutally a 60% rise in deaths. Deaths have fallen every year since 2005 and cyclist numbers have done nothing but go up. He also totally agrees that something needs to be done about it.

    2. Actually, deaths have not fallen the last couple of years, with 2011 being a particularly bad year.

      However, a more meaningful measure would be referenced to incidents per kilometre travelled, and fuerthermore it woudl include serious injuries, as these can be life-changing, and not in a good way. What those numbers show is that in London KSI per million km fell steadily until about 2006, but have since flatlined, despite substantial increases in the number of cyclists and cycling kilometres - which gives the lie to the "safety in numbers" argument advanced by the CTC and relied on by so many authority figures looking for a way to duck their responsibilities. This levelling out is also associated with - guess what - Boris' accession to the mayoralty.

      Statistics are always difficult - no wonder Mark Twain once remarked, attrbuting to Disraeli, that there are three kinds of lie: lies, damn lies, and statistics. When we are told that pedestrian casulaties on our roads have declined ergo they have become safer, we could in fact quite reasonably read that to say that casualties have declined because they have become more dangerous, and pedestrians now stay away.

  2. Journalists need to remember that legally, any child aged 11 is supposed to be on the road, not the pavement. Would they be happy for their 11 year old son or daughter to be on the road cycling in London on all but the quietest of streets? If not, then there's something needs doing.