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Going Slow

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Last Thursday the Times launched a campaign to ‘Save Our Cyclists’. It was also the first anniversary of the death of 28-year-old Dan Cox, killed on his bike by a lorry at Dalston Junction. A memorial walk traced his last journey across the city. A ‘ghost bike’ near the spot where he was hit has been painted white and adorned with flowers and a copy of Kafka’s The Trial.

On Friday, a cyclist in his sixties was killed by a bus on Bishopsgate, the first fatality of 2012.

On Monday, Bikes Alive organised the third ‘go-slow’ of cyclists and pedestrians at the King’s Cross gyratory. Last October, Min Joo Lee, a 24-year-old fashion student, was the third cyclist to be killed outside King’s Cross in five years. William Perrin, a community activist, is lobbying for a corporate manslaughter charge to be brought against Transport for London, who ignored their own expert’s warnings about safety at King’s Cross.

Both TfL and Boris Johnson are as eager as ever to boast their cycling credentials, but the figures tell a different story. According to TfL, there were 19 cycling deaths in London in 2006, 15 in 2007, 15 in 2008, 13 in 2009, 10 in 2010 and 16 in 2011. Last summer, Tory members of the London Assembly walked out on a cross-party motion to impose a permanent 20 mph speed limit over Blackfriars Bridge. When the Tories returned to vote later in the summer, the Assembly agreed unanimously that a review of safety on the bridge was needed: TfL ignored them.

Long-established pressure groups such as Sustrans and the London Cycling Campaign, which have developed relationships with government and TfL over the years, have more recently been joined by grassroots movements like Londoners on Bikes, set up to encourage people to ‘vote for the mayoral candidate who will do the most to make Londoners safe on bikes’. A recent YouGov poll puts Ken Livingstone narrowly ahead of Johnson: if the race stays that close, the votes of cyclists could swing it.

Comments on “Going Slow”

  1. Keith Claxton says:

    Statistics are always contentious. And any traffic death – pedestrian, car, bicycle – is never to be taken lightly. But I’m surprised at how low the figures are, to be honest. Going by 2005 stats in the Tfl 2007 Travel Report, on an average day the number of cyclists entering London just in the morning peak is 17,000. The 2006-2011 stats average out at one cyclist death a month, unless I’ve messed up the calculation. That’s hardly a bloodbath. The hyperbolically titled Times campaign stinks of self-promotional bullshit.

    • Amateur Emigrant says:

      Hmm. So forgive me if my grasp of probability is inadequate, but am I right in saying a London cyclist’s chance of dying in any one year is about 1 in 1400? If you were told you had a 1 in 1400 chance of dying in the tube this year, would you be taking that train? Sounds like pretty high odds to me.

      • alex says:

        Your grasp of probability is indeed inadequate. You seem to be weighing the number of cyclists travelling in a morning against those dying in a year.

        • greg says:

          On those figures, each cycle journey has a one in a million chance of death. If you cycle to and from work every day for a year you have a one in two thousand chance of death. If you do that for thirty years it’s one in sixty eight – though that’s still a 98.5% chance that you won’t die, and at least you won’t get heart disease.

          • alex says:

            I’m not sure if I follow your calculation. The following figures give a lifetime chance of 1 in 240 of being killed in a motor vehicle accident, and a 1 in 5103 lifetime chance if you are a cyclist.
            I’m not sure whether the former are included in the latter. In fact I’m not sure generally, so at this point I’m going to quickly switch from being a statistical wizard to being a dispenser of parish-pump wisdom and just say I like cycling and I figure that a) the more people do it, the safer it becomes, and b) if you survive, you’ll survive for longer.

            • Dominic says:

              These figures are simply raw “per head” of population, not adjusted for number of journeys taken or distance covered or anything else. Notice for example, that on this basis the lifetime chance of dying in a road traffic accident in the UK as a pedestrian is 1 in 1104, and as a motor cyclist is 1 in 1244.

              • alex says:

                I’m sure you’re right, that’s why I renounced my pretentions to being a statistical wizard. (I should probably also apologise to Amateur Emigrant, although the logic behind his calculation didn’t seem right either.)
                Based on current knowledge, is there any way of arriving at a meaningful estimate (not necessarily in percentage terms) of the riskiness of cycling regularly, weighed against the obvious advantages of good health, wealth, wellbeing and generally massive smugness at the thought that you’re not contributing to toxic pollution and despoiling the earth’s natural resources?

              • alex says:

                …apart from the point that it is drivers (and urban planners) who should be considered murderous before cyclists are dismissed as ‘risky’.

  2. Harry Stopes says:

    Despite the Times campaign, coverage of this issue in the press is shoddy. Simon Jenkins in today’s Standard quoted the 2009 to 2010 reduction in deaths, neglecting (deliberately, one presumes) to mention the rise the following year which you cite.

  3. Sid Smith says:

    I work at The Times. The campaign was provoked by the serious injuries suffered by a colleague. Another colleague has suffered a broken ankle and then, separately, a shattered wrist. Another was off work for weeks after being swept off her bike. These are only among the people I happen to know.

    I cycled everywhere in London for 20 years. I’ve abandoned the bike after staring up at the front bumper of a Volvo which had pulled out of a side street.

    I welcome the campaign.

  4. AitchGee says:

    Jaysus, the smugness of cyclists. What are these wheeled vehicles they ride on made from? Compost? Recycled (sic) copies of Sustrans Annual Review? For what its worth, I feel far more at risk, as a pedestrian, from cycles, whose drivers rarely pay any attention to red lights and frequently drive on pavements at speed, than I do from cars, which are at least large, loud, and obvious. It is only the cycling lobby that is large, loud and obvious. Oh, and insufferably smug. or did I mention that already?

    • Harry Stopes says:

      Are you referring to the large loud and obvious cycling lobby that has the DfT wrapped round its little finger? Nice one.

      I’m not smug, I just don’t like other road users routinely taking my life into their careless hands every single day.

    • alex says:

      People dislike cyclists because
      a) they are healthier and get where they want to go faster for less money;
      b) they have a better view of the road, being positioned higher, so to the lower-slung motorist their manoevres look riskier than they really are;
      c) they ride on the outside of their vehicle, so more likely that the envy becomes personal;
      d) they wear different clothing, so easy to stigmatize as aliens;
      e) widespread misconception that motorists’ payment of excise duty means they ‘own’ the road (this tax pays not for roads but for costs of pollution).
      This doesn’t stop some cyclists being smug twats but at least they aren’t murderers, noise-and-air polluters, and fossil-fuel-destroyers.

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