Updated: Boris Johnson backs down from claiming campaigners are putting people off cycling

"People’s fears about cycling must be addressed"

by John Stevenson   December 9, 2013  

Boris Johnson at Cycle Superhighway launch July 2010

Mayor of London Boris Johnson appears to have backed down from his planned comments warning that the focus on recent deaths ran the risk of putting people off cycling.

Speaking at a safety summit at City Hall bringing together cycle and haulage groups, Mr Johnson had planned to suggest campaigning groups needed to be “more careful” in how they spoke about cycling.

According to ITV London’s Simon Harris, Mr Johnson instead said that people’s fears about cycling must be addressed, and returned to his familiar theme that cycling is getting safer, a claim which some nevertheless dispute (see below).

Mr Johnson said that an HGV task force had been launched targeting the bad operators and that in the recent rod safety crackdown, police had issued 1,392 fixed penalty notices to motorists and fined 755 cyclists.

"London's cycling revolution will continue and it will accelerate,” he said, conceding that he and Transport for London had to learn from their mistakes.

“If we can get Londoners onto their bicycles we can take the pressure off public transport,” he added.

On Twitter, Simon Harris @simonharrisitv said: “Boris speech contained none of the pre-briefed references to recent protests over deaths scaring cyclists off the road. It seems the Mayor's speech underwent some last-minute re-writing to avoid infuriating the pro-cycling lobby!”

A widely circulated pre-speech briefing the Mayor was reported as planning to urge campaigners to be “more careful” in how they talk about cycling safety.

[Editor’s note: The remainder of this report was written before the mayor’s speech, based on the pre-conference briefing circulated by the mayor’s office.]

The mayor is perhaps expecting campaigners to follow his example from 2007 when he said of London’s bendy buses: “We should ... get rid of the bendy bus. They wipe out cyclists, there are many cyclists killed every year by them.”

At the time no cyclists had been killed in collisions with bendy buses, and there had still been no cyclist fatalities involving bendy buses when they were phased out in 2011.

Anger about the six deaths in London during November led to more than 1,000 protesters staging a “die in” outside Transport for London headquarters and a vigil for all those killed on London’s roads.

The Mayor will point out that despite the “awful month” of November, cycle deaths in London were the same as at this point last year and lower than the year before.

Not everyone agrees that deaths is the best measure of cycling safety in London; the figure fluctuates significantly from year to year. On average from 1986 to 2010 there were 17.2 cyclist deaths per year in London. In 2004, however, there were just 8 fatalities, while in 2005 there were 21.

In a heated exchange in the London Assembly last month, Jenny Jones claimed that cycling had not become safer since Mr Johnson was elected mayor. In 2008 on average a cyclist could expect to do 400,000 trips before being killed or seriously injured, she said. In 2011 that figure was down to 364,000.

A disproportionate number of cycling deaths in London involve heavy good vehicles.

It is understood Mr Johnson will use the event - organised before the recent fatalities - to examine the case for a ban on HGVs on some London roads and set out deadlines for improvements to notorious junctions.

The mayor will say: “I understand the anger and concern about this terrible spate of tragedies. I share it.

“But it shouldn’t obscure the fact that the number of deaths per bike journey taken in London has more than halved in the last 10 years, to one death in every 15 million journeys.

“The number of cyclists killed in London this year was too many - but it is in fact precisely the same as it was at this point last year, and less than the year before.”

“Of course I accept that people want to create pressure for action to get more Londoners cycling.

“But the risk is that the association of cycling with death may be doing the opposite. It may be scaring people away.

“So we can tackle actual safety. We can and will tackle the roads. But to tackle perceived safety we also need the help of others.

“I’m not saying we should stop talking about safety - but perhaps we need to be more careful in how we talk about it.”

39 user comments

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He may have not said it "live" but the briefed speech has been picked up by lots of media.

Kinda hoping it explodes in the pillock's face, as it was an extremely crass, insensitive, and incorrect thing to put into a speech. He obviously realised that at the last minute.

posted by gazza_d [392 posts]
9th December 2013 - 13:08

13 Likes

northstar wrote:
Colin Peyresourde wrote:
To be honest I think he has a point no matter what you want to say.

Oh you do make me laugh, he has no point whatsoever, hence the apparent "climb down", career politician...?

I'd agree with Colin. Both views can be true: having people put off cycling through the perception of danger is a bad thing, and the link between objectively measured danger, and perceived danger, is in most areas pretty close to 'nada'.

That isn't mutually exclusive with the idea that the authorities can and should be doing more.

I do have to wonder, who would you be recommending as less of a career politician who actually has a credible chance of running the show? Methinks the next mayor will make an occasional speech about how great Wiggo and saving the planet is... and that's about it.

Except for maybe leaving papier mache helmets at boris bike booths so "people can look after their own safety" (read: so we've got another reason to blame someone if a trucker left-hooks them at 30mph whilst texting)

posted by nuclear coffee [200 posts]
9th December 2013 - 13:11

8 Likes

I couldn't care who you agree with, he is wrong.

posted by northstar [1113 posts]
9th December 2013 - 13:20

18 Likes

.

posted by northstar [1113 posts]
9th December 2013 - 13:45

9 Likes

Some of the comments on here look a bit tribal party political for my liking. Now of course there will be a whole bunch of cyclists that don't like the Conservatives and a whole bunch that do and others that don't care either way.

I am not a conservative but I am more than happy to give Boris a fair hearing over many other politicians for one reason and one alone. He walks the walk or should I say, he rides the roads. Whether he has done enough or the right things is all a matter for discussion but I don't think he is anti cyclist I think he is pro cyclist and is a cyclist himself. Cyclists won't get better provision by being politically tribal but by acting as a cycling lobby and rewarding politicians that are pro cycling and punishing ones that aren't.

Cycling is like a church - many attend, but few understand.

posted by oozaveared [873 posts]
9th December 2013 - 13:45

15 Likes

oozaveared wrote:
Some of the comments on here look a bit tribal party political for my liking. Now of course there will be a whole bunch of cyclists that don't like the Conservatives and a whole bunch that do and others that don't care either way.

I am not a conservative but I am more than happy to give Boris a fair hearing over many other politicians for one reason and one alone. He walks the walk or should I say, he rides the roads. Whether he has done enough or the right things is all a matter for discussion but I don't think he is anti cyclist I think he is pro cyclist and is a cyclist himself. Cyclists won't get better provision by being politically tribal but by acting as a cycling lobby and rewarding politicians that are pro cycling and punishing ones that aren't.

Wrong, next?

posted by northstar [1113 posts]
9th December 2013 - 13:49

12 Likes

I actually think Boris is doing a reasonable job; not perfect, and certainly not how I'd do it , but reasonable, and in extremely difficult circumstances.

"Hey..... Let's be visible out there."

Neil753's picture

posted by Neil753 [451 posts]
9th December 2013 - 14:38

14 Likes

Very clever again from Johnson.

He's said what he wanted to say but is now able to say he didn't say it.

posted by farrell [1869 posts]
9th December 2013 - 14:52

8 Likes

Um, agree, but they might not be happy to be called "Road Safety Reduction Forum".

posted by horizontal dropout [224 posts]
9th December 2013 - 14:53

9 Likes

I'm tickled by the idea that cycle campaigners are somehow responsible for the public perception that cycling is dangerous. When you tell your auntie or a work colleague that you cycle, and their response is "ooh, isn't that really dangerous?", is it because they've been reading a CTC press release, or David Hembrow's blog? Big Grin

posted by Mr Agreeable [161 posts]
9th December 2013 - 15:12

15 Likes

I lost any respect I had for Boris when he started war-mongering against Syria, Anyone who wants to send in tens of thousands of troops into another country to cause hundreds of thousands of deaths of men women and children is a complete scumbag in my opinion, especially when the evidence was so flaky (made up lies).

posted by kie7077 [705 posts]
9th December 2013 - 15:26

19 Likes

Thanks for the reference, but as Farrell says, we are actually the Road Danger Reduction Forum.

Dr Robert Davis, Chair, RDRF

posted by ChairRDRF [252 posts]
9th December 2013 - 16:09

10 Likes

Sorry, horizontal dropout said.

posted by ChairRDRF [252 posts]
9th December 2013 - 16:10

9 Likes

Quote:
Um, agree, but they might not be happy to be called "Road Safety Reduction Forum".

Aaargh! Thank you for giving me an opportunity to correct myself: Road Danger Reduction Forum.

posted by bambergbike [88 posts]
9th December 2013 - 16:12

9 Likes

this bloke doesn't know his ar$e from his elbow ...

posted by Karbon Kev [682 posts]
9th December 2013 - 16:34

9 Likes

oozaveared wrote:
Some of the comments on here look a bit tribal party political for my liking. Now of course there will be a whole bunch of cyclists that don't like the Conservatives and a whole bunch that do and others that don't care either way.

Maybe its just your perception because I applaud the Conservative members of the GLA that were pushing TfL for a breakdown of the KSI figures of pedestrians and cyclists in collision with buses (To which TfL replied, "No, because they are going down").

I dont give a shit what political party people are members of because at the end of the day, if they have no personal conviction to what they believe in, they might as well vote along divisions created by which type of chocolate they like.

Johnson has demonstrated no personal conviction to any cause but his own. He talks the talk but does fuck all when it comes to rolling up sleeves and getting a bit grimy.

What people seem to forget is that he has been in this job for nearly 6 years, and his contribution to cycling in London has been nothing more than death trap blue paint and pisspoor junction redesign (as well as the criminal ignorance of consultants advice about several dangerous junctions).

Until he was held over a barrel by Londoners on Bikes to commit to the LCC's "Love London, Go Dutch" points, he was extremely dismissive of anyone who mentioned Dutch style solutions to infrastructure problems, and was (and IMO still is, which is why nothing will change) a firm proponent of vehicular cycling.

He will do nothing to reduce the amount of traffic in the capital, he will do nothing to avert the killing of cyclists and pedestrians by HGVs (and buses), nor will he do a single thing about the rising numbers of pollution related deaths either. For the simple fact that he is utterly clueless in how to do any of that.

His 8 year tenure will have put London back decades, cost millions (if not billions) in the follies he has pursued (vanity projects like the new 'routemasters', the now empty cable car, etc) and will leave London in a much worse shape than when he found it, all in the name of his political career.

So I say fuck him and all the shills who sails on his coat tails (Gilligan, et al).

zanf's picture

posted by zanf [691 posts]
9th December 2013 - 16:42

12 Likes

zanf wrote:

His 8 year tenure will have put London back decades, cost millions (if not billions) in the follies he has pursued (vanity projects like the new 'routemasters', the now empty cable car, etc) and will leave London in a much worse shape than when he found it, all in the name of his political career.

So I say fuck him and all the shills who sails on his coat tails (Gilligan, et al).

This.

And not 'cos he's a Conservative, more that he's a shifty self serving bastard who'll say anything to get people to shut up whilst he gets time to go ahead and does what he was going to do in the first place.

If the guy was a genuine cyclist he'd give more of a toss that people are dying needlessly on his watch as a result of his policies

posted by VeloPeo [246 posts]
9th December 2013 - 17:36

13 Likes

I notice the BBC news site originally posted an article based on the pre-speech briefing, and they took rather longer than road.cc to update it, although they have done so now.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-25298354

Of course, a lot more people will have been reading the "incorrect" version over on the BBC and in the "Most popular" bar it still says "Bike protesters 'scaring cyclists'".

posted by pmanc [176 posts]
9th December 2013 - 17:51

8 Likes

Politically he's played a blinder here. Got his "real" message out and the backtrack will be perceived as "fear of offending sensitive cyclists" by a lot of people.

Excellent politician. As a person and a cyclist, not so much.

posted by VeloPeo [246 posts]
9th December 2013 - 17:57

20 Likes

Would you say that you are more of a tiddlywinks sort of person than perhaps a chess sort of person?

All I outlined was that cyclists pursue their interests as an interest group, taking advantage of the opportunities that present themselves, making broad alliances with people that are pro cycling and seeking to limit the power or influence of those that oppose our agenda.

And your comment was that this was "wrong".

Well the road haulage industry and other successful lobby groups know how to play the game professionally. They'll work with anyone that benefits their interests and agenda and sideline or apply pressure to anyone that doesn't.

BTW I didn't just invent pressure group politics and lobbying I just said I thought we should try to do it a bit more.

Cycling is like a church - many attend, but few understand.

posted by oozaveared [873 posts]
9th December 2013 - 18:28

9 Likes

Mr Agreeable wrote:
I'm tickled by the idea that cycle campaigners are somehow responsible for the public perception that cycling is dangerous. When you tell your auntie or a work colleague that you cycle, and their response is "ooh, isn't that really dangerous?", is it because they've been reading a CTC press release, or David Hembrow's blog? Big Grin

Or the BBC covering cycle protests, deaths and die-ins, Parliament debating safety, an incessant parade of safety gear, and Dave saying you take your life in your hands every time you cycle?

northstar wrote:
I couldn't care who you agree with, he is wrong.

Thankyou for your constructive input.

posted by nuclear coffee [200 posts]
9th December 2013 - 20:48

6 Likes

I'd like to know how quick government would act if cyclists across the UK were overnight to adopt the same cavalier attitude to pedestrians as some motorists do to cyclists.

Drunk, on the phone, tweeting, leaving scene of accident, failing to report, sun was in my eyes, you shouldn't have been there, you don't pay pavement tax, sorry mate didn't see you type excuses.

If cyclists were to start matching KSI levels on pavements would we witness the same victim blaming and utter reluctance to introduce harsh legislation to bring an end to the 'pavement terrorist'?

We too could cry out in defence that we're victimised and harshly picked on in response to appalling levels of human suffering.

You can bet society would quickly be outraged and demand change...So why the foot dragging and excuses when motorists do the same to cyclists, pedestrians, horse riders and each other?

Just where is the equality and sense of urgency?

Hating our selfish and ignorant car culture

posted by ironmancole [204 posts]
9th December 2013 - 22:04

7 Likes

nuclear coffee wrote:
Mr Agreeable wrote:
I'm tickled by the idea that cycle campaigners are somehow responsible for the public perception that cycling is dangerous. When you tell your auntie or a work colleague that you cycle, and their response is "ooh, isn't that really dangerous?", is it because they've been reading a CTC press release, or David Hembrow's blog? Big Grin

Or the BBC covering cycle protests, deaths and die-ins, Parliament debating safety, an incessant parade of safety gear, and Dave saying you take your life in your hands every time you cycle?

northstar wrote:
I couldn't care who you agree with, he is wrong.

Thankyou for your constructive input.

Likewise : )

posted by northstar [1113 posts]
9th December 2013 - 22:49

8 Likes

oozaveared wrote:
Some of the comments on here look a bit tribal party political for my liking. Now of course there will be a whole bunch of cyclists that don't like the Conservatives and a whole bunch that do and others that don't care either way.

I am not a conservative but I am more than happy to give Boris a fair hearing over many other politicians for one reason and one alone. He walks the walk or should I say, he rides the roads. Whether he has done enough or the right things is all a matter for discussion but I don't think he is anti cyclist I think he is pro cyclist and is a cyclist himself. Cyclists won't get better provision by being politically tribal but by acting as a cycling lobby and rewarding politicians that are pro cycling and punishing ones that aren't.

I agree partially. He's someone that actually uses a bicycle, is seen publicly to do so and has managed to continue to keep bicycling front and center.

The difficult part is determining which politicians and policies are "pro cycling": as should be evident from this forum cyclists are not a homogeneous whole. There appear to be some whose vision of utopia is riding in a restricted network of roads while wearing a helmet and dayglo tabard screaming at other cyclists for breaking the rules.

Politicians of all stripes will and do promise anything and help to suggest that their election would result in a massive sea-change. But how realistic is it to envision that some of those who are busy screaming about the huge number of cycling deaths are actually going to shove their hand into the machinery of the economy by cutting motor vehicle trips dramatically?

At the very least I want to see the plonkers out on their bicycles the way Boris is -- he gets a lot of points for that.

posted by Ush [516 posts]
10th December 2013 - 4:06

9 Likes

ummm....

posted by Ush [516 posts]
10th December 2013 - 4:09

9 Likes

Excellent politician? Yeah, because people love politicians who are slippery, and twist and turn and spin.

posted by HarrogateSpa [207 posts]
10th December 2013 - 19:47

10 Likes

Safety on our roads - Please consider the following Governement E-Petition to amend road traffic law.
Link: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/57804

Feel free to circulate to all parties that may be interested.

Best Regards
Peter

posted by Posh [47 posts]
11th December 2013 - 10:00

8 Likes

Thanks, I signed. I've always been puzzled as to why neither The Times safer cities campaign nor the APPCG Get Britain Cycling report included this. It seems so obvious.

posted by horizontal dropout [224 posts]
11th December 2013 - 12:27

6 Likes

Posh wrote:
Safety on our roads - Please consider the following Governement E-Petition to amend road traffic law.
Link: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/57804

Feel free to circulate to all parties that may be interested.

Best Regards
Peter

Can everyone spread this around a bit, it hasn't got a lot of signatures yet and could make a big difference to how cyclists feel about their safety on the roads and justice.

/have contacted LCC
/and signed petition, but didn't see number go up from 57 to 58!

Update: LCC said they would share the petition Smile

posted by kie7077 [705 posts]
11th December 2013 - 13:38

6 Likes

Thanks to everyone who's signed the E-Petition. To put the challenge into perspective, it needs 100,000 signatures before it's even considered for debate in the House of Commons.

It's been just over one week since it was posted. At 73 signatures (12.12.2013) there's a massive way to go. This must go viral to get anywhere near the target.

So.............Help, Help, Help by passing it on to anyone who may be supportive and get them to pass it on, etc

Link: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/57804

Safe and Happy Cycling
Peter

posted by Posh [47 posts]
12th December 2013 - 14:45

8 Likes