Figures released following a Freedom of Information Act request have revealed that the emergency services were called to 13 incidents involving cyclists using London’s Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme bikes during the two months following its launch at the end of July.
Data from Transport for London also showed that there were a total of 34 recorded incidents involving users of the distinctive navy blue ‘Boris Bikes’ up to the end of September.
A further five incidents related to the scheme were recorded, including one in which a female cyclist was knocked off her bike by a trailer used to transport bicycles between docking stations.
According to a report in the Evening Standard, the first recorded incident took place five days after the scheme became operational on 30 July when a lorry squashed a man using one of the hire bikes against a kerb.
Other incidents included a cyclist who was left with a head injury after a bus hit him, plus a seven-year-old child who barely avoided injury after a docking station that had been hit by a car fell on them.
The newspaper added that while national cyclists’ organisation CTC supported the scheme, it felt that more could be done to improve safety of cyclists in London, including better road design, lower speed limits and the much-heralded Barclays Cycle Superhighways not just being “blue paint on the side of a bus lane,” in the words of policy co-ordinator Chris Peck.
A TfL spokeswoman told the newspaper: “Despite the fact that over 1.6 million Barclays Cycle Hire journeys have been made since the launch of the scheme almost four months ago, we had just 10 reports of users being injured while using the bikes during the first 11 weeks of operation.”
However, Ray Sadri, from the think tank LondonSays, called for free helmets to be made available to the scheme’s users, with the costs met by private companies, saying: “Many of the Boris Bikers I spoke to resent the idea of having to fork out £30 on average for a decent helmet.”
That call was echoed by cyclist David Ellis, a photographer from Stoke Newington, who earlier this month was knocked off his bike and dragged under the wheels of one of the trailers used to transport bikes between docking stations.
Mr Ellis claims that the trailers represent “a danger to cyclists” because they are wider than the electric vehicles used to tow them and urged their removal, as well as asking Mayor Boris Johnson to encourage the scheme’s users to wear helmets when using the hire bikes.
Last month, it was revealed that more than a million journeys had been made through the Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme in the first three months following its launch.
If we estimate that roughly two thirds of those journeys may have taken place within the first two months of the scheme being in operation, that suggests an accident rate, in terms of the ones that the emergency services attended, of just 0.002%.
With data regarding the average distance travelled on London's Cycle Hire Scheme bikes not available, it's impossible to put the figures into the context of overall cycling casualty statistics. However, by way of illustration, DfT figures show that in the UK in 2007, per billion kilometres travelled, the equivalent of 35 cyclists were killed and 541 killed or seriously injured among total casualty figures of 3,814.
That provides strong evidence against critics of the scheme who had warned before it became operational that London's streets risked becoming swamped with inexperienced cyclists and predicted a rise in accidents as a result of the hire bikes.
In September, the road safety charity Brake called for bike helmets to be made compulsory for all users of the scheme, with spokeswoman Julia Townsend telling road.cc: “We support mandatory helmet use for all cyclists across the board. We support schemes that promote safe cycling and walking but we would prefer to see investment in safe cycling paths that allow people to walk and ride separated from traffic rather than a scheme that allows people to hire a bike and ride through busy London streets without ensuring they have the appropriate safety gear.”
A TfL spokesman said at the time that the choice of whether or not to wear a helmet rested with the individual cyclist, telling the Press Association: "There have been six incidents where a cycle hire user has been injured since the scheme launched on July 30. This should be seen in the context of the 750,000-plus cycle journeys that have been made on the hire bikes to date.
"The use of cycle helmets in the UK is not a legal requirement, which means it is up to each user to decide whether or not they wish to wear one. In addition, for a helmet to be effective it has to be the appropriate size and fitted properly.
"TfL encourages cycle hire users to consider wearing helmets, as is stated in the scheme's code of conduct," he added.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.