Mayor of London Boris Johnson has admitted that he was wrong to claim that two thirds of cyclists killed or seriously injured while cycling in London were breaking the law at the time of the incident.
News of the retraction of the claim came in the same week that the mayor said he was pushing for a much-needed East-West cycle route in the capital, the two episodes illustrating something Mr Johnson is often accused of by his critics – the gulf between his enthusiasm for headline generating schemes, but at the same time his lack of attention to detail.
Cycling, and the safety of cyclists specifically, provides perhaps the starkest contrast between the two, tragically illustrated last year in the aftermath of the deaths of Brian Dorling and Svitlana Tereschenko as they rode through Bow Roundabout.
Following those fatalities, it came to light that Transport for London (TfL), which Mr Johnson chairs, had ignored recommendations relating to the safety of cyclists and pedestrians at the junction in a report it had commissioned regarding the junction. Safety concerns had also been raised by the London Cycling Campaign (LCC).
Mr Johnson, however, insisted that he was unaware of the existence of that report. Six months on, when quizzed by Labour candidate Ken Livingstone during a mayoral election debate regarding comments apparently made by his former transport advisor Kulveer Ranger that smoothing traffic flow , rather than safety, was the mayor’s priority at Bow, Mr Johnson replied only that he had “no idea what Kulveer Ranger may or may not have said.”
The LCC and Green Assembly Member Jenny Jones were among those who took the mayor to task for his statement about cyclists who had fallen victim to road traffic incidents, which he had made during a Mayor’s Question Time in May this year.
In a subsequent Mayor’s Question Time session on 19 September, Ms Jones asked Mr Johnson: “It has been several months since you asked Transport for London to ‘look at’ whether there was any evidence for your statement that two thirds of cycling collisions are the result of cyclists not obeying the rules of the road. What is Transport for London’s answer and will you now give a public correction?”
In a written answer, Mr Johnson replied: “I asked Transport for London to look into a statistic that I was told about during my election campaign. Its own statistics and research suggest this is not the case in London and I am pleased to be able to set the record straight on this.
Charlie Lloyd of LCC, which reported the development last week, welcomed Mr Johnson’s clarification, saying: "The mayor is to be congratulated for having the courage to admit he made a mistake: this retraction should help correct the damaging misconception, including among many politicians and journalists, that people who are hurt while riding a bicycle are usually responsible for their own injuries."
LCC added that TfL’s own figures show that only three or four out of every 100 cyclists who are killed or seriously injured were breaking the law at the time of the incident, More than 95 per cent, in other words, were complying with the rules of the road.
The organisation had pushed Mr Johnson to retract his statement regarding cycling casualties during an ‘Ask Boris’ question and answer session on Twitter in June, and last week in another of those regular sessions, he confirmed that an East-West cycle route was being explored.
Asked by Twitter user Katie Wignall, “The cycle superhighways are excellent. Any plans to extend them in the near future?,” the mayor responded: "we are whacking in another six soon plus i have asked tfl for a big new east west route - and they like it! #askboris @kdwignall"
As a post on the blog Cyclists in the City points out, such a route would be a much needed addition to London’s network of cycle routes, but concerns are also raised about whether Westminster Council would be willing to fully embrace and implement such a proposal.
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.