Medics call for measures to protect cyclists in London

Air ambulance doctors reject Boris’s claims that increased numbers of riders will improve safety

by Sarah Barth   July 27, 2013  

Air Ambulance.jpg

Three of London’s air ambulance doctors have called for an overhaul of the capital’s cycle safety measures after three cyclists were killed in three weeks.

In an article for the Evening Standard, entitled How To Ride Safely, by Cyclist Doctors Who Save Lives, Mr Tom Konig, a trauma surgeon, Ali Sanders, an emergency medicine consultant and Mark Wilson, a Neurosurgeon, all defended cycling in London, saying: “Cycling remains a wonderful way to commute and travel cheaply and remain fit and healthy in the process and so should continue to be encouraged.”

But they added that it remained risky, and outlined a number of safety measures, including:

  • Avoid sharing roads with buses and HGV’s
  • Remember large vehicles are bigger than you and you will definitely come off worse - so give them a wide berth
  • Defensive riding
  • Wear a helmet
  • Use all your senses (don’t wear headphones)
  • Make your own decision about how ‘safe’ a cycle route is

The three doctors criticise the Mayor of London’s belief that a critical mass of riders will make the city safer, saying: “As a critical mass is being reached there was a thought that the sheer number of cyclists would in itself provide a protection from injury. 

“This has sadly not been the case as more and more cyclists are battling to share space with other vehicles.  Comparisons continue to be made with previous years and months, and London continues to be compared with other European countries.  

"Changing infrastructure and road design takes time.  We are falling behind and something needs to be done sooner rather than later to prevent more tragedies.”

The blue-painted Cycle Superhighways, they say, are “far from fit for purpose,” citing the case of French student Philippine De Gerin-Ricard, 20, who was knocked down and killed by a lorry outside Aldgate East Tube station as she rode home along CS2.

A three-year-old boy and a 91-year-old pensioner were also killed in the last fortnight.

And while the doctors write that wearing a helmet will go some way towards minimising brain injury, they add: “Whilst helmets are important our experience in pre hospital care suggests many of the cycling deaths occur when a vehicle has driven over the chest or pelvis causing terrible injuries.”

Andrew Gilligan, the Mayor’s Cycling Commissioner, said: “The number of cyclist deaths in London so far this year, five, is roughly half what it was at the same point last year - nine.

“The only difference between us and some cycling campaigners is that they want it to happen overnight. But roads and traffic are complicated and that is simply not possible. We are moving as quickly as we can, but instant changes rushed on to the road without adequate thought could easily be counterproductive, or worse.”

20 user comments

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Being a doctor doesn't make anyone an expert on complex issues of traffic safety.

Critical mass (which you don't have a clue if it's been reached or not) isn't just about numbers of cyclists on streets but number of... voters using two wheels who at one point politicians and local authorities will need to start taking seriously.

"avoid sharing roads with buses and HGV’s, remember large vehicles are bigger than you and you will definitely come off worse so give them a wide berth, defensive riding, wear a helmet, use all your senses (don’t wear headphones), make your own decision about how ‘safe’ a cycle route is"

If you want to use your titles and positions to make a difference then stop patronising cyclists by offering this obvious advice and instead educate drivers about how not to kill or injure people.

I don't follow trends. Trends follow me.

posted by BBB [236 posts]
27th July 2013 - 13:53

6 Likes

Avoid buses and HGV's , in an ideal world or virtual world yes. The reality is that for commuting cyclists that is impossible because at some point in the journey one will share the road with the tipper trucks and buses. Just have to be very careful!

onlyonediane's picture

posted by onlyonediane [167 posts]
27th July 2013 - 15:06

11 Likes

The suggestion that people should cycle "defensively" is wide open to misinterpretion and not really very useful without clarification.

Encouraging "defensive" behaviour without defining may even be irresponsible in the context of cycling in London, where women's typically more cautious approach to cycling in traffic has placed them in harm's way disproportionately often.

posted by bambergbike [88 posts]
27th July 2013 - 15:27

9 Likes

BBB wrote:
If you want to use your titles and positions to make a difference then stop patronising cyclists by offering this obvious advice and instead educate drivers about how not to kill or injure people.

I'm an experienced cyclist, have commuted in London on the bike for years and I didn't feel patronized at all. Mostly sensible advice - it was published in the Evening Standard and will hopefully reach most of its target audience.

posted by Metjas [340 posts]
27th July 2013 - 15:36

7 Likes

Defensive riding!......... like the defensive driving formula 1 drivers go in for, it works for me. The advice is as sound as it always has been, and it's good to repeat it often; to get it ingrained into everyone, including those new to cycling.

The big change will come when legislation and sentencing make driving to the endangerment of non car users the subject of much more serious consequences. For a start very long driving bans, including lifetime bans for those found guilty of very dangerous / careless driving. Once anyone driving a moter vehicle really "feels threatened" by the consequences of getting caught dangerous or careless driving then things will change.

Constantly reinforcing the safe cycling message, although important, will not in itself reduce the problem because it's careless and dangerous drivers who are the root cause of this problem.

Rant over Thinking

Endorphines going up and adrenaline going down, who needs drugs?

posted by banzicyclist2 [285 posts]
27th July 2013 - 17:41

7 Likes

Yet again the onus is on the cyclists to 'avoid getting into trouble'
Thinking

The 'safety in numbers' axiom only applies when there are really large numbers of cyclists and they are in the majority, or when people cycle in groups or clusters and the size of the group forces a change in driver behaviour.

Until vehicular traffic is tamed and cyclists' needs properly catered for, then each cyclist will have to consider the things they can control, such as route choice and defensive riding.

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [2331 posts]
27th July 2013 - 18:30

4 Likes

Andrew Gilligan, the Mayor’s Cycling Commissioner, said: “... We are moving as quickly as we can, but instant changes rushed on to the road without adequate thought could easily be counterproductive, or worse.”

How could it be worse than counterproductive?

posted by a.jumper [814 posts]
27th July 2013 - 19:44

7 Likes

I have no faith in anyone who doesn't know how to use an apostrophe.

posted by thelimopit [123 posts]
27th July 2013 - 21:23

6 Likes

banzicyclist2 wrote:

The big change will come when legislation and sentencing make driving to the endangerment of non car users the subject of much more serious consequences. For a start very long driving bans, including lifetime bans for those found guilty of very dangerous / careless driving. Once anyone driving a moter vehicle really "feels threatened" by the consequences of getting caught dangerous or careless driving then things will change.

Constantly reinforcing the safe cycling message, although important, will not in itself reduce the problem because it's careless and dangerous drivers who are the root cause of this problem.

Rant over Thinking

+1 More needs to de drivers certainly but I think every cyclist should be made to read the 'the enlightened cyclist ' by BikeSnob NYC and learn how to be behave. the behaviour I see from cyclists and drivers on a daily basis in central London leaves me in despair that a solution is long way away and segregation may be the only true answer.

posted by Nzlucas [119 posts]
28th July 2013 - 0:13

5 Likes

Defensive cycling - yeah will someone please explain this to TFL's bus drivers then? One tried to overtake me turning south off Waterloo Roundabout, almost hit me, then (I assume since I couldn't hear a word he was screaming) shouted and gestured at me for an age about how I was... er... riding in the road?

posted by bashthebox [762 posts]
28th July 2013 - 8:35

8 Likes

As far as I am concerned, it's all pretty sensible stuff. Sure, defensive cycling is open to interpretation but ultimately "flesh yields to steel". No point asserting a right of way and ending up "dead wrong" to borrow from the old mariners saying.
Yes the law is ridiculously stacked against cyclists and offers close to nil deterrence for vehicle drivers.
They are also right about the dangerously misleading infrastructure we have in London as some of those blue paint routes are ridiculously dangerous.
So anything that puts pressure on political parties to change the law and put in proper infrastructure is a good thing.

posted by arfa [627 posts]
28th July 2013 - 9:37

6 Likes

What needs to change is how we educate drivers.

I remember very clearly when learning to drive, the emphasis being on "making progress". Safety of vulnerable road users didn't come into it.
I can see this attitude in practice every day, drivers will unthinkingly pass dangerously close in order to "make progress" even if they only progress to the end of a queue of traffic or a red traffic light a few yards ahead.

I think the vast majority of close passes, left hooks etc are not intentional, just that the majority or drivers don't have a clue how stupidly dangerous these manoeuvres are - and how pointless in a lot of cases.

We need a massive sea-change in driver culture and education. Sadly, these attitudes are so entrenched in our society, I can't see it happening and practically speaking if we want ordinary people to take up cycling regularly for transport then the govt are going to have to put their money where their mouth is and provide high quality separated infrastructure for cyclists.

posted by Sara_H [57 posts]
28th July 2013 - 12:36

7 Likes

Being driven around Holland I am aware of how often the driver is looking out for cyclists, this is not a natural act that I see much in London drivers. Hearing the cursing cabbie about a cyclist is normal, whereas the dutch taxi driver is much more relaxed about the cyclists and being part of the road community. I don't know exactly what it is, perhaps the Dutch taxi driver is much more likely to be a cyclist too (along with their families) and better understand what it is like on the otherside.

posted by TeamCC [146 posts]
28th July 2013 - 12:46

1 Like

on my commute in London i find that it is normally quite easy to spot a driver who cycles. They give more space when passing, look for cycles before turning etc. and know where bikes are likely to come from. I also find that busses and taxis along with other 'professional' drivers are the least likely to do these things. They consider (or so it seems) the road to be there's and they will try and pass as close to possible to show that. A change in behaviour won't come about until these people have some experience on a bike when abus or hgv gives 3 inches of clearance pasing at 30 mph. It seems for the most part to be a lack of understanding of just how intimidating and scary that can be, and a lack of knowledge/experience tha causes a lot of the problems.

posted by md6 [176 posts]
29th July 2013 - 12:14

7 Likes

I cycle into central London every day and my experience is that most cyclists do need to be told the basic s of cycling safely. Given the appalling recklessness of many cyclist I am astonish there are not more deaths on the roads. Recently when a cyclist ran into the back of me at lights I was told it was my fault because I’d stopped – yes I had as the traffic lights where red. Whist long term infrastructure changes will obvious help, if done well, in the short term moving away from a them and us mentality would be a positive move.

posted by pure climber [3 posts]
29th July 2013 - 14:17

8 Likes

pure climber wrote:
I cycle into central London every day and my experience is that most cyclists do need to be told the basic s of cycling safely. Given the appalling recklessness of many cyclist I am astonish there are not more deaths on the roads. Recently when a cyclist ran into the back of me at lights I was told it was my fault because I’d stopped – yes I had as the traffic lights where red. Whist long term infrastructure changes will obvious help, if done well, in the short term moving away from a them and us mentality would be a positive move.

Very true, sadly there are a lot of idiots on bikes too.

posted by md6 [176 posts]
29th July 2013 - 16:29

9 Likes

Oh no....

'And while the doctors write that wearing a helmet will go some way towards minimising brain injury...'

Seconds out! Round One!

Wink

Silly me. You're probably right....

MercuryOne's picture

posted by MercuryOne [1161 posts]
30th July 2013 - 0:49

10 Likes

Avoid sharing roads with buses and HGV’s
Remember large vehicles are bigger than you and you will definitely come off worse - so give them a wide berth

Well I guess that rules out cycling in Britain then, not the brightest bulbs in the box this lot are they.

posted by kie7077 [705 posts]
30th July 2013 - 23:43

6 Likes

Relying on their personal experiences , these people offered sensible advice to ALL & Sundry !

Belittling their efforts , shows the level of intelligence that some lack !

Would YOU be happy to go to their workplace knowing that YOU Would like to make a difference but were not allowed ? Sick

Skippy(advocate for "Disabled / Para Sport")@skippydetour. blogging as skippi-cyclist.blogspot & Parrabuddy.blogspot currently on the road with ProTour Grand Tour Events .

skippy's picture

posted by skippy [406 posts]
1st August 2013 - 7:29

6 Likes

Living outside of London (in the Midlands), I've noticed how much drivers respect have improved in recent years - particularly on country lanes, where they are much more likely to wait before passing and give plenty of room. There are still plenty of oafs (especially in towns and cities), but the trend definitely seems to be positive.

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posted by dafyddp [258 posts]
14th April 2014 - 10:17

1 Like