Andrew Gilligan says cyclists may be safer without safety gear

London Cycling Commissioner addresses Cycling Scotland conference in Glasgow

by Simon_MacMichael   November 10, 2013  

London:cyclist in traffic (copyright Simon MacMichael).jpg

London’s cycling commissioner, Andrew Gilligan, says that his observations of people riding the city’s Boris Bikes suggests that cyclists may actually be safer riding without safety gear.

Mr Gilligan, appointed to his position by Mayor of London Boris Johnson earlier this year, was speaking at the annual conference at Glasgow’s Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome of Cycling Scotland, which tweeted his remarks.

While his view on safety equipment appears to be based on his own experience rather than properly conducted research, previous research suggests that he may have a point.

In 2006, a study conducted by Dr Ian Walker of the University of Bath found that motorists gave more room when overtaking cyclists without a helmet than those wearing one.

More recent research from Australia suggests that whilst cyclists should endeavour to make themselves seen by motorists, reflective clothing, rather than hi-visibility, is the best solution.

Neither helmets nor hi-vis clothing are compulsory in the UK, but Rule 59 of the Highway Code says:

Clothing. You should wear

• a cycle helmet which conforms to current regulations, is the correct size and securely fastened

• appropriate clothes for cycling. Avoid clothes which may get tangled in the chain, or in a wheel or may obscure your lights

• light-coloured or fluorescent clothing which helps other road users to see you in daylight and poor light

• reflective clothing and/or accessories (belt, arm or ankle bands) in the dark.

Opponents of helmet compulsion often point out that in countries with the highest levels of regualr bicycle usage - Denmark and the Netherlands - few cyclists feel the need to wear a helmet or high visibility clothing.

Mr Gilligan told the conference that the biggest developments in cycling were being led not by central government, but in the devolved administrations and in London.

The Active Travel Act in Wales last week received royal assent, while Scotland has an ambitious national target of achieving 10 per cent of journeys by bike by 2020.

The UK government recently declined to set national cycling targets as called for in April’s Get Britain Cycling report, saying such goals were an issue for local authorities to determine.

London's cycling commissioner said that the £913 million to be spent on cycling in the city in the coming years would benefit not just those who already ride bikes, but everyone, including those deterred from doing so because they perceive it to be dangerous.

He maintained that “heavy metal transport” such as cars was unable to deliver the same benefits in terms of improving quality of life as cycling does, and said that London was well on its way to becoming a “post-car” city.

Cycling is now at the cutting edge of the city’s transport planning, he added, partly because the improvements delivered by investment in cycling are much more cost-effective than those that can be achieved by ploughing money into public transport, which requires greater spend.

The Scotsman reported that Mr Gilligan also outlined to the conference the benefits of promoting cycling as a means of commuting to ease pressures on other parts of the transport network.

He said: “If you can convert a commuter to cycling, you will generate more cycle journeys – five a week [ie 10 return trips – ed] – and also take a car off the road or free a seat on a train or bus at a time that these are most needed and the roads are busiest.

“It is a very cheap way of delivering transport capacity.

“Edinburgh is a small city and eminently commutable by bike,” he added.

Mr Gilligan revealed that the mayor’s planned ‘Crossrail for Bikes’ that would link east and west London at an estimated cost of £30 million would have the capacity to handle 3,000 cyclists an hour.

He added that “you could not even get out of bed” by using that amount of cash to create additional capacity on the London Underground network.

The amount of £30 million Mr Gilligan referred to is dwarfed by the sum spent in recent years on just one piece of road infrastructure in Glasgow – it is equivalent less than 5 per cent of the £692 million cost of the five-mile long M74 extension, which opened in May 2011.

Mr Gilligan’s comment about safety gear such as helmets and high visibility clothing comes at the end of a week in which cycling retailer Wiggle came under criticism for publishing a guest blog calling for compulsory helmets for cyclists.

Cambridgeshire Police & Crime Commissioner Sir Graham Bright has also said helmets should be mandatory for cyclists – a call countered by Cambridge MP Julian Huppert, who is co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group.

It was also a week in which two London cyclists were seriously injured and one killed in collisions with large vehicles.

On Tuesday afternoon, 62-year-old Brian Holt was killed in a collision with a tipper truck while riding on Barclays Cycle Superhighway CS2 on Mile End Road.

That evening, another male cyclist aged in his sixties suffered sever head injuries when he was struck by a coach turning left from Vernon Place onto Southampton Row in Holborn.

On Wednesday evening, a female cyclist sustained severe leg injuries when she was dragged beneath a lorry at the junction of Mortimer Street and Langham Place close to Oxford Circus.

Earlier on Wednesday, Mr Johnson had officially opened the new Bow to Stratford section of Barclays Cycle Superhighway CS2, which includes safety features such as segregate cycle lanes that have been welcomed by cyclists’ organisations such as the London Cycling Campaign.

 

17 user comments

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"... and said that London was well on its way to becoming a 'post-car' city."

Not the London I live in...

posted by eurotrash [76 posts]
9th November 2013 - 17:53

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here we go again - this debate never seems to go well

posted by mad_scot_rider [538 posts]
9th November 2013 - 18:06

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mad_scot_rider wrote:
here we go again - this debate never seems to go well

Let's hope Rapha never produce a hi-viz helmet- this place would go into meltdown!

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posted by Otis Bragg [105 posts]
9th November 2013 - 18:33

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Otis Bragg wrote:
Let's hope Rapha never produce a hi-viz helmet- this place would go into meltdown!

If they ever did do that, all we would ask is that they choose to launch it in the New Forest Wink

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [7928 posts]
9th November 2013 - 18:49

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I find that if I ride naked then drivers give me plenty of room as they pass.

The Human Cyclist A blog. Try it, you might like it...

sm's picture

posted by sm [334 posts]
9th November 2013 - 19:17

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I've just dug out some photos I took on the 1980 London to Brighton ride. I could only find two cyclists who were wearing helmets. Then I had a look at some of the pics I took on last year's event, and it was hard to spot anyone not wearing a helmet.

I feel drivers give me more room if they see I'm not wearing a helmet, so I don't wear one. (I do wear hi-vis though).

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

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posted by Neil753 [451 posts]
9th November 2013 - 20:15

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Did anyone spot the "Lodnon's" typo.

Wearing a helmet makes good sense as does high viz. I do the latter but struggle at times thinking "why should I" I'd like to wear black at times.

posted by Guyz2010 [281 posts]
9th November 2013 - 20:20

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It's refreshing to finally start to hear sense from high-profile cycling people. First Boardman, now Gilligan.

Hopefully this heralds the beginning of a shift away from the flawed, "it's common sense, surely?", biased-anecdote based thinking that afflicts so many in the UK on cycling safety toward a more rational, evidence based approach on the subject.

posted by Paul J [561 posts]
10th November 2013 - 12:47

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Often wear a helmet commuting. Particularly in winter. Never wear hi-viz. Doesn't work at night. Doesn't work in bright sunlight. Bright lights work in both. Black is best when snow is on the ground. It is about contrast, not bright clothing. Best contrast is achieved with bright lights. Moon comet rear light is the best I've used.

Still smiling politely at a persistently flat chain.

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posted by velophilia [38 posts]
10th November 2013 - 21:00

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velophilia wrote:
Never wear hi-viz. Doesn't work at night.
Have a look at the little pic by my name. See how visible my hi-viz jacket is. See how my rear light is pretty useless at certain angles. Lots of cyclists rely on just their lights, but that misguided policy could easily prove fatal.

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

Neil753's picture

posted by Neil753 [451 posts]
10th November 2013 - 21:32

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Neil753 wrote:
velophilia wrote:
Never wear hi-viz. Doesn't work at night.
Have a look at the little pic by my name. See how visible my hi-viz jacket is. See how my rear light is pretty useless at certain angles. Lots of cyclists rely on just their lights, but that misguided policy could easily prove fatal.

Neil, I think that velophilia is making a distinction between hi-viz (flourescent green/yellow/orange) and reflective, the scotchlite type material pictured in your avatar. I think that reflectives are excellent at night but that hi-viz is no more use than any other clothing after dark. I think you make a sound point which is that we are all primarily responsible for our own safety and that we should take whatever measures we think minimise the risks of taking to the road. For me that includes good lights, some reflectives, staying alert and taking the lane. Others may do more, others less, it all depends on where and when you ride and your own perception of risk.

Ah! Condor

posted by Bedfordshire Clanger [307 posts]
10th November 2013 - 21:58

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Interesting light that one - like the B+M Toplight Line it features a led line which hopefully is wide enough to allow depth perception by drivers.

posted by Trull [57 posts]
11th November 2013 - 8:41

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Neil753 wrote:
velophilia wrote:
Never wear hi-viz. Doesn't work at night.
Have a look at the little pic by my name. See how visible my hi-viz jacket is. See how my rear light is pretty useless at certain angles. Lots of cyclists rely on just their lights, but that misguided policy could easily prove fatal.

No, what you are saying is that your orange is orangier than his apple.

posted by farrell [1308 posts]
11th November 2013 - 10:54

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Instead of this bullshit "should helmets be compulsory" argument time and time again, what Gilligan should be talking about as a primary subject is how the death rate in London from pollution has risen again.

London has the worst air quality in the UK and is one of the worst in Europe.

posted by zanf [427 posts]
11th November 2013 - 13:15

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go well hah it just never seems to end

posted by jarredscycling [436 posts]
11th November 2013 - 19:50

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We wouldn't need all this hi viz kit and helmets if car drivers drove round with their eyes open! When I'm behind the wheel I take pride in staying alert at all times. Giving cyclists plenty of space is a priority whether they are wearing a helmet or not, they are both human!

Live to Ride, 'cycling a real sport'

posted by shaun finnis [24 posts]
12th November 2013 - 22:19

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Mandatory crash helmets for car drivers would also cut head injuries.

posted by DM [40 posts]
12th November 2013 - 23:16

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