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

"People’s fears about cycling must be addressed"...

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.”

John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.

He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.

Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc founder Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.

John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined road.cc in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

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