Following news of a journalist seriously injured while cycling to work, and ahead of this Saturday’s tour of ten of London's most dangerous junctions, Mayor Boris Johnson and Transport for London (TfL) claim to be taking action, but have come under fire for focusing on HGVs while ignoring the issue of junction design.
Today they outlined progress on a series of measures aimed at helping prevent the kind of tragedies that so far this year have resulted in the deaths of 14 bike riders on the city’s streets. However, this morning Mr Johnson, along with TfL Commissioner Peter Hendy, have also been grilled on cycle safety matters by members of the Greater London Assembly.
Today’s update from the Mayor and TfL focuses on a number of previously announced initiatives, rather than any new campaigns to make the roads safer, particularly regarding lorries, but there’s scant mention of an issue that is currently the concern of many cycling campaigners in the capital, namely the safety of cyclists at junctions; however, that was a topic that was very much the focus of attention as the mayor faced questions from members of the London Assembly at its Functional Body Question Time at City Hall earlier today.
Blogger Mark Ames of ibikelondon, who is helping organise this Saturday’s tour of London’s ten most dangerous junctions for cyclists, tweeted updates on today’s question and answer session, in which Mr Johnson gave the impression that he did not understand the scale of feeling about the role that road design at busy junctions is perceived to play in incidents that result in cyclists being killed or suffering serious injuries on a regular basis.
Answering questions alongside Mr Hendy, TfL Commissioner since 2006, Mr Johnson insisted that he had no trouble getting round Hyde Park Corner on a bicycle, and that the Elephant & Castle roundabout was “perfectly negotiable” by bicycle. However, both have been highlighted by TfL itself as among the city’s ten most dangerous junctions for cyclists.
Facing questions from Jenny Jones, former deputy mayor under Ken Livingstone and the Green Party’s candidate in next year’s mayoral elections, as well as Liberal Democrat leader Caroline Pidgeon and Labour’s John Biggs, among others, Mr Johnson insisted that as a cyclist himself he was very much concerned about the safety of riders in London. Ms Jones has made footage of her exchange with Mr Johnson available on her YouTube channel, shown below.
Among the issues on which Mr Johnson was quizzed were Blackfriars Bridge, where he maintained he was concerned with making the area safe for pedestrians despite the controversial removal of a 20mph speed limit, and Kings Cross, site of the death last month of 24-year-old student Min Joo Lee.
Mr Hendy, meanwhile disclosed that he had personally reviewed all recent cycling fatalities in London, but insisted that the focus when it comes to improving safety should be on training lorry drivers, rather than road redesign, which is the essence of the current conflict between TfL and Mr Johnson on the one hand, and cycle campaigners and those Assembly Members asking questions at the GLA this morning on the other.
In particular, both TfL and the mayor stand accused of prioritising traffic flow – or, better put, motorised traffic flow – over ensuring the safety of vulnerable road users such as cyclists and pedestrians.
Their focus on HGV driver training was one of the key issues flagged up in today’s press release from the Mayor and TfL, which provided an update on a number of initiatives taken in that regard.
Those include all highway maintenance firms that work on main roads in the capital agreeing to fit sensors and blind spot mirrors to their lorries, and have their drivers undergo cycle awareness training, by the end of the year, as well as confirmation that Mr Hendy has written to the haulage industry to urge further improvements to safety.
Highlighting a 150 per cent increase in the number of people cycling in London since 2000 and a 21 per cent increase in cycle traffic flow on its road network between 2008 and 2010 alone, TfL said that the rate of cyclists killed or seriously injured in the capital had actually fallen 4 per cent since 2008.
Half of this year’s 14 fatalities have involved HGVs, and TfL said that it had to date completed 31 of the 52 targeted actions contained in the July 2010 Cycle Safety Action Plan, with the remainder either in progress or due to be actioned by 2012.
During 2010/11, it said that £100 million had been invested in schemes such as providing cycle safety programmes, new cycle lanes, installing more ASLs at key junctions plus blind spot mirrors on the city’s Barclays Cycle Superhighways – although as Ms Pidgeon pointed out this morning, there were many other roads that could benefit from them.
Among other measures, TfL has provided cycle training to 735 employees working for 194 businesses in London through the Barclays Cycle Superhighway business offering initiative, as well as providing funding to boroughs to help train more than 48,000 cyclists in 2010/11.
Working with the London Cycling Campaign, the Metropolitan Police and the Institute of Advanced Motorists, it has also drawn up a Cycling Code for members of the Freight Transport Association, and is also working on providing additional guidance to contractors to ensure that cyclists are given sufficient room at roadworks.
TfL also said that its contractors working on its road network were being asked to encourage their own suppliers to sign up to the voluntary Freight Operators’ Recognition Scheme, which Mr Johnson urged companies using lorries in London to join after he withdrew funding from the Metropolitan Police’s Commercial Vehicle Education Unit (CVEU) in October 2009.
The CVEU had previously been responsible for inspecting lorries in the capital, but Mr Johnson said at the time that he believed FORS provided a sufficient safeguard.
While the CVEU has been reconstituted by the Metropolitan Police as the Commercial Vehicle Unit, based in Alperton in North West London, it does not enjoy the same resources or manpower as it once did.
Moreover, critics of FORS say that the very fact that the scheme is voluntary means that it will be avoided by the very type of business that should be getting targeted, such as those operating unsafe vehicles or employing drivers with unsatisfactory driving records, thought to be responsible for many of the collisions involving HGVs in London.
Outlining those measures, Mr Hendy said: “Improving cycle safety across London is something that the Mayor and TfL is working flat out to deliver. However, despite strong progress, this is something that the whole of London needs to help with to ensure significant change is delivered.
“Every London business, whether they are manufacturing, delivering or selling goods and services in London, has a role to play in ensuring that the vehicles they use adhere to best practice and that their drivers get the message to take care around cyclists.
“By ensuring safety technology and additional driver training are written into company guidelines, we can all work together to further reduce accidents on the capital’s roads.”
Mr Johnson himself added: “Every single death or serious incident involving a cyclist on our roads is a tragedy, and while we have made a great deal of progress over the last ten years to reduce these very sad occurrences, we are determined to make London's roads even safer.
“This is not just about delivering the vast array of improvements we have committed to, but it is also about drivers and cyclists taking extra care.
“So, I urge every motorist, especially lorry and truck drivers, to please always look out for cyclists, and I implore cyclists to stay safe, don’t stay next to an HGV.”
While his concern for the welfare of cyclists is to be applauded, many will feel that actions speak louder than words particularly when it comes to issues such as Blackfriars Bridge and concerns over dangerous junctions; as for his call to cyclists not to position themselves next to an HGV, that’s much easier said than done, as anyone who has been overtaken by a lorry and squeezed towards the kerb can attest.
For all his protestations, it’s clear that Mr Johnson is still a long way from convincing many that his transport policies have the best interests - and more importantly, safety - of the capital’s cyclists at heart.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.