Mayor of London Boris Johnson has said cyclists need to take responsibility for their own safety following a nine-day period in which collisions with large vehicles claimed the lives of five cyclists in the capital. While he clearly states he wasn’t trying to blame the victims in those specific incidents, an opposition politician has accused him of doing just that, describing his remarks as “an insult to the dead.”
Speaking to radio station LBC’s Nick Ferrari this morning, Mr Johnson maintained that cyclists were obliged to follow the rules of the road and to comply with traffic signs.
He said: “Some of the cases that we've seen in the last few days really make your heart bleed because you can see that people have taken decisions that really did put their lives in danger.
"You cannot blame the victim in these circumstances. But what you can say is that when people make decisions on the road that are very risky – jumping red lights, moving across fast-moving traffic in a way that is completely unexpected and without looking to see what traffic is doing – it's very difficult for the traffic engineers to second-guess that."
No suggestion has been made by police investigating the five fatalities this month, three of which occurred on or near Barclays Cycle Superhighway CS2 in east London, that the people who died were riding their bikes in such a way as to endanger their own lives.
On Twitter this morning, Labour’s former transport secretary Lord Adonis had urged Mr Johnson to take action, saying: "The mayor should appoint a rapid independent review of superhighways after the horror of all these cyclist deaths in London."
However, rejecting calls for an urgent review of the safety of cyclists in the city, Mr Johnson said that unless riders complied with traffic laws, "there's no amount of traffic engineering that we invest in that is going to save people's lives."
Quoted in the Guardian, Green London Assembly member Darren Johnson accused the Mayor of victim blaming and of "dodging responsibility."
He pointed out: “Four out of the five deaths of cyclists in the last nine days have involved either his blue paint or his red buses.
"The mayor's comments this morning which targeted cyclists breaking the law as the primary cause of death and serious injury is an attempt to blame the victims, rather than tackling the real problem of HGVs, buses and dangerous junctions.
"It is an insult to the dead and injured that the mayor continues to blame victims in this way, rather than accepting his responsibility and getting on with fixing the things he has direct control over."
The succession of fatalities has seen other high profile politicians call for segregated cycle lanes, such as that on the new section of CS2, opened last week. The original route from Aldgate to Bow has no such segregation.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told LBC: "Distressing as all this is, I really hope it doesn't discourage people from bicycling – it's got to be made safer and we have got to have more of these bicycling superhighways which physically separate cyclists from roads.
The Liberal Democrat leader added: "We as a government have said we want to make new road schemes fit for cyclists and at the same time we'll look at every other suggestion to make this a safe thing to do."
The Mayor’s own Cycling Commissioner, Andrew Gilligan, whom he appointed to that position earlier this year, cautioned against taking hasty action but criticised CS2.
He told BBC London: "The danger in the current atmosphere of understandable alarm and concern is that we rush into some panic measure which actually makes things worse.”
However, Mr Gilligan added: "From the beginning, Superhighway 2 has been little more than blue paint and I've been pressing to change it."
National cyclists’ organisation CTC meanwhile called for new drivers of large vehicles such as lorries, buses and coaches – all three types of vehicle have been involved in fatalities of cyclists in London this month – to have to undertake cycle training before they are granted a licence.
The appeal comes as the government prepares to publish a green paper regarding the training and testing of such vehicles.
CTC’s policy director, Roger Geffen, said: “We will investigate further options for reducing the number of large vehicles in urban centres at busy periods.
“Options that the organisation has considered in the past include banning lorries from city centres at peak periods and locating distribution centres on the outskirts of cities.”
Its chief executive, Gordon Seabright, added: "CTC and all cyclists are sickened by the continuing failure to protect cyclists, in particular from the dangers caused by lorries in our towns and cities. We want to see The Mayor of London and all those responsible for the safety of our streets living up to their promises.”
Martin Key, campaigns director at British Cycling, called for a national cycle awareness initiative to be launched.
"The fact that five cyclists have been killed in London in the last nine days is shocking news and an urgent investigation needs to take place into what could have been done to prevent these deaths," he commented.
"We have to do a better job of looking after each other on the roads.
"That includes significant investment in a nationwide cyclist awareness campaign rather than a few posters in a handful of cities.
“This is about changing the culture of how people get around, making cycling a more attractive and safer option for millions of people across Britain."
In its editorial today, the London Evening Standard says that “We can be a cycling city to rival any other in Europe: we just have to want to make it happen.”
The newspaper says:
The cyclist killed last night on one of London’s cycle superhighways, at Aldgate, is the fifth to die in nine days. The total killed this year in the capital is now 13. It is a reminder of the inadequacies and dangers of the blue cycling superhighways. As Debbie Dorling, the widow of the first cyclist to be killed on one, observes, these are little more than “comfort blankets”, giving cyclists a false sense of security on dangerous roads while mostly failing to segregate them from traffic.
The fatalities are tragic — though they should be put in context. Most London cyclists get to work each day without incident. Annual deaths have stayed roughly the same over the past decade, despite a huge increase in the numbers cycling: cycling is proportionately safer than it was. And motorists generally seem to be more conscious of the vulnerability of cyclists than they were even five years ago. This is, moreover, a dangerous time of year, with cycle commuters riding in the dark or dusk.
But a cycling city, which London aspires to be, cannot be safe only in summer and in optimal conditions: it must be safe in the dark and rain too. The Mayor has already launched his scheme for a safe cycling network, and says he will install CCTV at Bow to study the problems. Now he must go much further. We should consider an independent review into cycle safety in London. And we need a plan to transform the city’s cycle lanes and junctions, making much greater use of segregated lanes. TfL must now treat this as a transport priority.
This is a question of political will, not physical road space: other changes to our roads once branded unthinkable, such as bus lanes and the congestion charge, are now accepted parts of the system. London is a working city with a multiplicity of road users — cyclists, pedestrians, car and lorry drivers. Yet it should be possible for all of us to share the roads, given decent provision and mutual consideration. We can be a cycling city to rival any other in Europe: we just have to want to make it happen.
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.