Will 2011 become a black year for cyclists in London?

2011 may become a black year for cyclists in London. Yesterday, the latest cyclist was killed by a lorry, report the Evening Standard and London 24. At the moment, only few details of the crash are known. It happened at 3.20pm on the junction Camden Road and St. Pancras Way.


According to my mostly hand collected statistics, the number of killed cyclists in London in 2011  has risen  to 8 (compared to 10 in 2010) Details  about all crashes are available here. These numbers are terrible and depressing.

However, I strongly caution to read  any real trend out of this. These numbers do not show that cycling in London has become more dangerous recently!

Since 1986 the number of cyclists killed in London per year varies massively. On average, from 1986 to 2010 , 17.2 cyclists died per year. If there is any trend, there seems to be a slight decline in the more recent years. The average from 1986 to 1999 was 18.3 while from 2000 to 2010 it was 15.9. However, the  yearly variation is huge. For example, in 2004 only 8 cyclists died. One year later the number rose to 21. The worst year as 1989 with 33 fatalities.

All in all, the absolute numbers of dead cyclists  are very small (fortunately!). Statistically this makes it almost  impossible to  detect any reliable medium to longterm patterns. Statisticians call this the “law of small numbers“. A recent academic paper by Andrei Morgan et al. ( “Deaths of cyclists in london: trends from 1992 to 2006“)  puts it this way:

… the number of cyclists killed in London remains small, meaning that even if trends were present, they may not have been detected.

I recently had an email exchange  with Andrei Morgan, a researcher with London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine regarding the numbers. Among other things  I asked him the following question:

What was going on in 2004? Why was the number of killed cyclists so much lower in that year? Was it  just luck?  The number of seriously injured cyclists was very low as well, which might indicate that something else was happening. Was the  weather particularly bad (probably not, since your relative estimates went down as well. Have there been significantly fewer construction sites and in London?

This is what Andrei answered:

There are, of course, many possible reasons for this. But statistically speaking, if annual deaths are modelled using a poisson distribution, as we did, one would expect between 8 deaths and 25 deaths given that the average underlying rate was 15 deaths per year.

Two things, however, are for sure from my point of view.

1) Transport for London and the major are massively  missing their aim to reduce cycling fatalities. Boris Johnson sees it differently. He’s recently argued:

I would however like to make the point that cycling in London is getting safer the whole time. I know it may not feel like that but the statistics show that while cycling has more than doubled in the last ten years the number of serious injuries and fatalities has declined by a fifth.

I don’t take issue with the fact that cycling has more than doubled in the last ten years. But I think the statistics at least with regards to fatalities don’t say much.  Severe injuries  have declined, but there are some doubts about the  figures (possible reporting bias)

2) Lorries are the biggest single danger to cyclists in London. Between 2009 and 2011, 51% of all fatal cycling accidents involved lorries. According to Morgan et al. between 1996 and 2010 “freight vehicles were involved in over 40% cyclists killed”. Boris, if you really want to make cycling safer in London,  do something about the lorries! In their “No More Lethal Lorries” campaign, the  LCC has drafted a five point plan.

  • Cyclist-awareness training for drivers. All city lorry drivers should be have ongoing cycle-awareness training, including on-bike experience.
  • Drivers must take more responsibility. Authorities must recognise driver responsibility for doing everything practical to reduce risks. Blaming a ‘blind spot’ should be an admission of guilt.
  • Safer design for London lorries. Lorries designed for off-road use should be taken off city streets. The best mirrors, cameras and sensors should be fitted as standard.
  • Higher standards from lorry operators. Quality-assurance schemes such as London’s Freight Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS) should be mandatory, and the police encouraged to crack down on rogue operators.
  • More responsible procurement Companies must only buy haulage services from reputable firms, with government taking a lead in encouraging best practice.

Boris, please don’t boast about shady statistics anymore. Get real and fully endorse all those  points. Just sign  and implement the  LCC  petition.

One thought on “Will 2011 become a black year for cyclists in London?

  1. Adam Osen

    Olaf
    You seem to be an authority on cycling injuries and deaths, I’d like your thoughts on an idea I have.
    A you know, the law prohibiting cyclists from the pavement dates back to 1835, 176 years ago. In those days there were no bikes and no cars, things have changed but the law has not. If cyclists were allowed on the pavement a number of things might happen:
    Fewer cyclists may be killed and injured, how many?
    On the other hand some pedestrians might get injured, in extreme circumstances killed, how many?
    A lot of the antagonism from pedestrians might go away, a lot of this antagonism stems from the fact that it is illegal, not from any rational assessment of the real risks? The reality is that lots of cyclists do use the pavement, I’ve been known to myself (e.g. A406 at Bowes Road, three very narrow lanes of stationary traffic, impossible to cycle and a wide, empty pavement)
    Do you think it would help

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s