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.