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.

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A reply to Celia Walden: You owe Tom Barrett a profound apology

I’ve never heard of Celia Walden* before, but my Google Alert on “cyclist” and “killed” has just drawn my attention to her. She’s the author of just another rant against cyclists which has been published in the “Daily Telegraph”.

Celia is describing a close call with a female cyclist who

swerved into the middle of my lane without signalling. There was no helmet, of course, and no high-visibility gear – which would have marred the whole sunny tableau. The worst accident she could think of was that her skirt might flutter up to reveal a charming pair of white cotton knickers.

In the next paragraph Celia confesses:

basically I loathe all London cyclists. (…) these people live in a fantasy world. (…) Traffic signals don’t apply to London cyclists, up there as they are on the moral high ground with their officially endorsed sense of righteousness. Sociologically, polls have shown that they tend to be a preening, upper-middle class bunch.

The most shocking sentence comes in the third paragraph:

At least she, after a near-death experience with a London bus or the onset of a little light drizzle, will permanently withdraw from the roads.

Apparantly, this Celia Walden thinks that near-death experiences for cyclists are a good thing which teach them a lesson. I wonder what she would tell the father of Jayne Helliwell, 25, who had a more-than-near-death experience with a bus last year (the bus driver was charged with dangerous driving after the crash).

Reading Celias article in a week where another London cyclist has been killed by a lorry is not just unsettling. It’s utterly disgusting. Until today, according to my statistics at least seven cyclists have been killed on London roads in 2011.

Maybe I’m expecting too much from a Telegraph journalist but some research before writing an article might be a nice idea. Well, I’m here to help:

Celia, do you seriously think that Barrett (he commanded a squadron in Iraq and Afghanistan and was awarded an Order of the British Empire), Mason ( he was “notable for his iron chin, stout heart and thunderous punching power”, according to the Telegraph) and Hawkes ( “one of Britain’s leading child protection experts”, listen to him on Radio 4 ) “have lived in a “fantasy world”?

Do you think they deseve to be loathed?

Do I deserve to be loathed?

One thing is for sure: Tom, Gary and Colin have permanently been withdrawn from the roads, if I may use your words.

Celia, I’m really shocked by your degree of callousness. I don’t understand how the editors of the “Daily Telegraph” dare to print such highly cynical stuff.

In the name of Tom Barrett, Gary Mason and Colin Hawkes (as well as all those other cyclists who have been innocently killed and injured by dodgy drivers in London) I expect a profound apology. Otherwise I would conclude that you just think they just got what they deserved.

* That’s why I’ve misspelled her first name as “Celina” in an earlier version of this article.

My spreadsheet with detailed information on fatal cycling accidents in London since 2006: http://bit.ly/cycling-london

My map showing the locations for fatal cycling accidents in London since 2006: http://bit.ly/cycle-crash-map-london

5 facts about Boris bikes – and one example of unfair journalism

“The Independent” has recently published some interesting facts about London’s Barclay’s Cycle Hire scheme. Unfortunately, my dear colleagues did a rather poor job interpreting those figures.

Boris Bikes at Southwark Street in London (Photo by Green Lane from Wikimedia Commons)

According to the Independent, which draws on figures from Transport for London (TfL) since the launch of the “Boris Bikes” in August 2010:

  • seven million miles have been cycled
  • 100000 people have signed up (I’m one of them, BTW)
  • 3566 bikes (30 per day) have had to be repaired
  • 180 bikes have been vandalised
  • 10 bikes have been stolen

To me, these figures underscore the huge success of the scheme given that here had been widespread concerns about theft and vandalism prior to the launch of the cycling hire scheme. But since only bad news are good news, my dear colleagues at the “Independent” are trying to give a negative spin to those figures:

Two-thirds of London’s “Boris bikes” have had to undergo repairs in their first six months of operation. (…) Critics claimed that the high rate of repairs was a result of TfL opting for “unwieldy machines” over more sophisticated bikes.

I think this is quite an unfair and distorted interpretation of those numbers. Are  3566 repairs since August 2010 really resembling a “high rate of repairs”?  As we have also learned by the TfL figures, the Boris bikes have been done 7 million miles since August. This means there are on average  0.0005 repairs per mile traveled (In fact the real figure is much lower because we’re only talking about the bikes which actually had an issues).

I’ve done around 1500 miles on my Brompton since August 2010 and had four punctures which equals 0.0027 repairs per mile. Perhaps I should use the Boris bikes more often…