Time to get angry

I can’t think of a better illustration of the CTC’s preoccupation with appearance over substance than the comments from Chris Peck, their policy co-ordinator, that appear in this Guardian article about ghost bikes.

Despite their eerie poignancy, some cycling campaigners worry that the memorials could, in fact, act in the main to put off would-be cyclists. “While ghost bikes may help ensure road users pay more attention to one another, they make [sic] give the impression that cycling is more dangerous than it actually is,” said Chris Peck, policy co-ordinator for the CTC, the UK’s main national cycling organisation. “Cyclists in general live two years longer than non-cyclists and are in general healthier – even in heavy traffic, a three-mile ride to work is healthier than driving to work every day and failing to get any exercise.”

As far as I can tell, this is the only comment the CTC have made on the story of the death of Min Joo Lee, and on the wider issue of safer junctions in London more generally.

To me, it is quite extraordinary that the CTC’s principal concern here seems to be the message that ghost bikes send out. Evidently it might suggest to people that cycling in London is a hazardous thing to do, when in reality – if we look at the statistics – it would actually extend your life by two years. Even when cycling in heavy traffic! So – hey – put those ghost bikes away, fix your rictus-grin-I’m-really-loving-cycling-amongst-HGVs-oh-yes-really-because-I’m-healthier smile on your face, and enjoy it. Because the last thing we want to do is to send out the tiniest signal that cycling in London is really just a teensy bit dangerous or unpleasant. Someone has died, but let’s ignore that, because cycling will, on balance, extend your life.

This is a strategy that is doomed to failure. No-one is going to be convinced to cycle in London if we hide away the deaths, and the casualty figures. The CTC need to face up to the fact that cycling is seen as dangerous, highly dangerous, not just by the vast majority of people who don’t cycle in London, but even by those that do – with or without the absence of ghost bikes, or ‘danger rides.’ When I told two of my friends – both of whom cycle in London – that I would be cycling around London’s ten most dangerous junctions this Saturday, their immediate response was

Why would you want to do that?!?

These are places in London that cyclists – current cyclists – are desperate to avoid, at all costs. And of course the danger isn’t limited to just the ten junctions we will be visiting tomorrow. I’m sick and tired of the tendency, exhibited by Boris Johnson this week, to just pretend that these places are fine to cycle in. Even if – statistically – I know that my death is very unlikely, at the very minimum they are horribly unpleasant, not least because I continually have to keep my wits about me. It might be good advice to cycle around London assuming that every driver is going to kill you – Boris actually volunteered this nugget of wisdom in that same GLA session! – but, really, should it have to be like this?

Enough sunny optimism – it’s time to get angry. I hope you can join me and more than a hundred others for our ride tomorrow, starting at 10:30 am from St Mark’s Church, Oval. Full details are here and here.

This entry was posted in Boris Johnson, CTC, Cycling policy, Infrastructure, London, Road safety, Transport for London. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Time to get angry

  1. Good post. While there aren’t many cyclists casualties (even that many is too many though) this is due to:
    1) Cyclist being very cautious, proficient and assertive
    2) Cyclists usually avoiding cycling through most dangerous places
    and not because they are fine to cycle through!

  2. I’m getting rather bored of cycling campaigners attacking each other via social media. You should be working together, but no, all we have is disparity and tribalism. The CTC have done great work for many years, some of the (relatively) new bloggers/tweeters etc seem to forget, or worse, ignore this.

    BTW I’m not a member of the CTC, but I cycle 14 miles through London 5 days a week and my commute takes in Wandsworth Gyratory, Vauxhall Gyratory, Waterloo Bridge and Aldwych, so I know a fair amount about how dangerous cycling in London is (or rather isn’t). However, I do feel very strongly that TFL and the Mayor should be doing far more to help cycling, and Boris’ behaviour yesterday means he has currently lost my vote.

  3. VéloNdonJames – I understand your anxiety about internal disputes. But “attack” is putting it too strongly I think. A single party line and an absence of discussion would be a shocking thing, and in any event it is never going to happen. So, I suppose I’m all in favour of you doing precisely what all the rest of us are doing – disagreeing with the way an argument is being put. I will go one step further and say that those like you and I who are experienced, confident, habitual cyclists should not use our own experience to tell others that things are not as dangerous as they look. If there is a common cause it should be to call for segregated provision so that the young, the timid and the very old can cycle and walk through our towns and cities wihtoutt fear. The way things are they have to stay in or be ferried in cars, taxis and buses … not good for them, not good for congestion in general and so not good for anyone.

  4. Kim says:

    Don’t forget that it is not just cyclist that are dying, it is pedestrians too, we should all be angry, very angry that such “collateral damage” is considered to be acceptable to “improve traffic flow”. People should not be dying on our roads, we should not find this acceptable!

  5. VéloNdon says:

    I agree that in the context of your article perhaps ‘attack’ was too strong a word, but that is exactly what some bloggers/organisations are doing, it’s unhelpful and divisive.

    I don’t find anyone dying on our roads to be ‘acceptable’, and I do find TFL’s current approach to be ‘acceptable’ either. However I do strongly disagree with the statement:

    “I will go one step further and say that those like you and I who are experienced, confident, habitual cyclists should not use our own experience to tell others that things are not as dangerous as they look.”

    It’s the duty of cyclists like us to banish the myth that cycling is as/more dangerous than it looks! The stats clearly demonstrate that cycling (even in London) is a low risk activity. Sadly it’s a low risk activity that appears dangerous to the uninitiated. So I’m happy for you to argue for better facilities (or even segregation – which I have issues with), but you should not be using the fallacious argument that cycling is dangerous to help win your case, that’s disingenuous and unhelpful.

  6. Pingback: Ghost Bikes: Memorial, Raising Awareness Or Cycling Deterrent? | Londonist

  7. @Velondon: “It’s the duty of cyclists like us to banish the myth that cycling is as/more dangerous than it looks!” – best of luck with that. I, as a CTC campaigner for several decades, have tried to encourage non-cycling people to cycle for transport, pointing out these statistics. This usually results in a slightly concerned look on their part: everyone can SEE that cycling is dangerous!

    Pretend for a moment you’re a non-cyclist, i.e. one of the vast majority of the UK population. Now consider which modes of transport appear to require protective headgear and/or high-viz clothing, to stay safe?

    * Driving a car: nope.
    * Going by bus: nope.
    * Travelling by train: nope.
    * Flying by aeroplane: nope (unless you pilot your own light aircraft).
    * Walking: nope.
    * Cycling: yes: protective helmet and high-viz are constantly recommended as essential for safety, special clothing useful too. If you can, also get adult cycle training to learn how to navigate junctions, deal with narrow roads, and avoid getting killed by left-turning lorries.

    The UK population KNOWS that cycling, uniquely in this list of transport modes, is DANGEROUS. They are indeed wrong, but try telling them that, given the visual evidence and warnings coming from all types of authority about the need for helmets, high-viz, and safety training if you’re cycling.

    I quite agree that you can, perhaps, persuade an existing timid cyclist to be less fearful and “take the lane” to ride on less-pleasant roads. But even I, with tens of thousands of cycling miles under my belt, both touring and commuting, still find motor traffic to be extremely unpleasant and sometimes frightening.

    It is easy, as a cyclist, to forget what the other 95% of the population think. It’s what the 95% of the population think that REALLY matters, though.

    Cycling IS dangerous, but the danger is entirely caused by motor vehicles: segregate the motor vehicles away from the people and it’s all very safe and pleasant for people. Want 40%+ modal share for cycling? Do what the Dutch and Danes are doing. It’s not rocket science, and the results are proven.

    • Jono says:

      Anthony, You have summed up the current situation so very eloquently. It really is a sham that under our ‘pro-cycling’ mayor, London has not embarked on a single ambitious cycling flagship insatllation. Not one bit of groundbreaking infrastucture that could show the other 95% how wonderful it could all be.

  8. BethPH says:

    Hello, I hope you don’t mind but I used this post as a reference in this post that I wrote for Londonist as I thought it was pretty thought-provoking.


  9. This is really on the nail – I consider myself pretty experienced, but I feel intimidated and unsafe cycling on so many of London’s streets. I know that statistically I’m probably more likely to die falling down a flight of stairs, but it doesn’t feel like that. Until we can separate people on bikes from impatient, inattentive drivers and their machines, we have no hope at all of getting the majority of the population to seriously consider riding a bike as a form of transport.

  10. Sicrates says:

    Cycling seems dangerous to me. Last year I lived in a flat with four confident cyclists who had been cycling around London for years. Every one (including me) had been knocked off their bike by a car. No real injuries, but each incident was only a whisker away from being very serious. I realise that this is anecdote verses evidence, but only one of those incidents was reported to the police so do not appear in any stats. In contrast, none of my friends has been involved in an accident travelling by tube. I’m hugely pro-cycling, but there is no doubt that to get around in London you will face daily danger and unpleasant situations.

    If there were more inexperienced, nervous or child cyclists on the roads then the injury stats would shoot up, I imagine. Just think what would happen if we had 8 year-olds cycling to school.

    Until we get somewhere to cycle that is out of the roads then it will continue to be unpleasant, dangerous and impossible for certain groups of people.

  11. Sicrates says:


  12. “If there were more inexperienced, nervous or child cyclists on the roads then the injury stats would shoot up, I imagine. Just think what would happen if we had 8 year-olds cycling to school.”

    Exactly right. As I have often said, (e.g. here, the relatively low casualty rate of UK cycling is not proof that it is safe. It is rather a reflection of the self-selection of the group that does cycle versus all the groups that don’t: that is, predominantly the young, fit, alert, assertive males versus all the others. If we forcibly plonked all the others into the traffic situation we have, there would be carnage.

    What proper cycling infrastructure on the Dutch and Danish pattern does is to enormously widen the spectrum of people cycling while keeping them all acceptably safe. There is no way to do this without such infrastructure. The danger created by having, in current UK terms, lots of “unsuitable” people on the roads on bikes, is taken away again by the protection they receive from the separation from motor traffic. Isolated statistical safety comparisons between our system and theirs miss the main point, which is the vast enlargement of the cycling “franchise” to the people who can’t cope with the real danger of our roads now.

    Vole O’Speed

  13. @Karl – regarding the statistical safety – I wonder if you ran up and down a very steep flight of stairs (probably with other people doing the same, oh and the steps would occasionally have holes in them) twice a day for an hour, what would the safety record of that be? 🙂 The safety statistics are such because people avoid danger when cycling and have all their wits about them. If we let out a control group of unskilled people in numbers identical to those of people cycling in London the result could be much different.

  14. PaulM says:

    I am off my bike for a couple of weeks as I recover from an operation on my shoulder. The op was to deal with inflammation and “impingement” of the joint and its protective sac or “bursa” and, while I can’t be certain of this, I am fairly convinced its origin was an accident I suffered about 15 months ago. Initially I just had intercostal bruising, painful but not really serious: the real problems came later.

    The accident was the third in a series I have had in central London – each of which was a ‘hit and run’, and all of which involved London taxi drivers. All, in my view, were the fault of the cabbie, but then I would say that, wouldn’t I? All, fortunately, were walk-aways.

    Despite this, I wouldn’t have said that cycling is objectively unsafe – you can’t develp a statistic from one example. Stats available at such sites as the Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation do poiont towards a number of everyday activities posing greater risks – tennis, golf, DIY, even walking (excluding walks in the country ie rambling).

    Having said that, what conclusions would you expect a non-cyclist to draw if he or she were an onlooker to my accidents, or were to read the newspapers? Rational or not, probably “you won’t catch me doing that!” While there will be many who are brave enough to mix with traffic on the busier roads (I still am, or perhaps I am just stupid) there are more who will pass up the opportunity until something physical and solid, like a kerb, is erected between the traffic and the bicycle.

  15. Pingback: The difference between walking and cycling safety | As Easy As Riding A Bike

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