Leon Daniels and ‘knee-jerk reactions’

In the wake of the latest cycling death in London, the head of Transport for London’s Surface Transport, Leon Daniels, told BBC News

I think it’s very important we don’t have too much of a knee jerk reaction. Of course, as I said, one cycling death is one too many, but the circumstances for these accidents take a while to come through while all the investigations take place. And I’m sure there’s a whole range of measures that, over time, we will be taking in order to try and ensure cycle safety.

The problem here is that this isn’t just ‘one cycling death’. This is just the latest in a long line of deaths and serious injuries involving people riding bikes in London, deaths and injuries that are increasing in frequency.

To say we shouldn’t have a ‘knee jerk reaction’ rests on an assumption that the death on Monday was a one-off – something unique and remarkable – when in fact it was sadly predictable. This is why protest rides are occurring now, and have been occurring for some time (protest rides like those on Blackfriars Bridge, and the Tour du Danger). People have been stating for many years now that riding a bike in London carries an unacceptable level of risk. This is to say nothing of the people who won’t even go near a bike in London because the roads are terrifying; the simple fact is that cycling in London is objectively dangerous, as well as subjectively so.

The implication of Leon Daniels’ comment is that we should wait for all the facts to come in, and once the facts are established, then presumably we’ll find out that the lorry driver or the cyclist did something wrong; that the driver was going too fast, that the cyclist moved unpredictably, or that one or the other failed to spot the other party. And then we can just carry on as before, without changing anything. Maybe there will be another ‘awareness campaign’, or some trixi mirrors, but that will be it.

Well, this isn’t good enough, I’m afraid. We cannot continue to hold the people driving and riding on the streets of London solely responsible for deaths and injuries, when they are travelling on designs that expect bike users to move across multiple lanes of traffic travelling at 30 mph or more; designs that mix people on bikes with vehicles that can kill them if their operators make mistakes. This is so obviously a contributing factor to deaths and serious injury we simply cannot continue to duck it.

Just last weekend a 90-year-old man died on a road near where I live; he was using a footpath that crosses a 70 mph dual carriageway. I took a picture of this footpath last year, remarking in a blogpost about how dangerous it is.


I think it would be callous to blame the man who died, or the driver who hit him, for this tragedy. The issue here is the design of a footpath that expects people to dash across multiple lanes of traffic bearing down on them at high speed. It is entirely unreasonable to expect elderly people – or indeed anyone – to cross this kind of road on foot. The element of risk and danger is unacceptably high.

In precisely the same way, I think it is entirely unreasonable to expect people on bikes to manoeuvre their way across multiple lanes of motor traffic.

The High Holborn crash site - picture by Mark Ames

The High Holborn crash site – picture by Mark Ames

If drivers or people on bikes make errors of judgement, the person on the bike will be seriously injured or killed. There is no slack at all in roads that are designed like this; the margin for error is minimal. (I won’t even focus here on how these roads are exclusionary, and only suitable for a small subsection of the London population to use by bike). It is completely unacceptable, purely on safety grounds alone.

Leon Daniels cannot pretend this isn’t a problem, but, on past form, he seems extraordinarily unwilling to make changes to London’s roads that will make them safe and comfortable for people riding bikes.

In response to complaints about the abysmal design of the northern junction on Blackfriars Bridge – the design that sparked multiple protests in 2011 – he wrote

Where possible TfL look to widen cycle lanes to two metres, as proposed for the initial section of the northbound cycle lane, however, the constraints of the highway coupled with our duty to maintain a smooth traffic flow in this location have prevented us from widening all cycle lanes throughout the junction.

That is, TfL couldn’t even manage more than 1.3-1.5m wide cycle lanes due to ‘the constraints of the highway’ and the familiar ‘smoothing traffic flow’. This in a location where bikes make up 43% of vehicular traffic at peak times.

Blackfriars Protest, 2011

Blackfriars Protest, 2011

There are no ‘constraints’ on such an enormously wide stretch of road, beyond a refusal to take cycling seriously as a mode of transport.

Later in 2011 Daniels was asked about minimum design standards for Cycle Superhighways at a GLA Transport Committee – indeed, specifically about minimum widths recommended by that same Committee. He responded

[There are] loads of lessons to learn from the initial cycle superhighway not just in respect of the superhighway schemes themselves but also the way in which the construction is done and the disruption to general traffic and so on. In just about every case we are looking to – this is a big compromise because, at the end of the day, the carriageway space is fixed and therefore we are trying to squeeze a quart into a pint pot. [my emphasis]

I agree entirely with you about minimum widths and so on. Just in some places, on the ground, practically, we are faced with what we have to do. In many cases – and Members will know some of these – there is a requirement for a certain footway width, the frontages need some space, there are requirements for loading and unloading, we need to keep ordinary traffic moving as well and, therefore, in many cases, we are shoehorning this into a narrow space. I agree entirely with you that a minimum width for cyclists is desirable but, again in many cases, we are stuck with what we can do practically and cost effectively.

The overriding impression from these comments – and from those regarding Blackfriars – is that cycling has to fit in around the margins; that motor traffic has to keep flowing in exactly the same volume as before, and it is cycling that has to give way. Sure, if we can fit in a cycle lane here or there without reducing motor traffic capacity, we’ll do it, but otherwise – tough luck. ‘The carriageway space is fixed’, and all that.

The site of Monday's fatality

The site of Monday’s fatality. Four lanes of motor traffic squeezed into a pint pot.

But the ‘physical constraint’ argument is absurd. Space can be created for cycling on any street, of any width. The issue is one of priorities, and it seems that Leon Daniels doesn’t think that cycling is a particularly high priority. His latest comments certainly do not give the impression of movement, even following the publication of the Mayor’s Vision for Cycling.

At the moment we have streets designed for fitting as many motor vehicles as possible through them, like High Holborn, where a man died on Monday. Leon Daniels’ ‘pint pot’ is entirely full of motor traffic; the only reason there can be any struggle fitting in cycling here is a refusal to reallocate some of that pint.

And, like Blackfriars, it’s not as if cycling is a marginal mode of transport here either. Just to the east, on Theobalds Road, bicycles make up 64% of vehicular traffic between 7am and 10am, despite the fairly appalling conditions. Doubtless on High Holborn – the continuation of that route into the west end – cycling still forms a significant portion of vehicular traffic. But it is completely ignored as a mode of transport.

Space can and should be reallocated for cycling on these kinds of roads, not just because it is already a significant mode of transport in its own right, but because the current arrangements are objectively and subjectively dangerous. They put users at unnecessary risk, and discourage anyone else from riding.

When private motor traffic is such a minority mode of transport on so many roads in central London, why on earth does it get allocated so much space? Why does it have free rein on nearly every single road?

The Alternative Department for Transport yesterday came up with an apparently bold proposal for closing Westminster Bridge Road to private motor traffic at peak times, so that the road would like something like this, with bus lanes down the centre –

The amazing thing is that these kind of proposals should be regarded as so extraordinary, when in fact – if we really care about prioritising walking, cycling and public transport – they should be precisely the kind of measures a city like London should be taking. Make private motor traffic go the long way round, and create safe and inviting environments for walking and cycling.

Dutch cities are, of course, different from London, but they have been doing things like this for decades. The busy Potterstraat, in the centre of Utrecht, is a bus- and cycle-only road.


One-way streets for motor vehicles in large Dutch cities are also extraordinarily common, with the space being allocated instead to cycling, and to public transport.



These Dutch roads could be filled with lanes for motor traffic, but decisions were taken about the kind of traffic that should be there, and how it should be treated.

With people on bikes forming such a significant proportion of traffic in central London, even under current conditions, it’s high time that safe, protected space was allocated for cycling as a mode of transport. We already know the circumstances that result in deaths and serious injury on London’s streets – it’s poor design that takes no account of the vulnerability of people on bikes, and puts them at serious risk. To fail to respond to these demands for safety, in the wake of a spate of preventable deaths – to trot out the usual platitudes – would be unthinking, rash and heedless. The very definition of a ‘knee jerk reaction’.

This entry was posted in Go Dutch, Gyratories, Infrastructure, London, Subjective safety, The Netherlands, Transport for London. Bookmark the permalink.

43 Responses to Leon Daniels and ‘knee-jerk reactions’

  1. There seems to be a media black out, it barely makes the BBC website. The British media (with the exception of broadsheets) avoid the issue. If it was a bus crash or a train crash with a tiny fraction of the deaths we see happening daily to cyclists, it would be all over the media.
    The UK media think it’s a cycling issue when better road design would benefit the drivers as much, if not more than the cyclists and pedestrians. It’s as if they think that better road design would leave them in a perpetual traffic jam. That’s the current situation, not what good design would generate. For a start even more commuters could use a bike which would take 10-20% of the traffic off the roads. It could be feasible to go Dutch and reduce private vehicles from the centre because the majority getting from AtoB could then get on a bike, train, tram or a bus.

  2. Andrea says:

    Where are the calls for Daniels’ resignations?
    It is now clear that Gillingham is isolated at TfL and he has no backing for the restructuring that is required.
    TfL is at war with us and we have to respond; in a Gandhian way, but we have to show our power. Only then things will change.

  3. Mark Hewitt says:

    “the constraints of the highway coupled with our duty to maintain a smooth traffic flow in this location have prevented us from widening all cycle lanes throughout the junction”

    Which of course is complete nonsense. Considering bicycles make up around half the traffic here, it’s clear that they aren’t actually considered as traffic at all, merely an inconvenience which needs to be given the minimum treatment.

    If bicycles make up half the traffic, they should have half the road space.

    • Fred says:

      Ah, but you have missed Daniels’ distinction between cyclists and “ordinary traffic”. It seems he doesn’t think cycling counts.

      Really this is so sad, I actually find it hard to believe that someone who must know a lot about traffic has had his head in the sand about cycling for so many years. Although I would like to think he might see the light he has had a lot of time in which he could have done so. Realistically I think TfL is being left behind by public and political opinion and if he won’t learn I hope he is moved on and sooner rather than later.

      We are not in the position where TfL, not politicians, are the main barrier to safe cycling in London. We should put the pressure on Boris to give Daniels his backing or send him packing, and unless he changes his tune Boris won’t want to nail his colours to that mast.

      (I took the bit about ordinary traffic from “we need to keep ordinary traffic moving as well and, therefore, in many cases, we are shoehorning this into a narrow space” – in the larger quote above. What an odd thing to say…)

  4. Cycleoptic says:

    Who is putting pressure on the media not to report cycling incidents? Remember last July critical mass 183 cyclists arrested, kettledrum and kept in busses overnight with very little press coverage, for ….. cycling N of The Thames. many others myself included were barred for crossing london bridges on our way home. If this had happened in China we would be shouting about human rights
    Who is censoring the press?

    • I suspect the press have a huge conflict of interest, due to the massive incomes they gain from motor vehicle advertising. If they appear even a little bit “anti-car” then they can expect to lose many full-page adverts from motoring businesses, and that could hit their already-tight bottom line badly.

  5. That quote from Leon Daniels really is ridiculous – there’s clearly something ‘cultural’ going on with Tfl that he can come out with such an offensive thing.

    I don’t know if you’ve been watching that BBC series ‘Routemasters: running londons roads’. It’s an excellent series and focuses on the day-to-day business of keeping the road network running. All the frontlineline workers are absolutely terrific – they all seemed deicated people doing hard, satisfying and very necessary work – and of course their whole job is about keeping things moving. It occurred to me, when watching it that this might explain something about the whole ‘maintaining traffic flow’ obsession – and that offensive remark by Daniels. Of course the people at the sharp end deserve nothing but praise, but I wonder if the senior management cling loyally to the same heroic fire-fighting mindset when actually, part of their job is to see a bigger picture.

    This certainly isn’t to excuse this attitude (an explanation of behaviour always seems to get mistaken for excusing it – absolutely not!) but TfL management are perhaps a tougher nut to crack than politicians for this reason? It’s hard to think about about these things without getting a bit depressed …

    • Mark Hewitt says:

      Because keeping motor traffic moving has been the mantra for at least the last 50 years. Now they’ve been confronted with modal shift and they don’t have any idea what to do about it.
      Quite honestly they will probably never change, in such circumstances a ‘new broom’ is the best thing.

      • zanf says:

        The best thing that could happen to TfL to change the culture there is to be prosecuted under corporate manslaughter laws for the deaths that occurred at Kings Cross and the Bow Roundabout as a direct result of TfL either instructing consultants to ignore pedestrian/cyclist KSI’s, or ignoring advice from consultants about how dangerous those junctions are.

        Sweep away all the old school management (preferably sack or jail them without any kind of pay off), bring in Dutch & Danish traffic consultants and make regular training visits/secondments to the Netherlands/Denmark traffic departments compulsory for all TfL engineers/management.

  6. I can’t understand how people like Leon Daniels can be so out of touch with reality, and so dismissive of people’s lives if those people happen to be using bicycles to travel around.

    Logically there can be no argument at all against re-allocating significant space from motor vehicles to people on bicycles (and on foot!) in our towns and cities. But politics and logic appear to be opposites.

    What is the political reason our civic leaders and planners are so intent on providing for people in motor vehicles over everyone else? Is the the huge influence of the motor industry? Is it merely that our leaders consider bicycles to be beneath them, and that they have to keep motor vehicles as a status symbol? Is it the influence of the press, who gain a large amount of funding from motor advertising?

    • Fred says:

      I don’t think that motor industry power is the main thing we need to worry about, public indifference is much more powerful. While I’m sure there are some situations where advertising revenues cause the emphasis to be shifted, it’s not like the papers keep quiet when a certain brand of car has faulty brakes etc.

      For specific individuals their loyalties and preferences might be much more substantially shifted, but for the press as a whole (or transport planners for that matter), unless the industry is actually paying their wages, I doubt it is a universal thing.

  7. Greg Collins says:

    London as a whole is reaching a tipping point, a tipping point which some locations in the city have already reached. so, now that there are more cyclists than motorised transport at peak commute time at key points it’s surely time to reprioritise who those roads are for.

    • Mark Hewitt says:

      @Greg, Exactly right, but there are many people and many people in high places that just can’t comprehend that roads might for anything other than cars!

      • Yeah, but what can *you* (or *me* or any of the other people here) actually *do* about it? (apart from getting talky on the intenet) If it needs a “new broom” what can we do to ensure one is bought? No, I don’t have good answers to these questions …

        • Greg Collins says:

          Join a local campaign group. If there isn’t one near you, start one, form a workplace BUG, get them campaigning. If you think LCC have the answers (I don’t) actively support them. Turn out to protest. Et cetera.

          Make your voice heard. No one raindrop thinks it caused the flood.

  8. Paul M says:

    I believe Daniels, and indeed TfL as a whole and the Mayor, are wilfully misinterpreting their obligations to “smooth traffic flow”.

    They do indeed have obligations to maintain traffic flow on their roads. These are set out in the Traffic Management Act 2004, at section 16(1):
    “16 The network management duty.
    (1) It is the duty of a local traffic authority to manage their road network with a view to achieving, so far as may be reasonably practicable having regard to their other obligations, policies and objectives, the following objectives— .
    (a)securing the expeditious movement of traffic on the authority’s road network; and .
    (b)facilitating the expeditious movement of traffic on road networks for which another authority is the traffic authority.”


    However, “traffic” is defined, in a way, in the interpretation section for this part of the Act:

    “31 Interpretation of Part 2.

    In this Part—

    “traffic” includes pedestrians;”


    OK, so it doesn’t mention bicycles, or indeed horses, dog-carts or any other form of non-motorised transport but the rules of legal construction make it clear that the term “traffic” includes them. TfL has a legal obligation to expedite traffic in general, whatever form it takes, and not one specific form of traffic. They are therefore failing in that legal obligation.

    On another point raised, why so little media coverage, I fear it is probably true that newspapers and independent television depend heavily on advertising revenue of whoich a significant proportion comes from the auto industry in one form or another (cars, parts, insurance, rentals, AA/RAC etc) and I recall some US statistics which indicate that the auto industry is by some distance the largest advertising spender. I can’t imagine it is much different here. Perhaps they are coswed into submission by their dependence on this money, but in that case, how can you explain away the fact that ITV London has featured the recent tragedies more sympathetically, and at greater length, than the BBC, which has no such concerns?

    • Greg Collins says:

      @paul My guess is the mehja luvvies at the BBC don’t ride bikes to work and most of them now work in Salfords anyway.

      Even if that isn’t true they will share the perception of the vast majority of the UK population that a) cycling is a hobby, for the weekend, not a form of vehicular transport, and b) a few deaths on the roads is simply a bit of collateral damage along the road to the economic success of UK plc which is, regrettably, largely dependent on motor transport.

    • Balls! You beat me to it!

  9. Ian says:

    Time for a ‘TfL kills’ t-shirt & sticker campaign?

  10. Nico (@nfanget) says:

    Anyone knows how Daniels makes his way to work? I wouldn’t be surprised, seeing his exalted position as “Head of something”, that he has a chauffeur or at least a company car. Although judging by his blog (http://leondaniels.blogspot.co.uk/), he seems to be very keen on buses, which would benefit greatly from reduce congestion brought about by increase cycling.

  11. Nobody seems to have picked this up yet, but in the last quote he says

    “we need to keep ordinary traffic moving as well”

    Quite clearly Leon Daniels thinks the minority of car drivers constitutes ‘ordinary’ traffic, but majority cyclists are an exception to be fitted in around the edges where possible.

    A crusty old mindset from someone who has lost touch with the reality of a situation and is in denial. He is committing the ‘everyone thinks like me’ or Psychologist’s fallacy

    He’s clearly a bus and car man, he uses buses and cars therefore surely everyone else does to, consequently we only need to provide for buses and cars because they are normal.

    • Mark Hewitt says:

      That’s the mindset that cars and buses are ‘ordinary’ and somehow bicycles aren’t. We need to get out of this.

      • Jitensha Oni says:

        When I commuted by bike to the City a couple of decades ago (since moved), my work colleagues thought I was a bit eccentric because of the distance – ca 20 km , though certainly not thought unkindly of, but they were equally adamant that one had to be totally bonkers to drive a private car in London during the week. It seems that bonkers now = ordinary.

        OTOH Daniels will have been well briefed by his legal team before saying anything and I’m not sure he had much choice but to say what he said, otherwise he’d be admitting some degree of corporate responsibility for the deaths. And they don’t want that do they? Could disturb the little world of firefighting emergencies that they have become so accustomed to (as shown by the Route Masters series). Accordingly they have to make statements that are, on the face of it, “ordinary”.

  12. pm says:

    The ludicrous use of the term ‘knee-jerk reaction’ to describe the desire for a response to an on-going problem that has existed continuously for decades, is a deeply depressing sign of the tendency of people in authority to speak in boiler-plate cliches – generally a sign that they are on auto-pilot and not giving any thought to a topic at hand – and of the media to accept it.

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  14. I’m a parish councillor where I live and when pointing out that by building safer routes and reducing speeds it would be good for the highstreet trade as many studies show that cyclists come in and spend regularly, being good for the local economy, I was greeted with disbelief. One Councillor said, “how do you do your shopping on a bike?” and the rest clearly couldn’t see my logic. I said, ” that week I bought £40 of stuff in Wilkinsons and cycled home with a kid on the back, the day after £30 in Waitrose then this week £50 in Sainsburys all on my bike with a kid on the back”. She said most people aren’t like me and they do a weekly shop with their car. She didn’t understand all the idea that a bike was good at carrying things.
    There is a generation mostly born between 1950 and 1970 who hold pivotal positions all over UK plc who cannot grasp the usefulness of a bike.
    My point is that we have all the new information we need out there that proves that Cycling is good all round. The people who matter at all levels of local government or places like TfL seem to be the types who aren’t employed for their thinking skills more that they keep things exactly the same.

  15. Cussy says:

    Hampton in Peterborough is a new development of 4,500 houses. The developers implemented a 20 mph speed limit throughout. As the City Council have adopted the roads they have made them 30 mph limits. Asked why, the Council’s Head of Service commented at a public meeting that “20 seems a little slow when you are driving around”. Driving around in his bloody great big 4×4 of course. Up the Workers!

  16. “If bicycles make up half the traffic, they should have half the road space.”

    More to the point, if you want a city which has cycles making up half the traffic, you’d better get busy with the roadspace redistribution and concomittent traffic restraint, in accordance with Boriswatch’s First Law.

    I assume from everything I’ve seen about Mr. Daniels that he doesn’t actually want a cycling city at all, but would be perfectly happy to be back in 1972. His other contribution to London’s transport infrastructure is to remove the high contrast yellow/black bus destination blinds in favour of white on black, which is harder to read but more Routemasterish and therefore better (they’re putting the white bus roundels back on the sides, too, but that at least doesn’t inconvenience or threaten anyone).

    This is genuinely the calibre of person TfL have put in charge of surface transport 13 years into the 21st century, and the apparent lack of realisation that real human beings have to actually use this stuff is telling across the piece. He needs to go, and soon, and new, younger blood needs to be transfused into the higher echelons of TfL or we’ll be back here in another two years with another 30 odd dead cyclists.

  17. Perhaps the LCC Space for Cycling needs to target his blog and those of other prominent TfL-ers and borough great and goods. Just thought I would think aloud???

  18. Rich W says:

    Fully agree with you Mark, keep blogging and keep on saying the right stuff – we cycling Londoners are fully supportive of your advocacy work. Old habits and attitudes take a long time to change, but they will eventually. 50 to 60 years of car-centric road designs, and a transport hierarchy which placed the bike at the very bottom of the pack, will take several years to reverse. This is a disappointing response from Leon Daniels.

  19. Peter Salter says:

    The media has bought the “war on the driver” line put out by driver groups whose aim is to abolish speed cameras & even not have mandatory speed limits. Drivers facing a ban through “totting-up” receive sympathy; they freely boast of driving at 80+mph; truly they should instead be heavily criticised for dangerous driving. This is the climate we have to endure when campaigning.

  20. Pingback: Greenwich and Charlton’s new cycle lanes – what do you think? | 853

  21. Schnauzer Minelli says:

    Yes of course it’s road design and old roads and what not, but I think you are making one very important point here:

    ‘If drivers or people on bikes make errors of judgement, the person on the bike will be seriously injured or killed.’

    THIS is exactly what we always need to bear in mind and it’s exactly what motorists don’t seem to understand. I don’t drive so can only imagine how confusing, chaotic and simply horrible it must be to drive in a city like London BUT as a motorist you should be aware that, if you are involved in an accident with a cyclist (or pedestrian for that matter), it is most likely the weaker party who will be (seriously) injured if not killed.

  22. Fern says:

    I love the Dutch, cycling is such an ordinary thing there, no helmets or Lycra needed and everyone rides a bike. I feel safer cycling than i do walking in Amsterdam.
    I think one of the problem we are having is that cycling is not big business like petroleum and vehicle manufacturing and we don’t have million pound slush funds for lobbying. But what we do have in London is an ever increasing number of cyclists and this sort of creates it own momentum in that cyclist get harder and harder to ignore and we are getting small victories.

  23. Left a comment on Leon Daniel’s blog along the lines of wasting money and effort on a vanity bus when TfL should be looking at cycling and it was strangely deleted by him!!!

  24. Pingback: Transport for London's Bus Operations: An Old Boys' Club...and a Safety Black Hole | Taxi News

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