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Controversy over mayor’s cycling death comments

Friday 15th November 2013

Boris Johnson has been accused of "gross insensitivity" and "dodging responsibility" after suggesting that the deaths of five cyclists on the streets of London over the past nine days underlined the need for cyclists to obey the laws of the road (Guardian).

The mayor of London also appeared to shrug off calls for an urgent, independent review of cycling safety in the capital, arguing that if cyclists did not follow the rules "there's no amount of traffic engineering that we invest in that is going to save people's lives".

Mr Johnson's remarks came hours after a man in his 30s became the 13th cyclist to die on London's streets this year after he was hit by a bus in east London.

Discussing the deaths in a radio interview on Thursday morning, Boris Johnson said that, while there could be "no question of blame or finger-pointing", cyclists had a duty to obey the laws of the road and heed signals.

"Some of the cases that we've seen in the last few days really make your heart bleed because you can see that people have taken decisions that really did put their lives in danger," he told Nick Ferrari on LBC 97.3.

"You cannot blame the victim in these circumstances. But what you can say is that when people make decisions on the road that are very risky – jumping red lights, cycling across fast-moving traffic to get to somewhere in a way that is completely unexpected by the motorist and without looking to see what traffic is doing – it's very difficult for the traffic engineers to second-guess that."

Transport for London said investigations into the incidents were still underway and that it was too early to say precisely what had happened.

The national cycling charity, the CTC, said the mayor was failing in his duty to cyclists and accused him of seeking scapegoats. "Boris Johnson's attempt to deflect blame on to cyclists is grossly insensitive after five fatalities in nine days," said Roger Geffen, CTC’s campaigns and policy director.

The string of recent deaths prompted the former Labour transport secretary Andrew Adonis to call for action. "The mayor should appoint a rapid independent review of superhighways after the horror of all these cyclist deaths in London," he said.

Click here to read the full Guardian report.

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David Midmer's attitude is bang on and road safety education needs to move away from the inevitability of a vulnerable road user becoming a victim and concentrate more on educating the faster, bigger, potentially more harmful, motorised road user on how not to be the culprit. The 'vulnerability in tiers' idea is a good starting point - if we're driving in the vicinity of an inattentive cyclist, we should remember that our vehicles can do more damage to him/her than they can to us, so as David says, even if we’re not doing anything ‘wrong’ ourselves, we should see it as our duty to prevent a potential accident happening by driving defensively.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (8) | Disagree (0)
+8

Bob, I agree with you but I regard vulnerability in tiers; 1) pedestrians, 2) cyclists, 3) motorcyclists, and then you can grade all the vehicles we sit inside according to their size and inbuilt safety features.

Mr Cowen, Rather than picking out one part of my original posting, if you read the whole of it you will see that I have clearly stated that we ALL must share responsibility. However, many of these cyclists and pedestrians are children. I feel honour bound to take care of them in particular while they’re too young to take responsibility for themselves. It seems your sense of duty and mine differ; I believe mine goes far beyond simply obeying the law.
David Midmer, Grade 6 ADI and Fleet Trainer

Agree (9) | Disagree (0)
+9

What a shame that, after all the furore and publicity, no-one from the national press is likely to be at the inquests into all these deaths to find out, and report, the FACTS of these tragic cases....
Keith Wheeler, Bucks

Agree (4) | Disagree (0)
+4

Sadly, it is because of driver attitudes like Stuart's that we have the problem in the first place. As drivers we should learn to assume ultimate responsibility for our actions when in the vicinity of the more vulnerable road users.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (9) | Disagree (1)
+8

"Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to drive defensively to protect them." No it's not, our only duty is to obey the law. Their duty is to protect themselves by doing the same!
Stuart Cowen, Scotland but drives all over the world

Agree (2) | Disagree (14)
-12

Thank you for that David. However I do still feel that if one is talking about the most vulnerable groups as regards road safety one has to include motorcycles, a cousin of the cycle and one that shares road space and certainly the same absolute dangers as opposed to one, pedestrians, that don't. Otherwise who will know that a problem with motorcyclists exists?
bob craven Lancs

Agree (3) | Disagree (1)
+2

Bob, if you'd been at the Remembrance yesterday you would know that I included - as I always do - motorcyclists. As an ex-biker with friends who have been seriously injured in motorbike collisions, I am more than aware of the problem. The omission on my previous posting was not intended to preclude an important group of road users but to concentrate on cylists (subject of the article) and the group most closely allied, pedestrians, neither of whom use powered vehicles or have any physical protection. Thank you for your observation. I hope this sets your mind at rest.
David Midmer, Wirral

Agree (8) | Disagree (0)
+8

David, would you please add motorcyclists to that at danger list, they seem to be left out of everything except on the KSI statistics.

They make up about a quarter of all killed on our roads and a great proportion of less serious accidents in the main involving other vehicles such as cars.

If someone like your goodself who obviously talks a great deal to others about road safety mentions the most vulnerable on our roads such as pedestrians and cyclists and forgets motorcycles you are doing a disservice to many twv riders.
bob craven Lancs

Agree (7) | Disagree (0)
+7

I was speaking yesterday at RoadPeace's World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims in Liverpool. As always, I made it clear that ALL road users must take their share of responsibility. Only by being honest can we bring change to make our roads safer. As a cyclist himself, Boris was telling the truth. However, as drivers protected by many safety features within our vehicles we present the gravest danger to the vulnerable pedestrians and cyclists who don't have that luxury. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to drive defensively to protect them - sometimes from themselves.
David MIdmer, RoadPeace Northwest, Grade 6 ADI and Fleet Trainer

Agree (12) | Disagree (2)
+10

I agree with the first two comments and with Boris Johnson - what he said might not have been PC but it was correct - which is surely what matters.

Driving only rarely in London now, I don't have relevant experience but can confirm that every comment of many I have received by email on this subject is to the same effect - that far too many cyclists are a danger to themselves and others. Pretending it does not hsppen will not help solve the problem.
Idris Francis Fight Back with Facts Petersfield

Agree (19) | Disagree (3)
+16

How can Mr Johnson's comments be considered controversial? It is taken as a given that drivers of motor vehicles are expected to obey the rules of the road. How is it insensitive to suggest that the same should apply to cyclists? To place onesself in danger and expect others to compensate is foolhardy.
TK Tyneside

Agree (26) | Disagree (2)
+24

Well said that man and what a man to stand up and say what a lot of people believe and have believed for some time. These are circumstances that were bound to happen. And I blame the cycling lobby for urging people to ride without proper training - there is none.

It may appear insensitive but if it is taken literally that riders are riding dangerously without regard to their and others safety then no amount of road engineering will work...... unless it is total segregation. Maybe his comments are not liked but hopefully those who do ride in London and other conurbations will take heed of his words, slow down and take in all the dangers that are there around them.

No knee jerk reaction is required, just understand the truth and then work with all the other interested parties until an answer is found. Educating cyclists on the Law of the land and of the dangers of cycling is two of them.

It's about time someone broke the spell and Boris is the right man for the job.
bob craven Lancs

Agree (25) | Disagree (5)
+20