There’s been growing heat in recent months about London’s alleged cyclist “carnage” and calls for radical action by the authorities. It’s certainly hard to think of any policy area where official interventions have been so inept.
The vast majority of British cycle lanes are either totally pointless or actively dangerous. There also appears to be a rule that new cycle stands can only be erected in places where no-one wants to use them. TfL, custodian of Britain’s biggest cycling budget, somehow managed to blow £23 million of it on just the first two “cycle superhighways.” Blue paint is only £5 a can at B&Q, guys!
As a 100-mile a week London cyclist myself, I travel every day through places where TfL should do more. But “carnage” there is not. Here are the figures for cycling in London:
Year Deaths Serious injuries Bike trips* Rate**
2002 20 394 300 0.36
2003 19 421 320 0.36
2004 8 332 330 0.28
2005 21 351 390 0.25
2006 19 373 420 0.24
2007 15 446 420 0.29
2008 15 430 440 0.27
2009 13 420 470 0.24
2010 10 457 490 0.26
2011 16 Not available yet Not available yet
* Thousands per day. Source TfL Travel Report 2011, p63
** Serious injuries per 100,000 trips.
The source for the death and injury figures is TfL’s annual road safety reports.
Cycling in London has risen by at least 63 per cent since 2002, or by 150 per cent if you only count cycling flows on the main roads (the measure the Ken Livingstone regime used to use). In practice it will have risen by more than 63 per cent: it kept on growing strongly in 2011, but that figure hasn’t been reported yet. The number of deaths, however, is 20 per cent less than it was in 2002.
So I suppose that if I wanted to, I could claim that cycling is about 80 per cent safer than it was ten years ago. I wouldn’t, of course. It is statistically dodgy to compare two years in isolation. And the number of deaths, on which so much attention has been focused in recent months, is simply far too small to tell us anything about anything. Changes on such a low base are unreliable indicators of trends, because they are disproportionately influenced by random variables.
So to say that the deaths “went up by 60 per cent” last year, as various bloggers and journalists keep doing, is narrowly right – but broadly misleading.
The serious injury figure, however, is big enough to take trends from. Allowing for the rising number of trips, the trend is, as you can see, clearly down. I’m sorry if that doesn’t help the people trying to diss Boris Johnson, but there it is.