Cyclist deaths and casualties in London – the facts

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.

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