Cycling deaths...if you have a knee it is time to jerk it

Will McMahon
Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Sometimes the art of politics is being seen to do 'something'.  Following the death of the sixth cyclist in a fortnight on London’s roads the Mayor had to been seen to take action.  It is not quite the scenario where you might call the army on streets but the police will do.  So 2,500 London officers will spend a few days at traffic junctions flagging down HGV drivers and cyclists who are not following the rules of the road to offer safety advice.

This is a classic criminal justice response to a problem of social harm – and exactly the wrong response.  Inevitably, the police will appear, every cyclist will obey the red lights and HGV drivers will be on their guard, some tickets will be issued and a week later the business of getting to and from work or driving as work will get back to normal. No doubt officers will also clear up the odd misdemeanour totally unconnected to road use.

Unless the policy is to swamp the streets day in and day out with large numbers of police (something that is surely not desirable) this approach will not have the effect of reducing social harm but will have the effect of the Mayor being seen to have done something beyond having painted the pantone of Barclay’s Bank across London’s streets as a poor attempt at segregating cyclists from other traffic.

Nine of the 14 who died in London this year have been despatched by a HGV.  It may be my imagination but there seems to be a pretty clear cause and effect here. I write as someone who cycles 20 miles a day through many of the busiest roads in London to get to and from the CCJS offices in Vauxhall and I see on a daily basis acts of idiocy by cyclists, drivers and pedestrians but I cannot see why putting 2,500 police on the streets for a few days will have any meaningful impact. There is lots of room for cycling training as a response to red light crossing but you do not need the police for that.

Ashok Sinha the chief executive of the London Cycling Campaign argues that the police intervention is poorly thought out. He is being generous. It is nothing more than a media stunt. There is no good reason to have HGV’s on London’s streets mixing with cyclists of varying degrees of skill in the rush hour.  

Chris Boardman, Olympic cyclist gold medal winner, has argued that HGV’s should not have unrestricted access to the streets of London. He might be thinking of Paris, where HGVs can only deliver between 10pm and 7am and medium sized vehicles between 10am and 5pm. According to The Times today in central Paris in 2011 there were no cycling deaths.  There is no policing solution to this social harm – proper road segregation and restrictions on HGVs should more than do the job. 

For further reading, see Director Richard Garside's piece from 2011 which highlights road death figures for both cyclists and drivers.