Boris Johnson on the Safety of Cycling in London: Complete Audio

Following a spate of deaths and serious injuries to London cyclists, there is a growing campaign to make London streets safer for cycling and walking. Under questioning from various members of the London Assembly including Caroline Pidgeon and Jenny Jones, it appears the Mayor thinks that things are fine as they are.

This is a complete audio record of Boris Johnson answering questions on cycle safety on 10 November 2011.

Mayor of London: Are London’s Streets Safe for Cyclists? by thebikeshow

  • Andrew Boff

    £10 for anyone who can spot me saying “I think London can never have cycle-friendly streets like Amsterdam, Berlin or Copenhagen”

  • Jack

    Andrew phoned me today to tell me he thought I had misrepresented his statements. I disagreed. But after a long and good conversation, I have slightly revised my comment below to ensure that any statement I have attributed to Andrew is presented verbatim and not in any way paraphrased. It should be clear where his statements end and my interpretation and reaction begins. I appreciate Andrew’s willingness to engage in open and honest debate with a humble broadcaster and look forward to hearing more from him on the radio show in future.

    Andrew, thanks for stopping by.

    You didn’t say those words but I take that to be the clear thrust of your comments. In your opening remarks you say you are “not asking for digging up the all roads and replacing them with in cycle lanes… because it’s just not practical to do that” (around 25 minutes in). Nobody, not even Jenny Jones, is asking for cycle lanes to be put on all the roads in London. In Amsterdam, Berlin and Copenhagen most residential side streets don’t have cycle lanes. But, unlike London, the major arterial roads and busy thoroughfares do have separated, protected cycle lanes.

    This is what sets you apart from the Mayor of Copenhagen, who I interviewed here, and asked what is the most important thing that can be done for cyclists in cities. He said, without hesitation, to take space away from car parking and give it to cyclists as protected, separated space where they don’t have to duck and dive among fast moving cars and heavy goods vehicles.

    If you visit Amsterdam, Berlin or Copenhagen you will find cities where the government has done exactly what you dismiss as not practical – they have dug up main roads and put in cycle lanes. This, more than anything else, is what distinguishes these cities as cycling cities, and sets them apart from London. Michael Bloomberg is emulating them by putting cycle lanes all over New York City. And they’ve done the same in Seville. But it seems to me that you’re saying London is different. It’s not practical to do that. It’s too expensive. I call that swimming against the tide of city governments who are inviting and encouraging cycling with real infrastructure, not token splashes of paint. City governments are discovering, one by one, the truth about good cycle infrastructure: build it and they will come. Sadly, in the UK, councils have been discovered the corresponding truth about crap cycle lanes: build them but they won’t come.

    In your comments, which I believe to be well intentioned, you say “it’s not so much the engineering works but the guidance for cyclists when they hit a junction” that is the problem and argue for giving cyclists “basic guidance for a recommended route”. You say cyclists need to ride with the assumption that everyone on the road is trying to kill them. Yes, ‘defensive cycling’ is important, as is ‘assertive cycling’, but I think London needs much more than paint and paranoia.

    No matter how much paint is thrown down or ‘guidance’ is offered, we will never see bicycling mums with kids following behind on the school run descending into the Euston Road underpass or going around the Elephant & Castle roundabout, no matter how many wits they have about them, to quote the Mayor’s memorable phrase.

    Specifically on junctions, you say “I’m not saying they’re dangerous, I’m saying they’re confusing”. I am saying they are dangerous and need to be made less dangerous. The design of most of the major junctions in London introduce an unacceptable level of conflict between different road users going in different directions and at different speeds. It is invariably the cyclist and the pedestrian that comes off worst in any collision. Cycling is not dangerous in and of itself. It becomes hazardous when cyclists are required to cross multiple lanes of motor traffic to make right turns, or are shoved into the gutter or railings by HGVs. Planners should always bear in mind who causing the harm to whom and be sure that roads are designed so that the first priority is to reduce road danger at source rather than maximising motor vehicle throughput, which appears to be Transport for London’s top priority.

    You ride a bike, I ride a bike, the Mayor rides a bike, Jenny Jones rides a bike. But if London is to become a cycling city like Amsterdam, Berlin or Copenhagen, then we are going to have to entice a whole swathe of people who currently don’t ride bikes to do so. This isn’t about persuading the weekend warriors to commute to work or the young fit folk who use the gym. Much more ambition is needed to if cycling is to be an everyday mode of transport used for at least a quarter of journeys, as it is in the big northern European cyclopolises, rather than fewer than 2 per cent of journeys, as it is now. Your statements on Thursday suggest to me that you don’t have the ambition and imagination necessary to bring the level of cycling in London up to the level of Amsterdam, Berlin or Copenhagen.

    Can I have my tenner?

    As for the ‘war’ about segregation versus integration, I think the London Cycling Campaign’s membership voting overwhelmingly for “Go Dutch” as the theme for the LCC’s 2012 mayoral election campaign shows us where London cyclists stand. Finally, while I’m not sure I understand what you mean by ‘notional cycle lanes’, your points on the future Heygate masterplan’s lack of through cycle lanes and Hackney Council’s work on filtered permeability are well made.

  • Andrew Boff

    never !

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