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london cycling

This is written question from London Assembly Member Darren Johnson to the London Mayor Boris Johnson with the Mayor’s reply below.
I am pretty shocked by this, as London buses have direct vision cabs, which I had always considered much safer than traditional ‘high-cab’ lorries, as they do not have the same problems with seeing cyclists (or pedestrians) to their left front, and so had assumed that the bus / cyclist KSI numbers must be much better.  How wrong I was to make this assumption.  If these numbers are right, then there is something very, very wrong on London’s roads, especially given that we have always been presented the bus lane as the next best thing to a ‘proper’ segregated bike lane.
Tom Kearney has been making a fuss about what he considers negligent behaviour by London bus companies for some considerable time now.  I guess I should have been paying more attention.
Cyclists and buses
Question No: 2013/4666
Darren Johnson
Are you aware that since you became Mayor there are some years when the number of cyclists killed or suffering major injury per bus km travelled is greater than the number of killed or seriously injured per HGV km travelled? Given your direct control over how London buses perform, will you include reducing casualties as part of the bus contracts?
Written response from the Mayor
I am strongly committed to ensuring the safety of cyclists and other vulnerable roads users when sharing the road with London’s buses. I recently published my Road Safety Action Plan: Safe Streets for London. This sets an ambitious target of a 40 per cent reduction in killed and seriously injured (KSI) casualties by 2020. This covers all road traffic KSI casualties, including those involving buses and coaches.
 
TfL has an on-going programme of measures to reduce the number of collisions involving buses. This includes training and advice for bus drivers and cyclists, improvements to junction design and infrastructure, route risk assessments and a comprehensive incident reporting system.
 
London’s bus drivers are trained to consider the safety of cyclists through the bus driver BTEC module on cyclists and other vulnerable road users.  TfL and bus operators work together to increase drivers’ awareness of cyclists, how they use the road and their vulnerability, through such initiatives as the Big Red Book, the ‘Big Bus Little Bike’ DVD and Exchanging Places events at bus garages.
 
Bus route risk assessments are undertaken on every bus route and cycle initiatives, including new cycle infrastructure, are explained to bus operators to make sure they understand how to use them safely. Bi-annual audits are conducted to ensure the risk assessment process is thorough and relevant and all serious bus collision incidents are reviewed collaboratively with the MPS Collision Investigation Unit.
 
Furthermore, TfL will continue to examine collision statistics and police collision investigation reports to ensure measures are deployed where they can most effectively improve safety.

Calvin Simpson's name, painted on Stamford Street.This is the text of some words of mine that were broadcast on the Relatively Good Radio Show today on Resonance FM.

I didn’t know Mark Francis at all, really.  People said to me, yeah, yeah, you do, you know, the tall mixed race kid, he was always at the Duke of York on Clerkenwell Road on a Friday, with all the other couriers.  At the service, they projected pictures of him that people had brought along, pictures of him from his childhood, and there was a photo that had been taken a couple of months before, at a party that the London Bicycle Messenger Association had organised.  I recognised him, and thought, bastard, he still owes us £3!

He had come up us at the door, and said, can I come in, and see if I like it, and then come back and give you the dosh?  Of course he hadn’t come back. And he wasn’t going to be able to pay me now.

Sebastian Lukomski, I actually did know a bit.  He was a hard-working hard-partying Polish guy who had come to a big international courier event that I had helped organise, and, like Mark, used to hang out at the Duke of York. 

All the others, Joe Cooper, Judy Mihlenstedt, Calvin Simpson, Paul Ellis, Edward Newstead, Reidar “Danny” Farr, & Henry Warwick, all these bicycle couriers I didn’t know at all before.  I met Edward Newstead’s kids at one of the West End magistrates court, at the trial, which took place months afterwards.  After the verdict, they had questions that I couldn’t really answer.

I helped paint the names of all of these people on the road, in the road, as close as possible to the spot where the incidents happened, some of the names we painted 4 or 5 times.  It’s almost impossible to put into words how strange and unsettling it is to paint the name of a dead person you didn’t really know on a road in central London.

Yesterday, I rode my bike with Southwark Cyclists up from Peckham Rye to meet the Big Bike Ride, an event organised to publicise London Cycling’s Campaign push to get more Space For Cycling.  We stopped at Newington Butts, at the south end of the Elephant & Castle roundabout, a junction that Boris Johnson said was perfectly safe to cycle “as long as you keep your wits about you”.  The junction has been recently re-engineered.  The re-organisation was supposed to make what is more or less a dual-carriageway intersection safer for cyclists use.  

Fatima Manah & Cynthia BarlowWhen I arrived at the junction, I spotted a lady in a head-scarf, holding a bunch of lilies.  Then I noticed Cynthia Barlow, who was recently awarded an OBE for her work as Chair of Roadpeace, the charity that supports the families of road crash victims, standing next to her.  And my heart fell. Abdelkhalak Lahyani was killed last week whilst cycling through Newington Butts.  I was introduced to his widow, Fatima.

I am sick of meeting the families of people that I didn’t know, whose relatives were killed whilst cycling in London.  Mr Johnson, you said you wanted London to be the best city in the world to cycle in.  We need the right actions and infrastructure, not more words and paint.

More about the 9 London bicycle couriers known to have been killed whilst working.

Relatively Good Radio Show on Resonance FM, 18th May 2014, during which these words were broadcast.

ITV London News item about the incident, which features an appeal from Fatima for more to be done by TfL to safeguard cyclists.

Full text of Cynthia Barlow’s speech at the vigil on Southwark Cyclists web-site.

Memorial to Sebastian Lukomski, painted by London bicycle messengers

On 23rd Feb 2004, London bicycle messenger Sebastian Lukomski was run over at the junction of Lower Thames Street and Queen Street Place by a tipper lorry that was turning left into Queen Street Place from Lower Thames Street.  His death was, in my opinion, a watershed moment in London’s cycling politics.  It was one of the first London cycling fatalities to become a media event, thanks to 2 articles by journalist Graham Bowley, whose interest was sparked by the large crowd of London couriers who painted the road near the spot where Seb was killed.  Graham’s articles, published in the Financial Times weekend magazine and the Evening Standard, highlighted the dangers of construction lorries, and also an apparent lack of action by the Mayor’s office on the problem.

Ever since, cycling fatalities resulting from collisions with lorries have received much higher levels of attention from everyone than previously, when they received no attention whatsoever outside of the coroner’s court and the funeral of the deceased.  This attention has been translated by the London Cycling Campaign’s “space 4 cycling” campaign into political pressure for significant changes to the allocation of road space in London.  It has also led to considerable efforts by TfL, the LCC and others to reduce the specific dangers posed by lorries to people cycling in London.

However, as I have said elsewhere, even though progress has been made, there remains a great deal of potential hazard from lorries to people cycling in London, and nowhere is this more apparent than when examining the junction where Seb was killed.  In my opinion, it is one of the most dangerous junctions in central London because it is more or less a motorway, with very high volumes of through traffic, meeting a major cycling route, one of the Mayor’s Cycling Superhighways. Including Seb, 2 people have been killed by lorries whilst cycling in or near this junction in the last 10 years, and at least 2 more have been seriously injured.

After Seb’s death, an ASL was put in exactly the spot where Seb was run over, an extremely stupid change, in my opinion, given that the driver whose lorry ran over Seb would have seen Seb had he looked in his mirror.  The ASL and associated feeder lane encourages cyclists to come up on the left, and stop slightly in front of traffic, which is exactly where you do NOT want to be.

If you examine the pavement on the south east corner, you can see from the damage done by HGVs to the surface, which indicates the frequency and care with which left turns onto Southwark Bridge are made.  An ASL is not just inadequate in these circumstances, I would suggest that it is actually a hazard.

The junction has been reviewed and more changes have been proposed.  Those changes will do nothing, or very little, to lessen the dangers of the junction.  The ASL that I mentioned above is to be extended, for example.  I would suggest that without a 2 phase signal, which allows cyclists to move away a lot sooner than the rest of the traffic, the ASL, even extended, is overall negative for safety.

Andrew Gilligan said earlier this year that his message to planners was ‘do it adequately or don’t do it all’.  I would suggest that he, or someone from the Mayor’s office, needs to get involved in this review now before it goes any further.

There’s a lot more detail on Cyclist in the City blog, including diagrams, an itemisation and a link to allow responses to the consultation. Please do click through.

By Selim Korycki

A report from Transport for London's 'Safety and Sustainability Panel' on 'Cycle Safety' was published last week. In the backwards world of road traffic speak, the 'Safety' in the title actually refers to fatal danger from lorries (Heavy Goods Vehicles, also known as Large Goods Vehicle) to people cycling.

I would have missed it, had I not seen a tweet from Boriswatch: “next time Boris tries to pretend [London Assembly Member] Jenny Jones is just being silly about rates of cycling KSIs, that paper suggests TfL believe her.” This is a reference to claims that Jenny Jones made last year that the risk of injury & death whilst cycling in London had gone up under Mayor Boris Johnson's tenure. These claims were disputed by the Mayor at the time.

I would recommend that every London MP is sent a copy, or is emailed link to the report. There isn't a lot in it that is new in terms of numbers collated or trends identified, but the report is an excellent primer for anyone that isn't familiar with the topic. I don't want to reproduce too much here, as the report is relatively short, and can be read in a few minutes, unlike more technical reports.

I tweeted a couple of the salient statistics, HGV making up 6% of traffic during the morning peak, and 5% during the rest of the day, yet were involved in 53% of cycle fatalities between 2008 & 2012. These numbers won't surprise anyone who has even a passing acquaintance with the statistics on cycling fatalities in London. HGVs were identified as the number one danger to London's cyclists nearly 20 years ago, in a British Medical Journal report that I have been linking to for at least 8 years.

Also not new is the identification in the report of lorries working for builders, mainly skip or tipper lorries, being more likely than other lorries to kill cyclists. 7 out of 9 fatalities in 2011, where the collision was between a large goods vehicle and a cyclist, involved a construction lorry. In 2004 the HGV working group set up by the Mayor of London's office identified construction lorries as over-represented in cyclist fatalities.

What is new is language like this:

This research identified a systemic failing in road safety cultures within the construction sector, a lack of ownership of road risk throughout the supply chain and an imbalance between work place safety and road safety.

This is pretty strong language for an official report. There is a list of some things that need to be done, and in what looks very much like a 'to do' list for the Mayor & TfL the report suggests that

urgent attention is given to: greater enforcement of operator, vehicle and driver non-compliance of existing regulations;

I was a little bit disappointed to find that a conditional ban on HGVs was way down the same list at 'g' or 7. At least it's on the list for urgent attention. On the other hand, I take the fact that enforcement is right at the top of the list as an indication that, as I have said before, the construction hauliers do not regard compliance with regulations as anything like as important as they should do. The rules & regulations, after all, are there to keep road haulage operations safe for other road users like children, old people, people cycling, people walking, as well as people driving other motor vehicles.

I understand the pressures that the hauliers are under. I have worked in the transport sector most of my adult life. I know the margins are low, that there is constant pressure from customers to shave time & money, and that everywhere you turn someone is trying to fine you for something or other. However, Operation Mermaid, which is run by the Vehicle Operator Services Agency and police forces all over the U.K. and is virtually a random road-side MOT for HGVs, routinely show contravention rates of over 50%, which shows that there are a lot of illegal lorries out on the road.

I have some sympathy with the drivers. I am sure, as The Lorry Lawyer says, that no driver sets out to kill someone. However, the hauliers keep droning on about how professional they are, and blaming cyclists for not being sufficiently trained, or not wearing helmets etc etc.

(For an example of how the haulage industry thinks about it, have a look at the survey that was commissioned by Commercial Motor from ComRes on 'cycle safety' – do have a look at ComRes' numbers as well. The slant of the questions, offering cycle helmets, training etc as options for clearly indicates to me that the haulage industry thinks it can evade increased regulation & enforcement by blaming cyclist behaviour for the fatalities.)

The evidence from Operation Mermaid, which has been going on for years and years, suggests that hauliers routinely send out onto the roads vehicles which are not compliant with current legislation. Is this pattern of behaviour, of sending out poorly managed heavy machinery to interact with the public, consistent with claims of professionalism? Obviously, I don't think so. I would suggest that, along with greater levels of enforcement, a strategy of making the hauliers employers take responsibility for their contractor's safety record has been shown to be fruitful, taking as an example the Olympic site in east London, during the construction of which the danger from the lorries going to and from the site was taken very seriously by the builders.

At the end of the report there is a section on the Construction Logistics and Cycle Safety Project. The principle aim appears to be to get the construction industry to accept that the high cab tipper lorry is not fit to be driven around London, and to buy a design of tipper lorry which doesn't have any blind-spots at the front, rather like a conventional bus or a modern design of refuse lorry. Yes, we know it will be expensive to replace the current fleet of tipper lorries. It will be very, very expensive.

But how much does it cost when someone is killed or seriously injured by a lorry whilst cycling? I don't know, I'd be interested to see some estimates, but I bet it's a lot more than the cost of a new tipper lorry.

In closing, I don't want to overplay the dangers of riding a bike in London. If you cycle regularly, even in London, all the evidence that you will live longer than someone who does not cycle, even if you don't wear a helmet, hi-visibility clothing, and you sport high-heels and use a set of noise-cancelling head-phones playing Public Enemy's back catalogue. Cycling in London can be unpleasant, very occasionally wet & cold, but fatal & serious injuries are rare.

 

British Cycling have been annoying me for the last couple of months. First, they invented a new version of the empty phrase cycle-friendly or (apologies to the guys at the Times, who have done great work) cycle-safe. The BC approved version is 'cycle-proofing'. It's supposed to mean making roads safe for cyclists to use.

Using a non-specific suffix such as -friendly or -proofing generally doesn't signify anything apart from good intentions. Sometimes, as in the case of Google Maps beta bicycle thing, it can be seriously misleading, as Gmaps appear to be using the prescence of a marked bike or bus lane as an indication that the road in question is suitable for cyclists, meaning that Upper and Lower Thames Street were designated cycle-friendly. Likewise, I think cycle-proofing sounds like bike-wash, the cycle advocacy equivalent of green-wash. You see? It's so easy to make up meaningless but interesting-sounding labels.

I don't understand why British Cycling doesn't call a spade a spade and say exactly what it means. If BC is in favour of protected bicycle lanes, 2 phase traffic lights at junctions and so forth why not say exactly that? Surely BC doesn't think that Advanced Stop Lines and other painted surfaces are anything except an awkward and unsafe halfway house? Why not use a widely accepted shorthand that encapsulates the whole protected lane, re-engineered junction package like 'Go Dutch' or 'Space For Cycling'? Why reinvent the wheel, thus muddying the advocacy waters? Suspicious and cynical cyclists like myself might be tempted to see this as a turf grab by BC, keen to expand into new areas now that the Olympic tap is no longer spouting money with the same force as before.

Then I read BC's 2 year old report on the cycling economy: 'Gross Cycling Product', trumpeted by BC as the first attempt to quantify the contribution of cycling to the wealth of the nation. Guess what? Deliveries by bicycle (or tricycle) feature absolutely nowhere. It's as if the writers of the report have never been to central London, or, indeed, any major city anywhere in the world. I'm not going to suggest that couriers and other bicycle delivery people are a huge source of income for the national purse, but I would suggest that they are far from insignificant. I shouldn't take this oversight personally, but hey, I used to be a bicycle courier, so I do.

And there's helmets. Here's what British Cycling has to say (taken from the page 'Safety Points' on the BC website):

British Cycling asserts that the wearing of a correctly fitted hard shell helmet conforming to a recognised safety standard is recommended for all of its non-competitive events. British Cycling also strongly recommends the use of such a helmet whilst cycling at all other times, whilst recognising the right of each individual to choose whether or not to accept this recommendation.

Helmets are the subject of much debate, most of which is anecdotal (i.e. highly subjective and virtually impossible to verify – “my helmet saved my life”), and lot of which is emotional (e.g. the recent appeal by the father of Ryan Smith, a teenager left in a coma after a collision). I don't want to get into it too much. I said more or less what I think about helmets over here, and as a recent edition of More Or Less pointed out, not enough research has been done. However, there is good evidence that in jurisdictions where helmet use is compulsory that cycling rates have fallen after compulsion. It is also the case that use or non-use of a helmet is increasingly becoming a modifier used in legal proceedings to determine 'contributory negligence' by the cyclist, even in cases where the cyclist bore no responsibility for the collision that caused the injuries suffered by the cyclists.

We have all enjoyed the interventions of Bradley Wiggins & Laura Trott in this area, but it's worth pointing out that both Wiggins & Trott are very much the creations of British Cycling, have been nurtured and developed by structures put into place by British Cycling and the downside of enjoying the glorification reflected from their respective medals is having to accept responsibility for the stupid things that they say, especially when what they said was only a paraphrase of British Cycling policy.

Lastly, there's Eastway. It's long enough since the Eastway Cycle Circuit was bulldozed that a lot of Londoners will associate Eastway with a miserable road running across Hackney Marshes, through one of the most hostile and confusing road junctions in all of London, scene of the death of a cyclist during the Olympics, run over by an Olympic bus. But for older sporting London cyclists Eastway means a green oasis of cycle sport, built in the 1970s, and used pretty much 7 days a week through the summer for road-racing, mountain-biking (Eastway was the original venue for the Beastway races), time-trialling, BMX and cyclo-cross.

Eastway Cycle Circuit was sacrificed by British Cycling on the Olympic altar, depriving London cycling of its best equipped venue for nearly 10 years. The organisation of the replacement facility, Hog Hill, was less than stream-lined, but hey, it was all worth it because we (London's sporting cyclists) are getting back a world-class sporting facility blah blah blah. I won't be the first to point out that cycling is getting back a lot less land than was taken away. Ok, there's a velodrome there as well, ok, ok. But the size of the site is much, much smaller.

But how are we going to get to the Velopark, or whatever it's called? This is something that doesn't seem to have been considered very much, or at all, by British Cycling. Maybe they just assumed that people would do what they do when going to bike races elsewhere in the country, that is put their bikes and their kit in or on their car and drive.

We have heard so much about the attention to detail of British Cycling, the 'marginal gains'. BC was apparently consulted about the velodrome at every step of the design and construction. To give one well-reported instance, there had been modifications to the design of the entrances to the velodrome to keep the ambient air temperature inside the building as warm as possible to facilitate quick times. Chris Hoy purred when the velodrome was presented to the public.

I first started using Eastway Cycle Circuit before the M11 link road was built. I rode from Hackney. At that time, Eastway, the road that I used to access the cycle circuit, was pretty busy, and the right turn across 3 lanes of traffic was… well, it was a right turn across 3 lanes of fast moving traffic, albeit at a signalled junction. Not something to look forward to, but not something I couldn't handle, what with being able to ride reasonably quick and also a 'professional' road-user.

Since then, the link road has been built, which has added a motorway intersection into the mix. This ramped up the speeds, and made the westbound turn off Eastway towards Hackney even more fun than it had been before. The Olympic Park has added an extra dimension of confusion to the road layout, which undoubtedly contributed to the death of Dan Harris. If I, an experienced cyclist who has been riding in London since the age of 2, gets confused by the road layout around the Velopark (or whatever it is called), what must it be like for less experienced cyclists?

I don't use the A13 for anything really, so I can't really comment on how dangerous, relatively, the Eastway / A12 (M) / Olympic Park / Westfield interchange is compared to the notorious Barking interchange, or what the KSI numbers are. But I will say that it was pretty inappropriate for cycling before the M11 was built, and has only got worse and worse since. It has always been a road that I rode along as quickly as possible to minimise my exposure to the conditions.

I asked British Cycling if they had any input at all into the roads around the Velopark. This is their reply:

As far as I know, we didn't have any input into the route but we have heard the criticisms. My colleague in the Campaigns team has suggested that you contact the London Cycling Campaign on this. Hope this is helpful.

In other words, they didn't raise the issue of whether people would cycle to the Velodrome, and how safe it might be for them to do that. This doesn't surprise me, as I have always found cycle sport to be a pastime for people with cars.

I don't want to labour the point, but BC is trying to get more kids into cycling. The Velopark is virtually in Hackney. Hackney has very, very low rates of car ownership. It therefore follows that Hackney kids, if they aren't going to get the bus or walk, aren't going to get driven, so are likely to cycle to the Velopark. Honestly, I wouldn't want anyone's kids to have to negotiate the roads around the Velopark.

At the Hackney Cycling Conference Andrew Gilligan said, in reference to the Mayor's (and TfL's) support of sporting cycling events, something like: I view the relationship of events like the Tour de France to everyday cycling as similar to the relationship of the Bluebell Railway to Eurostar. (Apologies to Mr Gilligan if I have mangled his metaphor). British Cycling's flagship facility in London is the Velopark. As it is, the Velopark could not be more isolated from the attempts of other interested parties (councils, TfL, the Mayor's Office, London Cycling Campaign etc etc) to build mass cycling in London. The Velopark is therefore the perfect illustration of the truth of Mr Gilligan's aphorism.

If British Cycling wants a suggestion from a former member, former user of Eastway, London cyclist, I would shut up about 'cycle-proofing', get a grip on your athletes and stop them from blurting out nonsense, and do something to sort out safe routes for cyclists around the Velopark.

 

British cycling lore says that the cycling powers that be decreed many years ago that no cycling club was allowed to call itself 'London', which is presumably explains the name of Herne Hill's residents, Velo Club de Londres, it not actually being called 'London'.

I dislike people appointing themselves the mouthpiece of an entire demographic, and was never really keen on the name of the London Cyclist website, as it seemed a bit of a conceit, especially when the London Cycling Campaign, who could justifiably claim to speak for London's cyclists, what with them being a more or less democratic membership organisation, have a magazine called 'London Cyclist'. Which is not to say that there isn't some great content on London Cyclist (as well as in the magazine – see what I mean? It is confusing.)

Mark Ames' blog, ibikelondon, seems to me altogether far more modest, and more accurate. Mark does bike London, after all.

So I cringed a bit when I saw that there was a tweeter called 'Hackney Cyclist'. And cringed a bit more when I realised there was a blog too. Once again, there is actually a more or less democratic membership group, affiliated to the London Cycling Campaign, called 'Hackney Cyclists'. Their Annual General Meeting is this Wednesday 2nd October, and features a talk from one of the men that the kerb nerds love to pick fight with, Carlton Reid. Carlton will be presenting his book 'Roads Were Not Built For Cars'.

And on the blog is an example of Hackney-bashing, which is currently much in fashion in kerb nerd circles.

Entitled 'Why Are Hackney's Segregated Cycle Lanes Being Removed?', it features a large picture of the old segregated lane which ran down the side of Goldsmith's Row. Anyone who regularly cycles down Goldsmith's Row could have told the author why the lane was taken out. It went past 2 heavily used entrances to Haggerston Park, and the entrance to Hackney City Farm, which is right after a bend. This caused numerous cyclist pedestrian conflicts, and the section by Hackney City Farm was actually, in my opinion, dangerous. It also had a ridiculous S at the top where it exited onto to the road, of the type that would be more appropriate for a motorway intersection, and thus was inconvenient. I always ended up cursing when I used it.

Goldsmith's Row was used as a rat-run by motorists, and in line with Hackney's policy of reducing rat-running, the road was closed at the junction with Hackney Road.

So in sum, the reasons why this cycle lane was removed are:

1. it wasn't a very safe lane in the first place, despite the author describing it as the best cycle lane in the borough.

2. cars don't go up or down the road anymore, so a segregated lane is redundant.

The writer also fails to mention that the section of segregated cycle lane running from the junction of Goldsmith's Row and Hackney Road to the bike lights that allow safe crossing to the top of Columbia Road hasn't been removed.

Hackney does need to do more to encourage cycling, in my opinion, and I think the targets that Hackney has set itself are too low. A cycling modal share of 15% by 2030 is easily achievable. However, if you are going to try and criticise Hackney's cycling policies, I recommend that you don't use Goldsmith's Row as a starting point.

I was also amazed to see the following in the comments (I know you can find pretty crazy stuff in the comments sections of a certain sort of blog but still!):

Frankly, I would like to see the Hackney Branch of the LCC expelled from the LCC.

I don't know who the commenter or the blogger are, but I do hope that the blogger, if not the commenter, come along to the AGM or any of the monthly meetings, and gets involved. I know that Trevor would welcome more input from Hackney's cyclists.

 

I started blogging here about a year ago, and one of the first posts was about the Paris 0 deaths stat.  This stat has turned out to be what Tim Harford and the More or Less production team call a ‘zombie statistic’, a number whose significance is either false, or grossly misinterpreted, but keeps coming rising from the dead, metaphorical hands outstretched to grasp reality and pull it back down into the miasma of half-truth and phoney assertions.  My friend, colleague and fellow Moving Target contributer, Jon Day used it in a blog on the LRB site in July just past.

Anyway, in a guest post, I asked Kieron Yates, possibly the original source of the offending statistic, and former Paris resident, to clarify.

He writes:

About eighteen months ago I was living in Paris and tweeted that there had been no cycle deaths in the city during the year 2011. It was a tweet that was picked up and retweeted by various London cycling campaigners and used to highlight how much it is possible to reduce urban cycling casualties. A 140 character tweet, however, does not provide much space for context. Since I was happy at the time to see the figure being used to take to task the willingness of politicians to make serious changes to transport infrastructure, I let the matter lie.

I later did a piece with Jack Thurston on The Bike Show about cycling in Paris and this statistic came up again. I was able to clarify that, although the statistic is correct, it is not a simple case of comparing like with like. Most importantly, the figure of zero deaths in 2011 relates solely to the Ville de Paris, which is the inner heart of Paris. It is the area enclosed by the city’s périphérique ring road: an area slightly smaller than that covered by London Transport’s zones one and two. Recent statistics for the Ville de Paris show that the highest number of cycling fatalities was in 2009, when six cyclists died, a figure which possibly points to cycling in Paris being no safer than in central London. Typically, however the numbers are lower and average out at four cycling deaths a year. If one wants to draw wider comparisons between Paris and London with regard to cycle safety it is worth looking at accident statistics for the greater Paris area. The Ile de France is a largely urban agglomeration with a population larger than Greater London and occupying a larger area (12,012k m² compared to 1572 km²), here the number of cycling fatalities for 2011 and 2012 were 10 and 17 respectively.

*****

Some campaigners used the zero deaths statistic to highlight the importance of investment in infrastructure. It is true that the Ville de Paris has invested and continues to invest in cycling infrastructure but I personally do not believe that it possesses much that is greatly superior to what is available in London. There are segregated lanes in some places for the use of cycles, buses and taxis but they are not widespread and it is more usual to see streets with no segregation or a simple painted cycle lane. To me it seemed as though the best infrastructure was most visible in the places tourists tended to visit: around the Marais and the first arrondissement, Montmartre and eighteenth arrondissement. Elsewhere cycling infrastructure is often lot worse: I regularly left the city via the roundabout at the end of Avenue Foch in the sixteenth where, as with many other big intersections in Paris, traffic arrived unpredictably from every angle showing little consideration to the presence of cyclists.

When I was pushed to think of a reason for the French statistics the major difference that came to my mind was the relative invisibility of large goods vehicles on the streets of Paris during daylight hours.

HGV’s haven’t been banned from the Ville de Paris, there are however rules on when HGV’s can enter Paris. If a lorry has a surface area greater than 43m² it can’t enter Paris at all. If a vehicle is between 43m² and 29m² it can enter the city between 10pm and 7am. If it is less than 29m² entry is restricted to between 10pm and 5pm, in other words only excluded between 5pm and 10pm. Vehicles below 29m² using clean fuels have no restrictions as do car transporters which are generally very busy restocking car hire businesses.

As an example of how this may work in London, I used to work at Waitrose in Marylebone High Street and their deliveries would, due to the size of the loading bay, have been on lorries less 29m². So, under the Paris regime, this branch of Waitrose would have been able to receive deliveries between 10 pm and 5 pm. Investment in cleaner LPG lorries would mean that this particular supermarket would have been able to re-stock at anytime of day or night. Current London road freight regulations mean that these vehicles can only deliver between 7am and 9pm, the period when London roads are most congested.

My experience was that due to the unpredictability of traffic entering London, lorries would frequently arrive at the branch before 7am and wait outside the store with engine running to maintain refrigeration. This would disturb residents who lived in the flats above. The alternatives were to get the lorry onto the loading bay, which could be equally noisy, or make it wait on Marylebone Road. In Paris hauliers and larger storeowners have addressed the problem of noise pollution by introducing quieter refrigeration for delivery vehicles and by making night-time deliveries quieter in general. The investment is worthwhile as it is to their advantage to make deliveries at the least congested time of day. The Ville de Paris itself has entered into the spirit of quieter deliveries and collections by replacing its fleet of dustbin wagons with newer models running on liquid petroleum gas; these lorries also have a new lower cab design, easing access for operatives and improving all round visibility.

One factor that makes this change in delivery handling possible is the huge difference in retail, particularly food retail, in Paris and London. Parisian supermarkets are generally smaller than their British counterparts: equivalent in size to the convenience stores of the big UK supermarkets. Where I lived in the west of Paris I had at least five supermarkets and four street markets within a kilometre of home. I’m now living in Lewisham and have two large supermarkets and one street market within a kilometre. Generally in London it is the consumer who pays in time for the final part of the journey from supermarket to the kitchen.

Further cultural difference between the two cities is seen in the construction industry. Within the Ville de Paris building regulations are very strict. Most buildings get re-fitted and re-purposed rather than bulldozed and redeveloped. During my time in Paris at the end of the street where we lived there was a large apartment block. This block was converted into office space over a period of 18 months. I only saw large delivery vehicles in the early mornings.

Small flat bed trucks, the kind local councils in the UK use for collecting old fridges and mattresses, removed most waste material. If I did see skip lorries around the site, the driver was always accompanied by a banksman whilst maneuvering on the public streets and the lorries themselves bore the logo and certification of Bureau Veritas an independent auditor of standards and compliance.

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Paris has been working on a reduction in use of large goods vehicles since 2006 with the aim of cutting pollution. Aside from the changes mentioned above other innovations include the use of electric tri-porteurs to transport small deliveries. Indeed one company has gone as far as arranging collections by barge from a depot on the outskirts of Paris, sorting deliveries on the barge as it makes its way to the centre of the city and then using tri-porteurs to deliver over the final kilometre. Elsewhere specially adapted tram carriages have been used for making deliveries overnight along the length of the newly developed tram system in eastern Paris.

It is hard to make direct comparisons between London and Paris when it comes to cycling fatalities. A common sense part of me wants to believe that by ridding its streets, at peak commuting hours, of what have been identified as the most hazardous vehicles to cyclists, Paris has to a degree reduced its level of cyclist fatalities. The true picture is less clear however and cycle fatalities as a consequence of poor HGV maneuvering still occur.  What is clear to me is that with vision and commitment it is possible to successfully alter the way our cities are serviced. The benefits of this change in Paris are a sustainable future, which makes full use of a city’s wider infrastructure allowing it to grow whilst retaining its unique character. If these changes introduced to cut pollution have resulted in fewer cycling fatalities then that has to be welcomed. For me what was most noticeable in the City of Light was how much more of the roads and space around them was visible in the relative absence of large goods vehicles.