Friday, 15 November 2013

Troll politics?

Cycling has seen a terrible few days in London with 5 deaths of people riding bicycles in London.

We should not forget that there have been more across the country, and pedestrians as well.

There has been plenty of gnashing of teeth and hand wringing in the media, and especially social media like Twitter along with plenty of speculation and suggestions of what TfL and Boris Johnson should do.

Remarkably, Boris Johnson has come out and and said on LBC
"There's no question of blame or finger-pointing.
"That doesn't work in these circumstances," he added.
"But unless people obey the laws of the road and people actively take account of the signals that we put in, there's no amount of traffic engineering that we invest in that is going to save people's lives."
Cue lots of shouts about victim blaming, and Boris being a bumbling buffoon.

I buy none of this and I, possibly very cynically, suspect that Boris is playing a grim game here.

Boris knows full well that the only way to provide safe space to people riding bikes in London, and to pedestrians also is to control, tame, and to take space away from motor vehicles.

Boris also knows that taking space like that will not be a vote winner amongst the people who do drive.

By shifting the blame onto the bicycle riders and suggesting that them not  obeying the law, plays into the hands of the large numbers of people who do actually believe that cycling and cyclists are dangerous and a menace. Just listen to interviews with some of the London bus drivers here, or (god forbid) read the comments on the Daily Mail, or the Telegraph.

Media like the BBC assist in this victim blaming as intevitably virtually all debates end up being about cyclists not paying tax, running red lights, not wearing hi-viz or helmets.

Boris being the remarkably astute polititian he is (he is no buffoon or fool) knows that by playing that card all the ignorant cyclist haters will not turn against him. Also by promising improvements to the cycling infrastructure, which seem to take forever, then he hopes that the bicycling public will also buy his spiel.

But Boris knows that creating safe space for bikes costs more than money, it will cost him votes and "love" from the driving public, many more than he thinks he'll get from the cycling public, and his ambition prevents him from making that bargain.

Cyclists and pedestrians need to put aside their minor petty differences, and start squaring up as a united front against the vehicle lobby and the polititians who prioritise vehicles over people.


  1. Is this really 'victim' blaming? He is (if your quote is correct) talking about 'people' not following signals and 'people' being killed, but not saying it's the same people. So his statements seem to be just as much saying that drivers should follow the 'signals' to avoid killing people as that cyclists and pedestrians should follow them to avoid being killed.
    Having said that, what he says is nonsense. As the Dutch example shows, EVEN IF you consider neglecting of signals the main cause of accidents, this doesn't mean traffic engineering cannot prevent them. Good traffic engineering encourages people to follow signals, makes it clear to them what to do even without explicit signals, and helps avoiding an accident happening even when people make an error.
    Another issue, one big cause of death among cyclists is getting left-hooked by lorries or other drivers that have not seen them. Which signals does Boris think are ignored in this case? The *clear* and *obvious* solution, in both these and similar cases, is to bring cyclist and other vehicle in such a location that the cyclists *will be* seen. And that, typically, is achieved by clever engineering.

  2. I suspect that Boris knows more than we do. He is too smart a politician to fall into obvious traps. Whilst his comments are unhelpful, annoying and infuriating, what if they have some truth?

  3. Boris is a lot more astute and crafty than most people give him credit for. The bumbling lovable buffoon is an act.

    I think he is trying to play both the cycling camp and the motoring lobby for as much as he can, but the cracks are starting to show through. Boris knows change is needed for cycling to be safe, but that will cost him votes and public support.

    The truth is that if he wanted to, he could instigate change. They did it for the Olympics, and they could do it again. Boris is going for a slow evolution of the transport network, where what is needed is revolution.

    The Boris arguement that cyclists are scofflaws and deserve what they get is a well trodden path for him, mainly as he is exactly the sort of cyclist he rails against.