Monday 19 August 2013

Gilligan Gets It Wrong

Andrew Gilligan wrote last week in the Evening Standard that, 'there's something about cycling that seem's to destroy people's sense of proportion'.

He then directly compared the fact that 6 cyclists have been killed already this year (i.e. in 8 months), with the fact that 9 pedestrians were seriously injured last year (i.e. in 12 months), and argued essentially that both were low figures. This juggling of the numbers by Gilligan is designed to do exactly what he excoriates others for: destroy your sense of proportion.

For a start, only one of these figures is an annual total, the other - the number of cyclists killed this year - could well rise significantly before the end of 2013. For another, the number of cyclists killed each year of London's roads is too low a figure to be statistically reliable (as Gilligan himself admits later in the article). Two far better statistics to compere would be these:

Number of pedestrians serious injured by cyclists in London in 2012: 9
Number of cyclists seriously injured by motorists in London in 2012: 657 (an 18% increase on the previous year)

These are far more proportionate figures to compare, and they tell a very different story to Gilligan's spin. They show that someone on a bike in London is more than 70 times more likely to be seriously injured by a motorist than to seriously injure a pedestrian. Now we can see clearly that those ranting about the dangers cycling possesses to pedestrians are indeed stark, raving mad. Those with a 'sense of proportion' are, like The London Cycling Campaign and The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, bravely seeking to address the very real, and often fatal, dangers that mixing motor traffic and cycling poses to those on bikes. Andrew Gilligan is trying to blind the public to this danger with mismatching figures, rather than face up to the reality, and enormity, of the challenge facing him as London's Cycling Commissioner as he attempts to reverse an 18% yearly increase in the number of those on bikes maimed by drivers in Britain's capital.


Postscript: Gilligan also repeats in this article what he had said elsewhere, namely that:
we can’t do what some in the cycling community want, and rush through in a few weeks the cycle changes we’re planning. Have no doubt, those changes will be major — and you’ll start seeing the first fruits in about two months — but they have to work for both cyclists and pedestrians, and if they’re not thought through, they mightn’t be safe for either.
Well, again, this is, to quote Gilligan's 'boss', baloney (or twaddle). There is are at least two changes that could be rushed through immediately and would categorically work for both cyclists and pedestrians:

  1. An immediate London-wide 20 MPH limit excluding certain major roads. And, this was even recommended by Boris Johnson's own Roads Task Force, back in July this year. Still being ignored by Gilligan though. That needs to change. 20 MPH limits are the norm in Amsterdam, Berlin, Zurich, Copenhagen, Paris, and Munich. They could very quickly become the norm in London too.
  2. The instant removal of motorised through-traffic from a huge number of residential streets by simple measures such as bollards or a gate placed at one end of the road. This is usually called 'filtered permeability' (i.e. the roads are permeable to those on foot or bike, but not to those trying to rat-run in cars) and is already being used by the councils of Hackney, Camden and Islington to make their streets both objectively and subjectively safe.

Andrew Gilligan is clearly working very hard to make cycling in London safer, but masking the extent of the problem by pretending cycle safety advocates lack 'a sense of proportion' is not going to make his job any easier.


  1. I once read a good article that explained that the only sensible measure of KSI (Killed or Seriously Injured) rates was per mile travelled. This is extremely relevant, as Gilligan states there are more motorcyclist and pedestrian deaths. We are not interested in absolute numbers, only relative numbers will do. If motorcyclists and pedestrians have more injuries or deaths per mile then fine, but I suspect that this is not the case. Gilligan is misusing statistics.

    1. I think the key fact here is that though the statistics show that those who are very scared of being hit as a pedestrian by someone on a bike are massively 'out of proportion', those who are scared of being run over while cycling by someone driving a lorry are completely rational in their very real concerns (as is showed by the figures).

    2. And thank you, of course, for commenting in the first place.

    3. And, I mean shown, not 'showed'!

  2. Might "per journey" be more useful than "per mile", to take into account the different average journey lengths of transport modes?

    1. Hi Michael-J,

      Thanks for commenting.

      I think that both per journey and per mile can be useful, depending on what you are comparing. What is important is the yearly totals of killed and/or seriously injured on a bike which are stubbornly high and still rising.

  3. "2. The instant removal of motorised through-traffic from a huge number of residential streets by simple measures such as bollards or a gate placed at one end of the road. This is usually called 'filtered permeability'..."

    It's not easy to design filtered-permeability schemes that maintain access and yet are fully effective in excluding cutting-through by motor traffic. Typically the design is done by ad hoc reasoning which is error-prone, long-winded and produces results that are not verifiable.

    I suppose apps that deploy a more effective method (heuristic search?) ought to be part of the highway engineers' toolkit, but I doubt that they exist. Project for someone?

    The existence of a good verifiable scheme would help to overcome the second difficulty - getting it through a consultation of local residents.

    George Coulouris

  4. Hi George Coulouris,

    Thanks for commenting. I agree with you that it is not always easy to design perfect 'filtered-permeability' schemes, but a few points closures on certain roads (especially in boroughs that are currently littered with one-way systems like Kensington and Chelsea, Lansdowne Road W11, for instance, could be closed halfway along it's length) could certainly be done immediately.