Boris & the Blame Game

Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, has been criticised for what he said in a radio interview following the deaths of several cyclists in road accidents in London (six have been killed in November). He has widely been accused of victim-blaming and insulting the dead after suggesting – in the interview – that cyclists have a duty to obey the laws of the road and heed signals. Sickeningly insensitive is what CTC's Campaigns Director Roger Geffen called it and in last Friday's CycleClips CTC newsletter was a piece titled 'Boris Blamed' with an invitation to write a letter to Johnson demanding him to 'end the disproportionate threat that lorries have posed to cyclists and pedestrians in the capital for years.' It is worth listening to the whole interview, I think.

Boris Johnson doesn't blame anyone. It is too soon for that, until the facts are established in each of the six accidents. No-one has yet been arrested. So what should he say?

He mentions ongoing investment in education – how to use the roads – and the need to look again at roundabouts and other places where cyclists feel especially vulnerable. Much of this is aimed at increasing the confidence of cyclists using the roads of the capital; the paradox is that increased confidence may be a factor in the tendency of some cyclists to forget the 'laws of the road'. In some of these cases 'the heart bleeds.' He probably means it. Johnson's comments seem generalised and reasonable to me. If anything it is the interviewer Nick Ferrari who raises the subject of red-light-jumping, the 'inherent dangers' of cycling and the need to 'cycle with care' then goes on to ask whether 'the cyclists were culpable in the recent deaths'. Boris: "We can't say that," then says truck drivers are perhaps not to blame either.

He concludes by saying that cyclists, motorists and pedestrians must think about each other. So true. I have always believed the attitude and behaviour of people towards others, in this case fellow travellers and road users, is the way to a better society, not more regulation. No British politician has done more to raise the profile of cycling in recent years than Boris Johnson, and it's a pity the CTC – supposedly the national cycling charity – feels the need to behave like every other pressure group, Tweeting and Facebooking every bandwagon going.

5 comments on “Boris & the Blame Game”

  1. MJ Ray wrote:

    Well, yes, it's generalised and reasonable motherhood and apple pie things that few will actually disagree with, but why not robustly reject the topics that were raised? They were probably irrelevant to the recent deaths, but the likes of Nick Ferrari keep raising them instead of tackling the elephants/tipper-trucks in the room – and Boris is happy to play along, focusing on the riders rather than the big businesses.

  2. Patrick wrote:

    London bus drivers are very skilled at cuttings things fine. Cyclists are close to the sides or ends when the bus is going full pelt. In the jumble of movement, who is passing who is often hard to tell; humans being what they are, occasional accidents seem inevitable.

    Chris Boardman (the voice of reason) was interviewed on the radio this morning and his stance was that Londoners – not just cyclists – need to decide what kind of place they want.

  3. Dan wrote:

    Another case of the media creating the story, rather than reporting on it. I have no problem with anything Boris says in this – in fact, despite his reputation for occasional bluster and buffoonery, he steers an admirable course despite Nick's attempts to steer him towards unhelpful pronouncements and future soundbites. Nick Ferrari, like too many of our media players, have set an agenda here and are actually more interested in creating a sensation by forcing their victims into a corner and into making responses which can too easily be taken out of context, than they are in actually helping make London safer. I'm not going to suggest that cycling in London is safe – people are knocked over, and off bikes, in London every day; neither that cyclists are always guilt-free. However there are risks involved in EVERY activity in life, and there are many more risky activities than cycling in London – I am happy to cycle in London and elsewhere because I am aware of those risks, and accept and minimise them. Boris should not be lambasted for claiming that efforts by TfL have made cycling in London safer, just because there has been a glut of tragedies – each one death too many, admittedly. Neither should he be attacked for suggesting that cyclists should obey the law – as should all road users. Nick is trying to get him to point a finger to create sensationalism, and that is irresponsible journalism.

  4. kyt wrote:

    Where I come from, we had a road that was mandated for bikes and buses only. On another road, we build paths with concrete barriers on the car side, to prevent bikers from being injured. The bikers then took their lives in their own hands if they biked, instead of walked the bike, across the street as turning cars, often didn't look, but instead just turned.

    So, what happened? Bikers used the more dangerous roads (as they were bike couriers and had no choice). The safest bike path was largely ignored and was unused. Some bikers biked chaoticly in and out of traffic in a zany, suicidal fashion. Most bikers, biked with intelligence. Some car drivers drove insanely close to the bikers, and turned right in front of them. Others blew their horns in anger. The truck drivers, mostly tried to give us space and see us. Some drivers had state of the art mirrors that allow them to see in almost all of their blind spots. Even so, both bikers and walkers have been killed by drivers.

    The talk moved to getting rid of the bike only paths as they weren't preventing deaths and no one was really using them. Apparently one council member envisioned lots bikes on the path, like you see in some Asian cities. One argument was mentioned that if we make things too safe and idiot proof, people will just be more careless and stop thinking – pointing to how bikers really have to watch out for cars as that was ultimately the only way for the biker to really truly be safe.

    The real problem was that you'll always have at least one driver who thinks the other type of transportation does not belong on "their" road. It matters not if that driver is a biker or in a car, even though its usually the car driver with such foolish beliefs. This problem stems from beliefs of entitlement. We are entitled to having it "our" way.

    The Solution: Two things...
    1. Why not require ALL people, in order to get their driver's license, perform 100 hours of community service where by those with ambulatory issues or developmental delay disorder are helped? Why? If they work in the area of "transportation" and "movement", maybe they will learn to be thankful with the fact they can drive a car?

    2. I'd also require them to take 5 bike tours of London (or other major city with bike/car issues) with a guide so that they can learn how hellish it can be to ride on a bike on British roads. These tours should be during the busy time of days, in order to get the greatest effect.

    The whole point of these "requirements" is to try and teach people to what it is like to walk in someone else's shoes. In this way, I can only hope, they will start treating others differently, and better.

    I'm bookmarking you, as I hope to get to England to live permanently someday. It just requires me to be financially more self-sufficient, as I refuse to move there until I can hold my own til the day I die. I'm not interested in the social welfare program applying to me. :)

  5. Patrick wrote:

    kyt wrote: if we make things too safe and idiot proof, people will just be more careless and stop thinking

    I agree with that, especially as a general comment on society.

    Incidentally, Boris Johnson has made a fool of himself recently (not about cycling).

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