How Boris failed London Cyclists


In 2008, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson became a recognisable symbol across London. He carefully crafted an image of himself which, more often than not, included a trusted bicycle by his side. In the minds of Londoners it conveyed friendliness, at one with the people and emphasis on green credentials. However, after his four year stint at city hall has this all proven to be little more than political propaganda?

Boris slashed London Cycle Network funding in half, presided over a period of record air pollution in London narrowly missing a £300m EU fine and scrapped the western part of the congestion charging zone.

His two big projects to woo cyclists were the cycle superhighways and the cycle hire scheme. Whilst the cycle hire scheme is largely seen as a success, it was originally touted as being paid for entirely by sponsorship. The cycle superhighways meanwhile have drawn widespread criticism for being far too expensive and dramatically under delivering on safe route creation.

All of this, and far more, is covered extensively in a new polemical eBook just released. Written by Sonia Purnell, author of Just Boris, the 21 page eBook called Pedal Power is available on the Kindle.

Pedal Power chronicles Boris Johnson’s time in office. From the shedding of his petrolhead GQ motoring columnist credentials to his failings to respond to the tragic deaths of cyclists on London’s roads.

The eBook is littered with media-savy quotes from Boris such as “In 1904, twenty per cent of journeys were made by bicycle in London. I want to see a figure like that again.” and “I am determined to turn London into a cyclised city – a civilised city where people can ride their bikes safely and easily in a pleasant environment”. As most London cyclists will agree this is far from being delivered.

With Londoners taking to the polls there’s no doubt the Pedal Power eBook doesn’t come at a great time for Boris. The London Cycling Campaign recently conducted an indepth analysis of the candidates manifestos and their promises to cyclists. They concluded that Livingstone and Jenny Jones had the most to deliver for cyclists.

Click to buy Pedal Power

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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.

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17 Responses to How Boris failed London Cyclists

  1. KM 20/04/2012 at 7:36 am #

    This book appears to fall into the trap of confusing promises (and ambitions) with delivery. Politics is the art of the possible. I want many things for my house to make it greener. On limited resources, though, I will settle for double-glazing and wall insulation. The solar panels and wind turbine will have to wait. Similarly for any manager of a budget and a constituency with varying views. The question you’d have to ask is “Would Ken/Jenny have had enough credibility with the bank to get a sponsored (cheaper for us) cycle scheme going?” I know people who are cycling to work everyday now after gaining confidence on the Boris Bikes….I hold no brief for Boris, but I don’t like to see bad journalism rewarded.

    • Andreas 20/04/2012 at 7:44 am #

      You make some really good points KM. I’m sure many Londoners will be asking themselves the same question. Weighing up whether Ken can deliver under similar budgetary restrictions. Plus on a positive note for Boris he did secure funding from the budget to re-design some of London’s most dangerous junctions. The BBC Mayoral debate coming up on the 22nd of April should again be an interesting time to hear from the candidates themselves.

  2. Stuart 20/04/2012 at 8:10 am #

    It would be good to get a comparison of what ken did in his years of power as mayor for cycling vs what Boris has done.
    This would have to include cycling rates and injury rates/absolute numbers of injuries.
    I think then the picture would not be as bad for Boris. I still think that cycling groups should campaign for better facilities however they should realise what realistically the mayors will do.

    • Andreas 20/04/2012 at 8:20 am #

      Agreed, Ken was a little before my time in London so don’t have any first hand knowledge of his efforts for cyclists. Perhaps someone else is better able to pass comment?

  3. Duncan 20/04/2012 at 8:55 am #

    I think it’s great that cycling is becoming should a major issue for a lot of people in this election. We’ve had year trying to just make the best out of poor road schemes so its been really refreshing for TfLs priority (from the mayor down) to be called into question. That’s why I’ll be voting with my bike on 3rd May.

    KM – I with you most of the way but the Boris is also chair of the TfL and so has responsiblity for delivery too.

    • Andreas 20/04/2012 at 10:14 am #

      Good mention of that campaign – pleased to hear they’ve already had so many sign ups!

  4. Alex 20/04/2012 at 10:48 am #

    Certainly I’m no fan of Boris Johnson but the scrapping of the western extension wasn’t such a bad thing. The western zone, certainly by comparison to the main one, has a large number of residential properties who would all have been entitled to the large discount (I think 90% discount), almost completely removing the disincentive to drive. Its anecdotal, but I know people who live in Kensington who basically said that £10 stopped them using cars, but after the extension was introduced they drove because of the discount.

    Of course, they might as easily have reduced the discount to maintain the incentive to use public transport, or perhaps drawn the boundaries of the extension to include only the problem areas – Knightsbridge is horrendous, for instance. I can’t imagine many cyclists would use it when the lovely park is so near, but it is an embarrassment and an eyesore that this world famous London street is a congested bypass, tiny pavements, few crossing, lots of ‘street furniture’, etc.

    However, to answer what Ken did for cyclists, the hire bike scheme and the cycle superhighways were both announced by him and planned under his administration, though are commonly credited to Johnson, particularly the hire bikes.

    In answer to the question above “Would Ken/Jenny have had enough credibility with the bank to get a sponsored (cheaper for us) cycle scheme going?”, I don’t see why not – that was part of the original plan.

    By contrast, Boris has been criticised for giving the sponsorship too cheaply, and more recently – by coalition party members no less – for not tendering on the back of scheme’s success to achieve a better deal (cheaper for us)

    So, for me, the mayor’s major cycling successes are, in fact, those of the previous incumbent, now his only serious rival…

    • InvisibleVisibleMan 05/05/2012 at 9:11 am #

      The western extension worked better than expected. It was expected to increase traffic in the original zone slightly because of the effect of bringing more residents into the congestion-charging zone. But that didn’t happen and traffic into the western zone fell markedly. It was the wrong thing to remove the extension – one of many transport policy mistakes under Boris Johnson.

  5. Alex 20/04/2012 at 10:54 am #

    And to respond to the suggestion of comparing casualties across their various administrations, it is one way a useful way to consider the issue, but by no means the full picture. At the risk of sounding like a party political broadcast for Ken (I don’t really *love* him, but he will get my vote) I do think that his plans for cyclists were very much long term.

    Other than riding a bike, I don’t really know what Johnson has done – look at his response to the Blackfriar’s Bridge issue. I also recall a London assembly member asking his views on cycling around Elephant & Castle, which Johnson said was fine for an experienced cyclist. True perhaps, but not progressive or inclusive or likely to reduce accidents.

    • Dave 08/05/2012 at 10:31 pm #

      I dont care to comment much about politics, but Ken brought in the dreaded and most feared bendy bus, and Boris scrapped the lot. Yay Boris!

  6. idavid 20/04/2012 at 9:46 pm #

    Ken’s three part cycling vision, reheated by Boris, included bike hire, superhighways, and the now seldom mentioned biking boroughs. It was perhaps predictable that the first two stole the limelight, yet it was the third that was supposed to deliver 70% of new cyclists, particularly in the outer boroughs. Post Lehman, it was easy to “devolve” this to boroughs who, in the absence of any meaningful vision or oversight, often spent the money on other things.

    I hold no brief for either candidate, but suggest that Ken was a better listener, and was also more prepared to take risks, the congestion charge being an obvious example but also with Freewheel/Skyride where many told him it couldn’t be done. Boris’s failure is that he has chosen not to listen because he wrongly assumes that all cycling advocates are moaning lefties who yearn for the return of the Big Spender.

    Had he been more open minded about engaging with those who have forgotten more about urban cycling than he will ever know, Boris would have traded flamboyance for quality, may well have saved lives, and could have nailed the cycling vote without driving away white van man.

  7. David 21/04/2012 at 2:42 pm #

    I find it hard to judge what Boris has done when he became Mayor at the height of the global financial crisis. His time as mayor has been more about balancing the books and dealing with budget cuts than implementing schemes. On that front he seems to have done a good job. As for the winner of the upcoming election, they won’t see massive increases in their budget either, at least not in the early stages of their term in charge.

    A perfect example of what Boris has done is the so-called surplus in the TFL budget. My understanding is that this is money put aside for future projects. Ken already has ideas on how he will spend money that is already allocated elsewhere. Whoever the next mayor is they will need to spend wisely and be able to extract as much extra money as possible out of central government. Lets face it, we all know that London’s tax revenues support the rest of the country.

  8. skippy 22/04/2012 at 10:28 am #

    Ken in 2007 on the Friday of the TDF start passed me onto his ” Transport Guru ” who promised to be ” in touch ” ! Yeah ” promises , etc ” no delivery ! My suggestion was a way to ” Help ” publicise ” Paralympic 2012 ” , They had the ” double deck bus ” to send around the ” Protour races ” but not the willingness ,

    All the credit ” Boris ” has garnered was engineered before he tok office , of course , too much had been done for him to stop them being implemented ! Rarely would boris wear a helmet to encourage people to follow suit , ” airhead ” that he is , he was unable to set example to the youngsters let alone the adults !

    Would any of you forget to wear a helmet if you thought that you would hit your head on the pavement ? None of the accidents ( INCIDENTS ) are expected but then we pay insurance hoping to never make a claim ?

    Cameron GAVE £15 M to ” buy/bribe ” the electorate for boris ! No way is this ANYWHERE near enough !

    Vote into obscurity the fence sitting non entity !

  9. Gizmo 23/04/2012 at 10:10 am #

    The problem with Boris is… who is a credible option?

    Ken’s previous term was marked by (alleged) corruption, wasted money on harebrained schemes, and Ken’s whining face on the news everywhere you look.

    Paddick – seems a nice bloke. I know nothing else about him other than his ‘lifestyle choice’ and previous job; does he have any policies?

    Jenny Jones – hmmm. Really?

  10. John 26/04/2012 at 8:45 pm #

    Boris has encouraged the Police to target us cyclists as easy soft targets to achieve their targets. I have given up cycling in London because the odds are stacked against us cyclists, as evidenced by my recent prosecution by the Police, who mislead the Court in order to gain a successful conviction, with me being charged £365!

    You can read my detailed write up of this case at
    Hopefully it will help you.



  11. InvisibleVisibleMan 05/05/2012 at 9:06 am #

    I explain my attitude to Boris Johnson and cycling, based on my experience of cycling with him, here:

  12. Cara 06/07/2012 at 11:58 am #

    Go greener is really a brilliant idea that can benefit all.
    Its good that London has been found of having a lot of cyclists.
    It helps a lot with decreasing pollution.

    My blog: combien coûte un photographe pour mariage 

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