London cycling campaigners must learn from the Charlie Alliston case

by Dave Hill

Even the most ardent of the many London cycling advocates in the AB social class parts of the media have been noticeably quiet about the 18 month custodial sentence given yesterday to Charlie Alliston, the young man from Bermondsey convicted last month of causing bodily harm by “wanton or furious driving” to pedestrian Kim Briggs, who died from the injuries she sustained when he collided with her in Old Street.

Perhaps the outpouring of accusations at the time of the guilty verdict that Alliston is a victim of legal double standards born of anti-cyclist bias simply couldn’t be sustained in the face of the judge’s comment when handing down the punishment that Alliston was “an accident waiting to happen” – a view contrasting sharply with Alliston’s prior social media complaint that, “It’s not my fault people…have zero respect for cyclists”.

Perhaps it’s dawned on those pundits who expend such energy insisting that bad behaviour by cyclists on London streets is rare and trivial that, in fact, quite a lot of reckless and selfish cycling goes on, and that indignant whataboutery is a weak response to it.

Perhaps some of them are even beginning to accept that disquiet about the conduct of too many London cyclists is not confined to “dinosaurs” and “petrolheads” but felt by a wide range of Londoners, including plenty who would otherwise welcome the city’s streets being more amenable to riding a bike.

This might be too much to hope for, given how ingrained is the self-righteousness of cycling’s more blinkered advocates. But whatever the rights or wrongs of Alliston’s prosecution, the high level of public interest in his case demonstrates that the issue of dangerous cycling is a big one with many people in London.

That should come as no surprise. Cyclists slaloming down pavements, cyclists ignoring red lights or cyclists hurtling from behind high-sided motor vehicles when people on foot are trying to cross roads have become a routine, sometimes forgivable, sometimes annoying and sometimes nerve-wracking part of getting round the capital. Passengers on 254 buses in Whitechapel are now warned to watch out for the “superhighway” track as they alight at floating bus stops. What is convenient for speedy cycling can be an unexpected hazard for others.

Campaigners claim that more segregated bikes lanes will make London more like Cophenhagen, whose cycling culture is deep-rooted and exemplary. Creating such change is nothing like that simple. And the civility and consideration of Copenhagen’s cyclists could hardly be more different from the thoughtless and aggressive mindset of too many London cyclists, including on those superhighways. As Jan Gehl has said, dedicated infrastructure should not be there for “people who consider cycling an extreme sport”.

It goes without saying that the great majority of London’s cyclists would never be guilty of the terrible and tragic actions of Charlie Alliston, just as it goes way beyond the obvious that bicycles are far less potentially lethal than motor vehicles. But that does not mean cyclists don’t have responsibilities to other street-users. Campaigners could do their cause a lot of good if they were more willing to acknowledge them.


  1. He was riding an illegal bike so he was not innocent of his part in the accident – however, it is a real problem that people cannot get their heads out of their phones while walking along, which everyone seems to neglect to have issue with.
    This does not just cause problems for cyclists but all road vehicles and amazingly enough for those pedestrians like myself who actually do not walk along with their head in their phone.
    What is so important to everyone that they cannot wait or stop and use their phone at a more convenient place?
    They do not even look up/move to one side just keep walking at you.
    As far as they comment regarding ‘hurtling from behind high sided vehicles’ I was taught never to cross the road in front of a vehicle but behind it and being able to see in all directions. Also they should note the shortest distance between two pints is a straight line and not walk diagonally across the path of vehicles.

    I think pedestrians need to check out this link

    The buses in London all make the announcement of the cycle lane being behind the bus stop because as said earlier pedestrians rarely look up getting off the buses and when they see the bus they want arriving run for it again not checking for cyclists – would you do that if a motorised vehicle was coming towards you ?
    As far as that announcement on the bus it should say ‘look up for cyclists’ not ‘use the crossing point’
    For the record a majority ofcyclists would rather not have the cycle lane behind the bus stop, the reason it is that way is for those who are fair weather and not road rules / safe
    Cyclists are tired of being blamed for the laziness of others in paying attention to them as road users. Lately this is generally more to do with the fact,like all things the only things ever reported/said about cyclists are the ‘bad news/incidents where rules are not followed’ which is NOT the majority of cyclists.
    You’ll find the all year cyclists are also drivers and so follow the rules of the road and red lights as they are supposed, those never get a mention.
    Next time you’re sitting at the lights or in traffic pay a bit more attention to the cyclists that have stopped you’ll often see them shaking their heads at those not following the rules.

    • Not what I was saying at all if you read it properly, especially as I am a pedestrian and public transport user have not driven for 4 years in London as it is pointless, with the traffic, parking and costs in general. It is much easier as the bus network is so much better.
      Also, I would say a lot of pedestrians are vehicle owners too, so would know the rules of the highway and in their vehicles be more aware why should that change as a pedestrian?
      As I pointed out just a need for the to be more vigilant and considerate of others, on my way home from work yesterday two people bumped into me as a result of looking at their phone not where they were going. That’s not ok.
      Given as well how many crossings points that are provided along any stretch of road they still feel the need to step off the pavement at any time they feel, and I’ve seen often they may have looked for cars but completely missed a cyclist on the road.
      Maybe you should have an honest look at what happens out there.

  2. If the bus stop in Whitechapel mean that bus passengers have to be warned to watch out for bicycles on the superhighway, doesn’t that perfectly exemplify the poor planning that non car transport is subjected to in London?
    Campaign for better and more plentiful cycle infrastructure rather than putting up with this status quo

    • I do agree the change with regard to the cycle lanes has been poorly planned. I think what has happened is the idea from Europe has been taken but they did not look at the reason it works in Holland is because the roads and traffic system are nothing like London.
      london roads barely take two way traffic, what they’ve also done is in some places such as Stratford high road, and Whitechapel road reduced the width in places that used to have bus lanes plus two lanes causing more traffic congestion. It was not properly thought through.

  3. Theo please don’t think I’m being rude to you regarding this reply as to why you cycle. I think you’ll find that the public being overweight/unfit causing a cost to the NHS with health issues is one of the reasons the cycle lanes have changed so much. It is to make people feel more confident/safe as new cyclists on the road, as well as reducing the volumes of vehicles.
    I say very well done you for getting out there, and more importantly for being so honest on the only reason you cycle.
    It’s funny how it’s ok, apparently for pedestrians to stand in the cycle lane waiting to cross the road or in some cases as by Stratford bus station they walk along it to get to bus stops and cyclists should not shout at them or continue on their journey, but cycle on the pavement ………..

  4. Even the most horrible human on the planet lets say: Hitler on a bike, can’t hurt someone else without seriously risking getting hurt themselves. Even a saint in a car, mother terries in a Nissan Micra can destroy a family through mere carelessness.

    I have been riding a bike for 14yrs on London’s streets and I have never hit anything. However, I have been hit by a taxi throwing a u-turn, which sent me over his bonnet. I take care not to ride into pedestrians and I take care not to ride into brick walls. I do both for the same reason: I really really don’t like getting hurt.

    It seems like an obvious point to me but has been missed by some: falling from a moving bike onto tarmac really, really hurts, so by definition cyclist are more careful and vigilant than motorists, it is just a function of not being in a protective metal box.

    The guy that hit me in his cab was really nice and apologetic. It just so happened that he was carelessly driving a 1 ton metal box in a densely populated area.

    The people on bikes are exactly the same as the people in cars, all be it a little healthier. And the cyclist here are the same as the nice ones in Copenhagen: Good fences make good neighbours, and good infrastructure makes good commuters.

    Improve the bike lanes, it will reduce the conflict points and everyone will be happier.

    • Hi. I wish I shared your confidence in the power of lanes alone to transform transport habits in London, but thank you for your comment and for making it so politely!

  5. Bus stop bypasses have worked for decades in the Netherlands and Germany, and now they’re working in London and Manchester, as far as I see. There are trade off in having to cross a lane of traffic after alighting a bus, but compared to having buses cutting across cycle lanes, it is no contest in terms of safety. Onto this tragic case, saying that cycling campaigners have been silent on this is just wrong, it’s been greatly discussed among cycling groups – generally how the case will be used to scapegoat cyclists, a fear that is being realised, but plenty of analysis of the risks that Alliston took, and our own experiences as and with pedestrians.

    There are innumerable worse cases where drivers have got off with less – a particularly saddening example being this texting driver who killed a four-year-old and only came away with a eight-month suspended sentence. That is all I cry foul at, that we are facing months of being picked apart by the media, fuel for police if they happen to see cycle users as troublemakers, and time wasted in Parliament that could be spent on real solutions, when it’s pretty clear that the existing laws resulted in a successful conviction – one heavier than the defendant would have received had he been driving.

    • Hi Ethan. Thanks for your contribution. For me, the heart of this is how best to broaden and increase the cycling demographic. I’m not convinced that heavy investment in infrastructure is necessarily the best answer and I do fear that the attitudes of some (not all) campaigners don’t always help. But perhaps that’s mostly just the journalists. They’re the worst (and I should know!).

  6. Hi Dave, you’ve hit the nail on the head for me! I am a 50 year old female cyclist, been on my bike for 40 years, never worn lycra, and have raised my two children now 18 and 14 as cyclists. We’ve always done the school run by bike. My children hate cycle lanes – they feel unsafe at the junctions, don’t really understand the layouts etc. Even schemes like Royal College Street in Camden touted by the Council as a big success has actually made the journey worse not better because you have to cross over the traffic from your lane on one side, and across the contraflow cyclists on the other side to turn right – taking your life into your hands… Previously one indicated from the left hand side, pulled into the traffic and then simply turned right. Easy. The money wasted on the superhighways and special cycleway implementation should be spent on minor accommodations on back roads so that cycling can take place away from the major traffic routes, the pollution, danger and congestion. I’ve noticed a huge increase in aggression towards cyclists over the last few years. Equally I’ve noticed an increase in aggression from cyclists too. It seems to me that as soon we stop sharing things (like the road surface) a “them and us” mentality develops. I think that TfL should spend its money on cycle training, accompanying adults and children one to one on their normal journeys to give them confidence to cycle on the roads and teach them the tips they need to cycle safely, implementing the quietways that were promised, stopping rat-running so that alternative routes have lower traffic levels and the lycra-clad speed demons can carry on going the fastest route on the main roads should they wish.

    • Hi Simon, I’m afraid you are wrong – my children dislike ALL cycle lanes as they don’t want to be penned in and believe that we can and should all share the road together. And they are not afraid of cycling in the road because they’ve had plenty of practise with me and my husband over the years. They’re now 15 and 19 and have been cycling to school (on my bike, then their own) since they were small. Back roads may indeed not go directly from A to B but usually the journey only takes another few minutes and the lack of congestion, with much better AQ and a more pleasant aspect more than makes up for the small time loss. Does it matter if you are cycling a slightly longer route? Sometimes going on back streets is faster even if less direct as there are fewer signalised junctions. I will usually refine a route over a week or so to get the best out of it if it is going to be one of our regular ones – often deliberately choosing roads that run alongside a park or whatever. So much is dependent on particular roads, traffic patterns, time of day etc. There you are! There are many types of cyclists but I believe that it is important we consider catering for all and not just for those who want to get from A to B as fast as possible beating yesterday’s journey time or whatever… it is older cyclists, females and children who are missing most from the demographic and I think the reason why is because there’s a misunderstanding about what cycling can be to these “others”.

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