By Nick Bull
In the space of a week, nearly 25,000 people have watched YouTube videos filmed by the London Taxi Drivers Association that show cyclists jumping red lights at two juntions in the capital.
Cycling Weekly's original story has attracted more reader comments than any other piece in this website's history, and the three clips have sparked debate across newspapers, television and radio.
The LTDA's general secretary Steve McNamara this morning spoke with CW about the videos, the reason behind them and his thoughts on London's roads.
CW: Can you explain the reasons for filming and uploading the clips onto YouTube?
SM: "It really isn't anti-cycling. The reason we did it is that whenever there is any debate in the media or anywhere, various cycling spokesmen and representatives say to us that that it's only a rogue element [who jump red lights]. We run quite a big legal department up here, and there's an increasing number of conflicts not just with taxi drivers, but with pedestrians and other road vehicles we're involved with [with cyclists]. Plus whenever you listen to these radio debates and so on, the thing that always comes up - through members of the public - is that cyclists are jumping red lights and riding on pavements and so on. This also didn't tally with what we were told. Driving around myself, too, it did not add up. So we had a bit of a debate, and one of our guys had a near miss with a cyclist. It frightened the life out of him - he was on a motorbike, and the guy on a pushbike came across a red light, they both came off. So we thought we'd stick a camera up a do a count, and that's what we did."
CW: How did you choose the two junctions?
SM: "All sorts of people said we selected the junctions deliberately. Well, no. The Hackney Road one, we weren't going to do that one. Our guy saw it, and he thought he'd do it there. That's how unplanned it was. It's a crossroads, but no-one seems to know the road on the left is a crossroads. Our guy saw someone [a car] pull out, and the bike had to brake. So he thought it was a good spot, and he filmed it.
"The Fortress Road junction was recommended by one of our admin girls who lives up that way. She said that whenever she is walking to the tube [station], she has to have to eyes about her because cyclists jump the lights.
"We haven't edited them, we left the cameras running for an hour."
CW: What reaction have you had to the videos?
SM: "It's been very mixed. I actually ride a push bike, but I'm not doing it now! I've had death threats, I'm not exaggerating. Some of the emails and letters we've had have been absolutely outrageous. It's quite amazing. I'm stunned by the reaction. I've had an awful lots of emails from members of the public - not taxi drivers - saying thank god someone's reporting what's going on. Equally, we've had a similar amount from cyclists. Some are very funny, some have a great sense of humour. One guy said since the story, he's ‘now jumped 37-and-a-half lights, so stick that in your survey!'. That was very amusing."
CW: In his TfL blog, London's Cycling Commissioner Andrew Gilligan said the findings were "a pretty small basis for a pretty big generalisation". How would you respond to that?
SM: "As a result of that, and purely as a result, we've repeated the exercise with more junctions. Again picked at random, and while we haven't had the footage counted properly, rough counts were very similar. One was 65 per cent, I believe."
CW: A recent Sunday Times study into red light jumpers in London put the figure at just over 12 per cent, too.
SM: "From what I've managed to find out, was carried out at Bank junction [CW note - correct, with the lights at Threadneedle Street monitored]. It's one of the busiest in London. You'd have to be a looney to ride a bike through a red light there. It's a five-way junction. That's not a typical junction. People wouldn't jump red lights in cars there. It's not representative. Only three junctions, I think, in London are like it. The sort of junctions are more typical are those we've filmed, and they're showing us that the figures we've obtained are about right. It's certainly not 15, 20, 25 per cent. I think the lowest one we've had - and this isn't fully checked, but it was 38 per cent. So either all the junctions we've filmed or non-typical, or Gilligan is wrong. I know what I think."
CW: Do you believe your videos will lead to a combative and aggressive relationship between taxi drivers and cyclists?
SM: "I don't see why it should. We're not saying anything anti-cycling. We're presenting a fact. I'm not accompanying these facts by saying that cycling should be banned, or cyclists should be made to wear helmets or pay taxes or have to be registered. All we're saying is there are issues on the road in London, between lots of road users. I'd say to Gilligan, let's go down to a junction in London somewhere and for every motor vehicle - not just cab drivers - that jumps a red light I'd give £5 to a charity of his choice, and he'd do the same for my charity with cyclists. I know who'd have to bring more money."
CW: Does the LTDA push any directives to its members in regards of road safety?
SM: "Yes. Our advice to our members is straightforward. The reason road laws are there is for them to be obeyed. If you're silly enough to jump a red light, then you deal with the consequences. Don't come moaning to us. Same goes for any transgression on any road, like speeding. I'm not condoning any illegal activity whatsoever."
CW: How much dialogue does the LTDA have with the Mayor's office and Transport for London? Do you discuss cycling policy in the capital?
SM: "We do have dialogue with the Mayor's Office and TfL, but it's related to taxi issues. We don't have dialogue on cycling, we don't represent cyclists, and we have no intentions to [verbally] 'attack' them."
CW: There were a six cycling fatalities in London in a two-week period last month. Could these videos create, or even add to, victim blaming when it comes to future deaths on the roads?
SM: "We deliberately never released this because of the tragic deaths; the footage was recorded in September. I'm more than happy to accept that riding through red lights is not the cause of deaths. But of course the vast majority of accidents are not fatalities, especially those involving pedestrians and cyclists, and motor vehicles and cyclist, which are very minor injury accidents. But what you can't say is that they [cyclists] don't cause minor injuries to pedestrians, scratches and dents to people's cars and buses and lorries. It's anti-social behaviour.
"I'd argue cycling doesn't have a good image in London among other road users. I would say that the majority of comments on blogs, phone ins are predominately anti-cycling. You hear people saying ‘I was here, a cyclist nearly knocked me over' and so on. That's why we did it. We've got no axe to grind. We're not anti-cycling."
CW: How safe do you think London's roads are in general, and not just from a cycling or taxi driver's perspective?
SM: "Let's be honest, London is becoming an increasingly lawless city as far as far as road use is concerned. Not just cycling and the community. It's generally becoming more lawless. Last night I was on my way home on a bus and the traffic had come to a complete halt because of road works or something. And after 10 minutes, everybody started driving down one-way streets! You would have never have seen that at one time, maybe you would have got one looney. That's typical of what's happening of London's streets. I've got my suspicions as to why it is - we've no longer got any traffic policemen, there are less and less police on the streets, all traffic enforcement is reliant on CCTV cameras, so people know that if there isn't a camera there they can commit an offence."
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