Andrew Gilligan: Why I called out LBC's 'false claim' about cycle superhighways

Boris Johnson's cycling commissioner attacks reporting of London's flagship cycle scheme
Boris Johnson's cycling commissioner attacks reporting of London's flagship cycle scheme

By Andrew Gilligan

You may have heard my run-in with LBC's Nick Ferrari over an extraordinary report by the station's Theo Usherwood about our new cycle superhighway, which runs from Pimlico to Oval across Vauxhall Bridge. (It's the first of several – the main one, along the Embankment, is still being built.) To allow you to assess the full quality of Mr Usherwood's journalism, I give a complete transcript of the report below.

Some useful context first: I myself saw Mr Usherwood standing by the superhighway in yesterday’s morning rush hour, when its segregated track across Vauxhall Bridge was being very heavily used by cyclists. The overwhelming majority of them were not, as he claims, in the road, but in the track. The others present with me will confirm this. Earlier that same week, in the busiest peak hour, I personally counted 750 cyclists using the Vauxhall Bridge track, more than 12 a minute, a figure which appeared in our press release. That, by the way, as the press release also stated, is a nearly 30% rise on the figure crossing the bridge before the track opened.

Why do you think Mr Usherwood made no mention of this, or of his earlier visit to the superhighway? Why, I wonder, did he hang around for several hours, until "just after lunch," and until it had started raining, to begin his count and do his report? Could it be because he was trying to make the facts fit a pre-cooked agenda that there are no cyclists using the facility?


Note also the, shall we say, leading questions asked repeatedly to the cyclist interviewees in an attempt to get them to stand up the same agenda. What's interesting is that even then they don't substantiate the reporter’s claim that "It's not very popular with cyclists themselves."

Then there are the interviews with pedestrians who complain, in Mr Usherwood’s words, about cyclists "whizzing past" on the track. Would that be the track that no cyclists are using, Theo?

Incidentally, even LBC doesn't seem quite clear as to precisely which false claim it is making. Mr Usherwood says in his report that 40% of cyclists aren't using the track. The LBC website says that "only 40% of cyclists are using it" – in other words, 60% aren't using it. Facts can be so tricky, can't they?

LBC transcript

Reporter: It's just after lunch, 1.30-2pm to be exact, on a very wet and cold Thursday afternoon. Now I have my clipboard, I have my high-vis jacket. All in all, Nick, I think I resemble one of the Mayor’s bureaucrats who came up with this cycle superhighway idea.

Now, I’m off to hunt for a cyclist. I haven't seen one yet – oh wait, wait, wait a moment, now is that one there? Er, yes it is, it is, I have spotted a cyclist, Nick – oh no, apologies, apologies, they're on the road. I’m just going to go and have a quick chat with these cabbies and see if they’ve spotted any cyclists using this superhighway.

Cabbie: They're actually ignoring the cycle superhighway. I think it's a complete waste of time. No-one’s moving. You can see – we can't even – we’re just sitting here.

2nd cabbie: They're just overtaking each other like lunatics, cutting up drivers. D’you see what I mean? You’ve got the speed merchants, they just want to overtake. They don’t want to be stuck in behind a load of slowcoaches, basically.

Reporter: Now it's just gone half past three, I’m here at the southern end of Vauxhall Bridge where the pavement has been narrowed to make way for this cycle lane, and it’s a real squeeze for the poor old pedestrians as the cyclists come whizzing past.

Pedestrian: They haven’t thought through what pedestrians are going to do. People keep getting shouted at by cyclists and there’s no proper route for pedestrians to go across. So every day pedestrians are now risking their lives.

2nd pedestrian: I don't like it, I think it's horrible.

3rd pedestrian: I don’t think it’s clear enough for the bikes, and for the cars, and even for the pedestrians.

Pedestrian (maybe a 4th, maybe one of the 1st 3) : Right now it's quiet, but when it's busy, or especially if you’ve got little children or someone’s got a pushchair or a buggy.

Reporter: What’s also apparent is that this is not very popular with the cyclists themselves.

Cyclist: It’s just ended where we are now so we don’t really know where to go. It’s a start. Obviously, there is room for improvement. It’s a step in the right direction.

Reporter: Madam, what do you think?

Cyclist: There could be more signs. Like, we're tourists here and we don't really know where to go. We’ve got lost a few times today.

Reporter: And now you’ve run out! You’ve run out of cycle superhighway!

Cyclist: Yeah, already.

2nd cyclist: Maybe we’ll have to get on the bus.

3rd cyclist: Evey day I use the same lane.

Reporter: But you don’t use the cycle superhighway?

3rd cyclist: All the time. I always going with bike, everywhere.

Reporter: But you don't use the cycle superhighway?

3rd cyclist: Sometimes, maybe sometimes.

Reporter: You prefer the road?

3rd cyclist: Huh?

Reporter: But you prefer the road?

3rd cyclist: Tell me again?

Reporter: You like the road rather than –

3rd cyclist: Yes, I love, I love, I love the big traffic.

Reporter: Using the pavement? You just prefer using the pavement, not bothered by the cycle superhighway?

4th cyclist: Nah, sorry.

Reporter: What, you don't like it?

4th cyclist: Nah, sorry.

Reporter: Now it’s just gone six and it is actually getting fairly busy with the rush hour. But I would say that at least 40% of the cyclists that I have seen aren’t using this glorified cycle lane. They’re either on the road, or on the pavement. And that’s because there’s no law that says that they have to use the cycle superhighway. All in all, it’s turned into a bit of a fiasco, Nick

Andrew Gilligan is London's cycling commissioner and a journalist for the Telegraph

The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

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