Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe has had to backtrack on his remarks on radio earlier to the effect that people who cycle do so because they can’t afford public transport and that he wouldn’t want to cycle in London because it is too dangerous.
The Metropolitan Police Commissioner made the comments on radio today, claiming people did cycle because they could not afford a car or public transport.
But later, through a police-issued statement, Sir Bernard said he was only expressing a view as a non-cyclist. Cycling had health benefits and he liked seeing its popularity increase, he added.
Community leaders and police have had to constantly respond to road safety concerns in recent days after six cyclists were killed on London’s streets in two weeks.
Sir Bernard initially said although he had “never been a big bike rider anyway”, cycling was even less appealing in busy London because if there was an accident involving a bicycle and a vehicle, it would be the cyclist who would “pay”.
“It seems to me that there’s a lot of traffic and personally I wouldn’t [cycle],” he told BBC London 94.9.
“But of course some people don’t have the choice, economically it’s not easy you know.
“If you’ve got someone who can’t afford to take a car into the congestion zone - if they did, you can’t park it anyway. Some people, they’ve got limited money and they can’t pay for public transport. I understand why they take the choice. It wouldn’t be mine.”
The statement that followed spoke of the merits of cycling.
“There is no doubt that despite the growth of cycling in London, it has got safer and its cost effectiveness and health benefits make it an attractive option for many people,” it read.
“Cycling is an important part of our city’s transport system and the work the mayor and TFL have done to get people on their bikes as safely as possible is commendable.
He went on to say he was reminding road users of their responsibilities to use the roads as safely as possible.
“Part of this is acknowledging that there can be dangers,” he said.
“Nevertheless, it would be great to see the increase in cycling continue alongside the work we are all doing, in partnership to make the roads as friendly a place for cyclists as possible.”
The recent deaths have put pressure on London Mayor Boris Johnson to review cycle safety in the capital. He has said cycle routes were constantly under review and pointed out cyclist deaths in the last five years had fallen compared with fatalities in the five years before that.
However, Green Party peer Baroness Jones, and others, have highlighted figures to show that the chances of being killed or seriously injured as a cyclist in London rose between 2008 and 2011.
British Cycling’s campaign manager, Martin Key, said there was a lot Sir Bernard could gain by getting around on two wheels. “The Met Police Commissioner is obviously speaking as someone who has never experienced the many benefits that cycling has to offer,” he said.