What I learnt from following BorisWatch

A little over a week ago, Tom Barry aka BorisWatch on twitter passed away. There’ve been a few tributes now, but I wanted to focus on Tom’s time on twitter in particular, as it what sticks with me the most.

When I learnt of Tom’s death, I was utterly shocked. He was 41. Late last week it occurred to me that I should go back and check just how long ago I’d first found him on twitter. Now I can’t say when it was, but he was the 50th account I followed on twitter, in 2009 soon after he’d joined. I was a pretty swift fan and remember recommending him a lot in #followfriday or in later years by regular retweets.

(at least he got to see that first account complete its purpose!)

And I remember that what I found most appealing was that in a time that I was learning more about cycling and how London’s politics worked, Tom was a really helpful and clear guide. The first tweet of his I retweeted (and indeed manually so, it was all we had) was a comment on the Superhighways, then essentially blue paint. He was straightforward and honest. This was before the momentum around cycling on twitter and blogs had reached anything like the peak it has now.

There really wasn’t much detailed regular commentary on London’s politics before. Something I think many outside London have never understood. It’s bizarre to note that something like a fare increase (something the mayor agrees to) for 8 million Londoners often got only cursory analysis in the mainstream media.

It was through following Tom that a whole world of other people, views and possibilities for London and cycling in particular reached me.

But he was also pragmatic. Tom wasn’t some cycle fanatic. He was broad, seemingly having knowledge about everything. He was a man who cycled, who also loved planes, loved trains, loved buses. He wasn’t a man to believe bikes could replace the tube, even when a (dim) Tory MP might suggest it.

He was funny as well as engaging. That was the thing. His tweets weren’t some endless dry series of grumps or observations. No, they were fast and incisive comment that got to the heart of the matter time and time again. And he did it all whilst balancing it with a family and young children.

And he loved looking at the facts, at data or reading reports in full, and having a spreadsheet handy. He seemed to live not only to find things out but to share them as widely as possible.

He was always good at spotting the salient points in a TfL board agenda too.

(If you’re interested, those papers are here for smoothing traffic slow and here for reducing green man times)


I learnt from him that taking the time to scrutinise the figures and the detailed discussions of Transport for London can tell you quite a lot. He was and always will remain an inspiration to me. And he was always good at acknowledging others who he thought were understanding his approach.

He was never shy of encouraging other people – journalist, blogger or bod on the street alike.

After the 2012 election, at which Boris Johnson’s re-election was a bitter disappointment, he was quick to spot one of the major risks of the second term.

And here we are with the Silvertown Tunnel, and the threat of the tunnelled ring road and further road tunnel schemes like the Hammersmith Flyunder being talked up, regardless of their failings. Tom knew what was ahead of us, and his analysis of the Hammersmith Flyunder scheme in particular was and still is very instructive. Nobody else has come near his ability to grasp it.

The last tweet he posted was possibly as close to his most regular and defining topic as it could be, being a complaint about the London’s new routemaster bus, complete with #lardbus – one of several disparaging names for a vehicle Tom tracked from the very start, assisted by Helen and others on the BorisWatch blog.

Tom was always good at encouraging others to follow his methods as well as his comment. He was generous, kind and able and wanted to see that in others. I can’t see that stopping in me, or many of the others Tom introduced me to.

It’s a mark of how much Tom was respected and loved that he’s had so many tributes, including those from:

And many, many more just on twitter. I kept an eye on people mentioning him and it has been a constant stream since. He is missed by an enormous number of people. I hope that is some comfort to his partner Ish and their two children. It certainly feels like an immense comfort to me. Tom’s legacy, and what he taught us all should live forever. Or at least until those bastards in charge start making sense, which is as close to forever as makes no difference.

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