Will segregated bike lanes prevent lorry deaths?

pic by Ben BrownAs I mentioned on twitter, on Monday 23rd February it will be 11 years since the death of Sebastian Lukomski, who was killed whilst working in London as a bicycle messenger by a left-turning lorry.  As 8 of the 9 London bicycle messengers known to have been killed whilst working died as the result of being run over by lorries, I have studied the hazards from to lorries to London cyclists over a number years, and campaigned for changes, notably by asking for a daytime ban on lorries in London after Seb’s death when I was chair of the London Bicycle Messenger Association. 4 people have been killed whilst cycling in London so far this year, all of whom were run over by lorries (HGVs).  In an average year, between 10 & 15 people will be killed whilst cycling in London.  I reckon that these numbers are about as low as they have been at any time since the invention of the bicycle, and are certainly as low as at any time since I started cycling in London, over 40 years ago.  The overwhelming majority of these deaths will be as the result of being run over by a lorry, which is highly likely to be working for the building trade.  Frequently, the collision will happen at a junction, at which the lorry will be turning left, as in fact seems to be the case with all 4 fatalities so far this year. The deaths have led to renewal of calls for a large scale network of segregated bicycle lanes, of the Dutch or Danish design, with Donnachadh McCarthy of Stop Killing Cyclists, organisers of ‘Die-Ins’and other actions, prominent.

Lorry risk zone - image from the London Cycling Campaign

I think it’s worth pointing out that segregated bike lanes alone will not prevent these types of collisions, and that segregation in space only is arguably likely to cause more rather than less of these types (left turning lorry runs over cyclist proceeding straight on or also turning left) of highly dangerous collisions.  This may seem counter-intuitive, but in my view, any situation where cyclists and lorries are stationary at a junction with the cyclist to the left, or, worse, with the cyclist slight ahead & to the left of the lorry, and then move away from the junction at the same time will lead to potentially deadly conflicts. Likewise, anytime you have cyclists on the left of lorries on the approach to a left-turn, there is the potential for collision, if the lorry is turning left across the path of the cyclists.

A considerable amount of work has been done to alert both cyclists and lorries to the potential dangers of left-turning lorries to cyclists, including legislating to make the fitting of the so-called ‘4th mirror’ to lorries compulsory, the Changing Places initiative, which encouraged cyclists to sit behind the wheel of a lorry, in order to demonstrate how difficult it is for drivers to see objects alongside and just in front on the left of the vehicle.

photo by Selim Korycki

The solution to the problem of bikes and lorries pulling away from lights together is, of course, to separate in time as well as space, by giving bikes their own traffic light phase, such as the lights at the junction of Agar Grove and St Pancras Way.  These were installed after Conrad DuToit was killed by a lorry, whilst using the segregated bike lane.

The problem of lorries turning left across segregated bike lanes is a little more difficult to solve. High cab lorries are inherently unsafe, even with mirrors and cameras.  At last year’s debate on sentencing in road crime cases, we were told that to check all the mirrors from behind the wheel of a high cab lorry takes several seconds, which is an eternity when manoeuvring a lorry in traffic in London, and despite apparently being fitted with all the latest safety features, including cameras, a lorry ran over and killed Claire Hitier-Abadie, the 4th person to have been killed whilst cycling in London by a lorry so far this year.

I doubt that the provision of properly separated bike lane will solve the problem.  Right hooks by lorries across cyclists are a problem in Denmark and the Netherlands, and are recognised as such by the authorities there. I am sure that building a decent network of segregated bike lanes in London will lead to an increase in people cycling, and that this is in itself is reason to do it – it is pretty clear that the much heralded cycling boom of the noughties has levelled off, and without investment in infrastructure, cycling rates in London will remain were they are – popular with a particular demographic i.e. young, affluent professionals, but not with the average shopper or commuter.  However, in my opinion, the only way to dramatically reduce the numbers of people killed whilst cycling inLondon by lorries is by completely segregating bikes from high-cab lorries, that is, ban high-cab lorries altogether from London.

LCC's Safer Lorry designThe London Cycling Campaign has challenged the construction industry to adopt its safer lorry design, but without legislation, I can’t imagine a big take-up.  As the economists say, at the moment the construction industry is able to impose a large externality, i.e. serious injury or death of pedestrians and cyclists, on society which we are forced to absorb.  The costs of road traffic injury and death are great – whether you are considering the human, social or economic implications of the death of a mother, colleague and wife such as Claire Hitier-Abadie.  I have absolutely no doubt the costs of these deaths and injuries far exceeds the cost of re-equipping the lorry fleet.  Why should the construction and building industry evade these costs completely? I see no reason to change my mind about a ban on high-cab lorries in London.

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9 comments
  1. rdrf said:

    Bill, I think this is a very sensible article , a lot of which I agree with.

    (For those who don’t know me, I have been working on the HGVs/Cyclists issue since it became apparent that HGVs were implicated in about half the cyclist deaths in London in work by Professor Mark McCarthy which came out in the early 1990s).

    My problem with segregationism here (along with other problems which I won’t go into) is that there are issues where segregation is either not planned over the next ten years, or even if it were to happen on all main roads would not happen swiftly enough, or doesn’t deal with the pedestrian issue, or – and this is the major point along with the time factor – would not be relevant on most roads (which wouldn’t be segregated) with the possibility of cyclists being crushed by a lorry even if all main roads were segregated tomorrow :

    1. For example, the last case that happened in the London Borough I then worked in involved an HGV crossing into a bus lane into a No Entry cul-de-sac hitting the cyclist in the bus lane. Now, for a segregated cycle track to be there (on the inside of the bus lane) on both sides of the road at this location would involve taking out all motor vehicle traffic or making it one way only on one of London’s busiest main roads (the A4020). I’m fine with the idea of doing this, but transport planning that radical is not on the agenda – it goes way beyond even a very radical re-thinking of the current “Mayor’s Vision” ideas.

    2. Even if this were to be the case – and why not entertain radical ideas ? – there are all sorts of location where lorries can hit cyclists when they are not on main roads which would be segregated.

    3. Again, even if this were to be this case – with an unprecedented turning of all London’s main roads into a kind of Cycling Embassy of Great Britain heaven – it doesn’t address the issue of (most of) the equivalent number of pedestrians killed in locations where, again, segregated cycle tracks are irrelevant.

    4. Finally, let’s say you are going to do seriously super-radical re-design of all London’s streets. Re-engineering and controlling HGVs – particularly the specific case of construction industry vehicles – can be done much more swiftly. If you want to segregate all over the place, then that can be done – the measures below should be done first

    This brings me on to the re-engineering of HGVs:

    A. You’re right about mirrors. Sensors are required instead.
    B. Anything like this needs to be backed up law enforcement such that misuse of sensors or failure to use them is seen as likely to be punished.
    C. Before low cabs come in you can retrofit items like transparent doors
    D. You can have banksmen as passengers for offending vehicles to look out.
    E. Most important of all, you can fir temporary or permanent skirting/guard all around the vehicle to prevent the crushing injuries which lead to death or particularly serious “Serious Injuries” (to use the official category)

    I think all this can and should be done, and until then a daytime ban on tipper trucks and similar vehicles – pieces of industrial equipment which are not fit for purpose if anywhere near pedestrians or cyclists in the current environment – is reasonable.

    The problem in my view is that TfL does not really have the commitment towards cyclist safety: see http://rdrf.org.uk/2015/02/20/cyclists-stay-back-stickers-the-saga-continues/ .

    I’m up for good quality cycle training, but frankly, “Exchanging Places” is not going to do any significant good: You have a bout a million occasional cyclists in London, half a million fairly frequent, and about quarter of a million on a given day. Getting through to them to change their behaviour is very difficult, and a lot of manoeuvres have to be made where the cyclist cannot avoid an HGV coming up from behind and/or coming along and overtaking and swinging to the left. Also, even experienced vehicular cyclists like myself who are fully aware of the issue make mistakes near lorries – we don’t deserve to die because of this. After all, motorists have the vehicle and highway environment designed for their carelessness – why can’t cyclists and pedestrians? Another issue – and I speak as someone who has known somebody quite well before they were killed under an HGV when cycling – is that HGVs are only implicated in about 10% of cyclist casualties overall. This issue is desperately in need of solution, but we mustn’t let it be used to divert attention away from the main source of danger to cyclists, which is motor vehicular traffic in general.

    And finally: some TfL money could be diverted to the lorry re-engineering, with insurance premiums being cut for the treated lorries and making up the rest of the money to be spent. Frankly, if TfL can’t organise this then they aren’t going to be able to do the provision for cyclists that any of us want to see.

    Dr Robert Davis, Chair Road Danger Reduction Forum

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  2. Bob I was impressed meeting the CEO of the Thames Tideway at the ICE Infrastructure manifesto. I montioned the work currently taking place at Nine Elms, where a lot of the materials are being consolidated (and dispersed) via the docks at Tilbury and moved up to 1000 tons (50 typical 4-axle HGV) at a time via the river (you can get up to 2000T upstream as far as Battersea, with most of this at 500T per barge).

    He said that he hoped to see all of their river-served sites with just a standard doorway in the site hoardings land-side, and all deliveries from the river.

    There is a huge potential to use the river, especially if river traffic control is upgraded from the current arrangements, and we have more than the single hard to access Walford Wharf in the city centre, which is only available for barge change-over at high tide.

    Part of the problem is also the ‘bragging rights’ development of ever bigger buildings in the confined footprint of the city, which in turn generates the unfeasably large (thank you Viz magazine) quantities of material to get rid of – 300)+ tones/day for 2 months from Francis Crick – and similar I suspect from Kings Cross Central, every 20T payload (on 32T tipper) making a 63mile cycle out to Pitsea and back through the city (and a truck stuck every 400m or so in the rush hour traffic) all this whan within 0.5Km of both sites IS an inbound aggregate delivery siding which could probably take all that away with 2-3 trains per day, and 2 tracks ripped out through Copenhagen and Gasworks tunnels, that, if left in could have been used for materials in and materials out and cut pout the daily truckloads of aggregate and cement to the Cemex batching plant immediately beside the railway driven through the city from Barking and other points.

    One radical solution is to have a concrete batching plant on a jack-up barge, with bulk aggregate delivered by barge, and have this moored to either pump directly to the sites (this would remove a significnat traffic from the developments in Upper Ground for example) or pump to trucks for the relatively short distances from the river to the sites, and because this would be a relatively short distance, the route could be set up as a dedicated haul road with appropriate measures to divert cyclists and pedestrians way from the traffic. Having short and closely managed routes will also benefit the developers as fewer loads would be discarded (delays can let the concrete go-off) or over-ordered to cover for those delayed loads

    TfL puts great effort into moving self loading freight (AKA passengers) in large volumes, but it really has done very little to manage the impact of freight traffic. A rail connected siding costs a few £’000 per year to keep in a ‘warm’ condition, ready for use, and saving £’0,000’s in road haulage costs, but will costs £m’s with a delay of 2-4 years to reinstate or build a new facility, a wharf likewise can be maintained for a relatively small sum but once lost to development is lost forever. Even the canal with the limit of around 80 tons for traffic through North London, takes 4 trucks off the road for every barge, yet Driends of the Canal ave a major battle to prevent luxury housing developments blocking any future use of loading points.

    A lot of our debate is struggling because it has so little proper factual detail on which to fouond the case for changes to road layout and operting regimes. Perhaps we may be reaching a watershed, as we did with Ladbroke Grove and rail, where Lord Cullen’s Inquiry deliverd RAIB as an independent investigation agency and CIRAS as a safety issues capture system, and we’ve turned the corner – no longer accepting staff fatalities of up to 100 per year, and the last passenger fatality on a train being in 2007. best of all this detail is published and freely available on-line, and you both know how difficult it is to find out what really happened in a fatal road crash.

    On 26th there is a conference and an exhibition at Excel – a ‘fun’ place to cycle to, tangling with the A12 or A13 coming out from London, it will showcase safer truck measures and the CLOCS and FORS schemes. do encourage people to get there if they can, to see the display and information.

    Dave Holladay

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  3. Correction 3000+ Tons/day from Francis Crick – 50-60 trucks on a 3-4 trip cycle per shift – cycle lane on Midland Road closed (for 2+years) to permit 20-30 trucks at a time queuing to get loaded, and keep the excavator (expensive plant to keep moving) working with an empty truck to load

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  4. rdrf said:

    Dave, There needs to be a good quality report back on the 26th exhibition – hope you can do it Dave.

    My view (as stated in my post about the Cyclists stay back stickers http://rdrf.org.uk/2015/02/20/cyclists-stay-back-stickers-the-saga-continues/ ) is that if TfL/FORS can’t get it right on stickers, it isn’t going to do so on HGV s generally.

    As far as CLOCS is concerned – if they have an action plan to deal with the faults of tipper trucks and other construction/aggregate vehicles as referred to above, that’s fine. If not, it’s not.

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  5. Tim Williams said:

    Hi Bill, interesting article. You mention statistics and analysis – I wonder if you would be interested on the work we have done at TfL Online to make the KSI information more accessible this year http://blog.tfl.gov.uk/2016/03/07/london-collision-map-and-improved-cycle-journey-planning/

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    • Thanks Tim, I would be very interested!

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