TfL report

By Selim Korycki

A report from Transport for London's 'Safety and Sustainability Panel' on 'Cycle Safety' was published last week. In the backwards world of road traffic speak, the 'Safety' in the title actually refers to fatal danger from lorries (Heavy Goods Vehicles, also known as Large Goods Vehicle) to people cycling.

I would have missed it, had I not seen a tweet from Boriswatch: “next time Boris tries to pretend [London Assembly Member] Jenny Jones is just being silly about rates of cycling KSIs, that paper suggests TfL believe her.” This is a reference to claims that Jenny Jones made last year that the risk of injury & death whilst cycling in London had gone up under Mayor Boris Johnson's tenure. These claims were disputed by the Mayor at the time.

I would recommend that every London MP is sent a copy, or is emailed link to the report. There isn't a lot in it that is new in terms of numbers collated or trends identified, but the report is an excellent primer for anyone that isn't familiar with the topic. I don't want to reproduce too much here, as the report is relatively short, and can be read in a few minutes, unlike more technical reports.

I tweeted a couple of the salient statistics, HGV making up 6% of traffic during the morning peak, and 5% during the rest of the day, yet were involved in 53% of cycle fatalities between 2008 & 2012. These numbers won't surprise anyone who has even a passing acquaintance with the statistics on cycling fatalities in London. HGVs were identified as the number one danger to London's cyclists nearly 20 years ago, in a British Medical Journal report that I have been linking to for at least 8 years.

Also not new is the identification in the report of lorries working for builders, mainly skip or tipper lorries, being more likely than other lorries to kill cyclists. 7 out of 9 fatalities in 2011, where the collision was between a large goods vehicle and a cyclist, involved a construction lorry. In 2004 the HGV working group set up by the Mayor of London's office identified construction lorries as over-represented in cyclist fatalities.

What is new is language like this:

This research identified a systemic failing in road safety cultures within the construction sector, a lack of ownership of road risk throughout the supply chain and an imbalance between work place safety and road safety.

This is pretty strong language for an official report. There is a list of some things that need to be done, and in what looks very much like a 'to do' list for the Mayor & TfL the report suggests that

urgent attention is given to: greater enforcement of operator, vehicle and driver non-compliance of existing regulations;

I was a little bit disappointed to find that a conditional ban on HGVs was way down the same list at 'g' or 7. At least it's on the list for urgent attention. On the other hand, I take the fact that enforcement is right at the top of the list as an indication that, as I have said before, the construction hauliers do not regard compliance with regulations as anything like as important as they should do. The rules & regulations, after all, are there to keep road haulage operations safe for other road users like children, old people, people cycling, people walking, as well as people driving other motor vehicles.

I understand the pressures that the hauliers are under. I have worked in the transport sector most of my adult life. I know the margins are low, that there is constant pressure from customers to shave time & money, and that everywhere you turn someone is trying to fine you for something or other. However, Operation Mermaid, which is run by the Vehicle Operator Services Agency and police forces all over the U.K. and is virtually a random road-side MOT for HGVs, routinely show contravention rates of over 50%, which shows that there are a lot of illegal lorries out on the road.

I have some sympathy with the drivers. I am sure, as The Lorry Lawyer says, that no driver sets out to kill someone. However, the hauliers keep droning on about how professional they are, and blaming cyclists for not being sufficiently trained, or not wearing helmets etc etc.

(For an example of how the haulage industry thinks about it, have a look at the survey that was commissioned by Commercial Motor from ComRes on 'cycle safety' – do have a look at ComRes' numbers as well. The slant of the questions, offering cycle helmets, training etc as options for clearly indicates to me that the haulage industry thinks it can evade increased regulation & enforcement by blaming cyclist behaviour for the fatalities.)

The evidence from Operation Mermaid, which has been going on for years and years, suggests that hauliers routinely send out onto the roads vehicles which are not compliant with current legislation. Is this pattern of behaviour, of sending out poorly managed heavy machinery to interact with the public, consistent with claims of professionalism? Obviously, I don't think so. I would suggest that, along with greater levels of enforcement, a strategy of making the hauliers employers take responsibility for their contractor's safety record has been shown to be fruitful, taking as an example the Olympic site in east London, during the construction of which the danger from the lorries going to and from the site was taken very seriously by the builders.

At the end of the report there is a section on the Construction Logistics and Cycle Safety Project. The principle aim appears to be to get the construction industry to accept that the high cab tipper lorry is not fit to be driven around London, and to buy a design of tipper lorry which doesn't have any blind-spots at the front, rather like a conventional bus or a modern design of refuse lorry. Yes, we know it will be expensive to replace the current fleet of tipper lorries. It will be very, very expensive.

But how much does it cost when someone is killed or seriously injured by a lorry whilst cycling? I don't know, I'd be interested to see some estimates, but I bet it's a lot more than the cost of a new tipper lorry.

In closing, I don't want to overplay the dangers of riding a bike in London. If you cycle regularly, even in London, all the evidence that you will live longer than someone who does not cycle, even if you don't wear a helmet, hi-visibility clothing, and you sport high-heels and use a set of noise-cancelling head-phones playing Public Enemy's back catalogue. Cycling in London can be unpleasant, very occasionally wet & cold, but fatal & serious injuries are rare.