As 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.
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.
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.
The 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.