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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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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.

 

“..these Superhighways are central to the cycling revolution I'm determined to bring about. No longer will pedal power have to dance and dodge around petrol power – on these routes the bicycle will dominate and that will be clear to all others using them. That should transform the experience of cycling – boosting safety and confidence of everyone using the routes and reinforcing my view that the bike is the best way to travel in this wonderful city of ours.”

Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, 2009 on the launch of his Cycle Superhighways

ibikelondon has collected this and other quotes from Boris about the Cycle Superhighways, and also about the cyclist lorry problem. Read the whole post, and go along to the flash-ride tonight if you can.

I would counsel, always in the aftermath of a fatal collision, that the incident itself is not prejudged. Most sensible people were sickened by all the revolting innuendo about whether the cyclist in question was carrying shopping, whether she was wearing a helmet etc.

It is therefore wise to stick to the known facts. Women on bicycles are over-represented in fatal collisions with lorries in London. This is not a new trend. Lorries, usually construction lorries, (aka Heavy Goods Vehicles, and also called Large Goods Vehicles in the European Union), are involved of majority of collisions in which cyclists are killed. This is not a problem unique to London. In Berlin, an average of 10 cyclists are killed every year by lorries.

The junction at which the lorry (not a construction vehicle) collided with the cyclist is wide, and heavily traffic-ed, with high volumes of large goods vehicles. It has been the scene of many serious collisions, as the City of London's own map shows. I went along to a Critical Mass years ago in the mid 90s which went to the spot where a friend was killed, on the junction of Mansell Street and Aldgate High Street. This is about 20 metres from where the collision occured last Friday.

I know that there is a lot of talk about how the re-design of this junction is in hand. Don't think that just because the authorities say they are doing something about it that a little (or ideally, a lot) of encouragement from the public to get on with it won't go amiss. The only reason that the media now cover lorry deaths is because people spent time making a fuss, lighting candles and painting the roads.

 

 

As Easy As Riding A Bike is at it again – being really binary. He presents two equally possible and plausible courses of action as an either / or, a yes / no.  We are offered a choice of roads engineered to be safer for all road users, or a ban on the most dangerous category of vehicle from the roads at times when they are most likely to come into conflict with soft road-users (lorries kill pedestrians too).  We can’t have both, we must pick one or the other.

This is the conclusion that you might draw from reading his post Conflict between lorries and bicycles.

He writes in the aftermath of 3 serious crashes that have involved bicycles and large vehicles in the last month in London.  One (involving Dr. Katherine Giles) has been national front page news, one seems to have been largely forgotten (probably because the rider was neither female nor riding a Boris bike, nor had he been run over by a lorry, although the difference in effect of being crushed under the wheels of a coach, as opposed to a lorry seems very slight), and one made local headlines.  It doesn’t always lead if it bleeds.

This would be nice, wouldn't it?Yes, it would. Oh sorry, I was trying really hard not fall into the trap of asking a question and then answering it.He makes the case that unless we reengineer the roads so that these conflicts between lorries and cyclists are less likely to occur, then ‘human error’ and ‘mistakes’, as he calls them, will continue to lead to the deaths of cyclists. The kind of re-engineering that he is talking about is fairly comprehensive, viewed from the perspective of a London cyclist.  There is no junction in London, no cycle facility in this city, that I know of, that matches what AEARAB posits.  And it does look much safer, absolutely no question about it.

Let’s consider the the road on which one of these crashes happened, Old Street / Clerkenwell Road / Theobald’s Road. This is one of the main east – west axes for cycle commuters coming in from Hackney and other parts of east London. There have been at least 6 fatalities resulting from collisions between cyclists and lorries on this route in the last 10 years or so, and I know of at least another 2 in the 10 years before.  It’s getting on for a real black spot (or line, as it is nearly 2 miles long).

Clerkenwell Road, looking west from junction of Goswell Road.To make the whole of the Old Street – Clerkenwell – Theobald’s safe in the way that is described would require re-engineering at least 10 junctions and probably making Clerkenwell Road between Goswell Road and St John Street one way for motor traffic.   I’m not totally sure, but to my untrained eye this stretch would not accomodate separated bike paths, 2 footways (road engineer speak for pavements) and 2 carriageways of motor traffic. The bridge at Farringdon Road junction is also likely to be  similarly too narrow.

Where the road is not wide enough to accomodate 2 footways, 2 separated bike paths and 2 carriageways for motor traffic, one of the 2 motor carriageways has to go, and the road will then be one way for motor traffic, including buses.  To make this whole road safe for cyclists to use, this is what will need to happen.  As we know, there is no point making a road safe for cyclists right up until the point where they could really use some separation and then removing it, i.e. the big junction where lots of vehicles are turning.  Female cyclists have been killed at both ends of the narrow section of Clerkenwell Road, and at least one cyclist has been killed on or very near to the Farringdon Road junction, all by lorries, at least 2 by tippers.

Something else to think about in respect of this road is that it goes through 3 different boroughs, Hackney, Islington and Camden, which is an additional complication for whoever is planning the overhaul of this major cycling route.  I say all this not to discourage, but merely to highlight the size of the task.

AEARAB presents an alternative method of keeping lorries and cyclists away from each other, and then dismisses in the same sentence:

One way of achieving this would be a lorry ban at peak hours, which has been mooted, but this doesn’t seem to me to be particularly likely, or workable.

Personally, as a long-time advocate of a lorry ban, I wouldn’t say I have been mooting it, I would say that I have been demanding it, and I like to think that I have become increasingly stridently as the death toll has mounted.

There are a couple of different configurations of lorry ban – one is a total ban in commuting time,  I would suggest 0700 – 1000 definitely, and maybe 1500 – 1900, one is a modified ban on lorries that don’t have the right kit to be driven safely (mirrors, proximity alarms, ‘cycle-aware’ drivers).

A morning peak hour ban would work well because the overwhelming majority, let’s say at least 90%, of London lorry deaths happen in the morning rush hour from 0700 – 1000. 0 lorries on the road equals 0 cyclists killed by lorries. Think of it as another way of achieving separation in time and space between bicycles and lorries, only without all the raised kerbs and fancy coloured lights.

There’s some question about political opposition to such a ban, but if another young, bright, intelligent woman goes under the wheels of a lorry whilst the ban is being considered, given the backing of the Times and the Standard (for which, thanks!), any such opposition will melt away, in my opinion.  And there is no reason to think that in the next 12 months, whilst a ban is being considered, a young, bright, successful woman will not go under the wheels of a tipper lorry.  In fact, it’s a virtual certainty.

I’m sure it wouldn’t take long, with the political will, to enact the legislation to enable a rush hour ban.  It could happen in a matter of weeks: no more tipper lorries in London in the morning rush hour.  Imagine that.

I’m not going to get all black or white, yes or no on you and present this as an either or, or dismiss the likelihood of Old Street / Clerkenwell Road getting the reworking it badly needs, because I want to see it happen and believe that it can, and I also believe that we can have both a commitment to building better streets for people and a commitment to keep lorries off the streets when most people are using them, but I am going to say that I am disappointed by this latest manifestation of bicycling binary.