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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.

 

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I started blogging here about a year ago, and one of the first posts was about the Paris 0 deaths stat.  This stat has turned out to be what Tim Harford and the More or Less production team call a ‘zombie statistic’, a number whose significance is either false, or grossly misinterpreted, but keeps coming rising from the dead, metaphorical hands outstretched to grasp reality and pull it back down into the miasma of half-truth and phoney assertions.  My friend, colleague and fellow Moving Target contributer, Jon Day used it in a blog on the LRB site in July just past.

Anyway, in a guest post, I asked Kieron Yates, possibly the original source of the offending statistic, and former Paris resident, to clarify.

He writes:

About eighteen months ago I was living in Paris and tweeted that there had been no cycle deaths in the city during the year 2011. It was a tweet that was picked up and retweeted by various London cycling campaigners and used to highlight how much it is possible to reduce urban cycling casualties. A 140 character tweet, however, does not provide much space for context. Since I was happy at the time to see the figure being used to take to task the willingness of politicians to make serious changes to transport infrastructure, I let the matter lie.

I later did a piece with Jack Thurston on The Bike Show about cycling in Paris and this statistic came up again. I was able to clarify that, although the statistic is correct, it is not a simple case of comparing like with like. Most importantly, the figure of zero deaths in 2011 relates solely to the Ville de Paris, which is the inner heart of Paris. It is the area enclosed by the city’s périphérique ring road: an area slightly smaller than that covered by London Transport’s zones one and two. Recent statistics for the Ville de Paris show that the highest number of cycling fatalities was in 2009, when six cyclists died, a figure which possibly points to cycling in Paris being no safer than in central London. Typically, however the numbers are lower and average out at four cycling deaths a year. If one wants to draw wider comparisons between Paris and London with regard to cycle safety it is worth looking at accident statistics for the greater Paris area. The Ile de France is a largely urban agglomeration with a population larger than Greater London and occupying a larger area (12,012k m² compared to 1572 km²), here the number of cycling fatalities for 2011 and 2012 were 10 and 17 respectively.

*****

Some campaigners used the zero deaths statistic to highlight the importance of investment in infrastructure. It is true that the Ville de Paris has invested and continues to invest in cycling infrastructure but I personally do not believe that it possesses much that is greatly superior to what is available in London. There are segregated lanes in some places for the use of cycles, buses and taxis but they are not widespread and it is more usual to see streets with no segregation or a simple painted cycle lane. To me it seemed as though the best infrastructure was most visible in the places tourists tended to visit: around the Marais and the first arrondissement, Montmartre and eighteenth arrondissement. Elsewhere cycling infrastructure is often lot worse: I regularly left the city via the roundabout at the end of Avenue Foch in the sixteenth where, as with many other big intersections in Paris, traffic arrived unpredictably from every angle showing little consideration to the presence of cyclists.

When I was pushed to think of a reason for the French statistics the major difference that came to my mind was the relative invisibility of large goods vehicles on the streets of Paris during daylight hours.

HGV’s haven’t been banned from the Ville de Paris, there are however rules on when HGV’s can enter Paris. If a lorry has a surface area greater than 43m² it can’t enter Paris at all. If a vehicle is between 43m² and 29m² it can enter the city between 10pm and 7am. If it is less than 29m² entry is restricted to between 10pm and 5pm, in other words only excluded between 5pm and 10pm. Vehicles below 29m² using clean fuels have no restrictions as do car transporters which are generally very busy restocking car hire businesses.

As an example of how this may work in London, I used to work at Waitrose in Marylebone High Street and their deliveries would, due to the size of the loading bay, have been on lorries less 29m². So, under the Paris regime, this branch of Waitrose would have been able to receive deliveries between 10 pm and 5 pm. Investment in cleaner LPG lorries would mean that this particular supermarket would have been able to re-stock at anytime of day or night. Current London road freight regulations mean that these vehicles can only deliver between 7am and 9pm, the period when London roads are most congested.

My experience was that due to the unpredictability of traffic entering London, lorries would frequently arrive at the branch before 7am and wait outside the store with engine running to maintain refrigeration. This would disturb residents who lived in the flats above. The alternatives were to get the lorry onto the loading bay, which could be equally noisy, or make it wait on Marylebone Road. In Paris hauliers and larger storeowners have addressed the problem of noise pollution by introducing quieter refrigeration for delivery vehicles and by making night-time deliveries quieter in general. The investment is worthwhile as it is to their advantage to make deliveries at the least congested time of day. The Ville de Paris itself has entered into the spirit of quieter deliveries and collections by replacing its fleet of dustbin wagons with newer models running on liquid petroleum gas; these lorries also have a new lower cab design, easing access for operatives and improving all round visibility.

One factor that makes this change in delivery handling possible is the huge difference in retail, particularly food retail, in Paris and London. Parisian supermarkets are generally smaller than their British counterparts: equivalent in size to the convenience stores of the big UK supermarkets. Where I lived in the west of Paris I had at least five supermarkets and four street markets within a kilometre of home. I’m now living in Lewisham and have two large supermarkets and one street market within a kilometre. Generally in London it is the consumer who pays in time for the final part of the journey from supermarket to the kitchen.

Further cultural difference between the two cities is seen in the construction industry. Within the Ville de Paris building regulations are very strict. Most buildings get re-fitted and re-purposed rather than bulldozed and redeveloped. During my time in Paris at the end of the street where we lived there was a large apartment block. This block was converted into office space over a period of 18 months. I only saw large delivery vehicles in the early mornings.

Small flat bed trucks, the kind local councils in the UK use for collecting old fridges and mattresses, removed most waste material. If I did see skip lorries around the site, the driver was always accompanied by a banksman whilst maneuvering on the public streets and the lorries themselves bore the logo and certification of Bureau Veritas an independent auditor of standards and compliance.

*****

Paris has been working on a reduction in use of large goods vehicles since 2006 with the aim of cutting pollution. Aside from the changes mentioned above other innovations include the use of electric tri-porteurs to transport small deliveries. Indeed one company has gone as far as arranging collections by barge from a depot on the outskirts of Paris, sorting deliveries on the barge as it makes its way to the centre of the city and then using tri-porteurs to deliver over the final kilometre. Elsewhere specially adapted tram carriages have been used for making deliveries overnight along the length of the newly developed tram system in eastern Paris.

It is hard to make direct comparisons between London and Paris when it comes to cycling fatalities. A common sense part of me wants to believe that by ridding its streets, at peak commuting hours, of what have been identified as the most hazardous vehicles to cyclists, Paris has to a degree reduced its level of cyclist fatalities. The true picture is less clear however and cycle fatalities as a consequence of poor HGV maneuvering still occur.  What is clear to me is that with vision and commitment it is possible to successfully alter the way our cities are serviced. The benefits of this change in Paris are a sustainable future, which makes full use of a city’s wider infrastructure allowing it to grow whilst retaining its unique character. If these changes introduced to cut pollution have resulted in fewer cycling fatalities then that has to be welcomed. For me what was most noticeable in the City of Light was how much more of the roads and space around them was visible in the relative absence of large goods vehicles.

“..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.