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Calvin Simpson's name, painted on Stamford Street.This is the text of some words of mine that were broadcast on the Relatively Good Radio Show today on Resonance FM.

I didn’t know Mark Francis at all, really.  People said to me, yeah, yeah, you do, you know, the tall mixed race kid, he was always at the Duke of York on Clerkenwell Road on a Friday, with all the other couriers.  At the service, they projected pictures of him that people had brought along, pictures of him from his childhood, and there was a photo that had been taken a couple of months before, at a party that the London Bicycle Messenger Association had organised.  I recognised him, and thought, bastard, he still owes us £3!

He had come up us at the door, and said, can I come in, and see if I like it, and then come back and give you the dosh?  Of course he hadn’t come back. And he wasn’t going to be able to pay me now.

Sebastian Lukomski, I actually did know a bit.  He was a hard-working hard-partying Polish guy who had come to a big international courier event that I had helped organise, and, like Mark, used to hang out at the Duke of York. 

All the others, Joe Cooper, Judy Mihlenstedt, Calvin Simpson, Paul Ellis, Edward Newstead, Reidar “Danny” Farr, & Henry Warwick, all these bicycle couriers I didn’t know at all before.  I met Edward Newstead’s kids at one of the West End magistrates court, at the trial, which took place months afterwards.  After the verdict, they had questions that I couldn’t really answer.

I helped paint the names of all of these people on the road, in the road, as close as possible to the spot where the incidents happened, some of the names we painted 4 or 5 times.  It’s almost impossible to put into words how strange and unsettling it is to paint the name of a dead person you didn’t really know on a road in central London.

Yesterday, I rode my bike with Southwark Cyclists up from Peckham Rye to meet the Big Bike Ride, an event organised to publicise London Cycling’s Campaign push to get more Space For Cycling.  We stopped at Newington Butts, at the south end of the Elephant & Castle roundabout, a junction that Boris Johnson said was perfectly safe to cycle “as long as you keep your wits about you”.  The junction has been recently re-engineered.  The re-organisation was supposed to make what is more or less a dual-carriageway intersection safer for cyclists use.  

Fatima Manah & Cynthia BarlowWhen I arrived at the junction, I spotted a lady in a head-scarf, holding a bunch of lilies.  Then I noticed Cynthia Barlow, who was recently awarded an OBE for her work as Chair of Roadpeace, the charity that supports the families of road crash victims, standing next to her.  And my heart fell. Abdelkhalak Lahyani was killed last week whilst cycling through Newington Butts.  I was introduced to his widow, Fatima.

I am sick of meeting the families of people that I didn’t know, whose relatives were killed whilst cycling in London.  Mr Johnson, you said you wanted London to be the best city in the world to cycle in.  We need the right actions and infrastructure, not more words and paint.

More about the 9 London bicycle couriers known to have been killed whilst working.

Relatively Good Radio Show on Resonance FM, 18th May 2014, during which these words were broadcast.

ITV London News item about the incident, which features an appeal from Fatima for more to be done by TfL to safeguard cyclists.

Full text of Cynthia Barlow’s speech at the vigil on Southwark Cyclists web-site.

Memorial to Sebastian Lukomski, painted by London bicycle messengers

On 23rd Feb 2004, London bicycle messenger Sebastian Lukomski was run over at the junction of Lower Thames Street and Queen Street Place by a tipper lorry that was turning left into Queen Street Place from Lower Thames Street.  His death was, in my opinion, a watershed moment in London’s cycling politics.  It was one of the first London cycling fatalities to become a media event, thanks to 2 articles by journalist Graham Bowley, whose interest was sparked by the large crowd of London couriers who painted the road near the spot where Seb was killed.  Graham’s articles, published in the Financial Times weekend magazine and the Evening Standard, highlighted the dangers of construction lorries, and also an apparent lack of action by the Mayor’s office on the problem.

Ever since, cycling fatalities resulting from collisions with lorries have received much higher levels of attention from everyone than previously, when they received no attention whatsoever outside of the coroner’s court and the funeral of the deceased.  This attention has been translated by the London Cycling Campaign’s “space 4 cycling” campaign into political pressure for significant changes to the allocation of road space in London.  It has also led to considerable efforts by TfL, the LCC and others to reduce the specific dangers posed by lorries to people cycling in London.

However, as I have said elsewhere, even though progress has been made, there remains a great deal of potential hazard from lorries to people cycling in London, and nowhere is this more apparent than when examining the junction where Seb was killed.  In my opinion, it is one of the most dangerous junctions in central London because it is more or less a motorway, with very high volumes of through traffic, meeting a major cycling route, one of the Mayor’s Cycling Superhighways. Including Seb, 2 people have been killed by lorries whilst cycling in or near this junction in the last 10 years, and at least 2 more have been seriously injured.

After Seb’s death, an ASL was put in exactly the spot where Seb was run over, an extremely stupid change, in my opinion, given that the driver whose lorry ran over Seb would have seen Seb had he looked in his mirror.  The ASL and associated feeder lane encourages cyclists to come up on the left, and stop slightly in front of traffic, which is exactly where you do NOT want to be.

If you examine the pavement on the south east corner, you can see from the damage done by HGVs to the surface, which indicates the frequency and care with which left turns onto Southwark Bridge are made.  An ASL is not just inadequate in these circumstances, I would suggest that it is actually a hazard.

The junction has been reviewed and more changes have been proposed.  Those changes will do nothing, or very little, to lessen the dangers of the junction.  The ASL that I mentioned above is to be extended, for example.  I would suggest that without a 2 phase signal, which allows cyclists to move away a lot sooner than the rest of the traffic, the ASL, even extended, is overall negative for safety.

Andrew Gilligan said earlier this year that his message to planners was ‘do it adequately or don’t do it all’.  I would suggest that he, or someone from the Mayor’s office, needs to get involved in this review now before it goes any further.

There’s a lot more detail on Cyclist in the City blog, including diagrams, an itemisation and a link to allow responses to the consultation. Please do click through.

I was delighted, overjoyed to see what seemed like immediate action after the publication of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group’s report, ‘Get Britain Cycling’.  In the wake of the report’s publication, the Roads Minister appeared to signal national government’s willingness to tackle the HGV problem saying that the government could not let lorries continue to run over cyclists.

The action was a sweep of HGVs by the Met Police’s lorry unit, checking for vehicle defects and illegal driving, as reported by the Standard, which also published an editorial calling for more action to protect cyclist from lorries.

Keen students of the HGV / cyclist issue will remember that Jenny Jones MLA and Boris Johnson, Mayor of London had the following exchange in October 2009:

Jenny Jones: Could you confirm the number of HGVs stopped by police in London for each year since 2000, the proportion that were found to be driving illegally, any breakdown of offences and the proportion that were stopped by specialist traffic police?

Answer from the Mayor: The MPS did not, until 2008, keep a record of the number of HGVs that were stopped. In 2008/09 3,000 vehicles were stopped (all types including lightweight vans). Of these 1329 were ‘trucks’ over 7.5 tonnes [note: vehicles over 7.5 tonnes are defined as HGVs]. Proportion found to be driving illegally: Offences were found in an average 80% of these vehicles.

At the time Boris suggested that the high proportion of offences found was down to diligent police-work, but however you dice the numbers, that is a lot of illegal lorries.  As was pointed out by nearly everyone with access to the numbers, lorries are 5% of traffic, and yet are responsible for over 50% of cycle fatalities in London, and in some years, closer to 100%.  Lorry drivers that have run over cyclists have been driving vehicles subsequently  found to have illegal defects, such as the Hanson HGV driver than ran over Lisa Pontecorvo, who had removed the mirror that might have, had he been looking in it, allowed him to see her.

And, by the way, despite the EU directive requiring that all HGVs / lorries registered since 2000 retro-fit the so-called ‘blind-spot’ mirror, there are still a lot of tipper trucks driving around without the mirrors fitted.  Whether this is because they were registered before 2000 or because they are simply breaching the law, I don’t know, but I saw 6 out of 8 tippers without the other morning.  I know that isn’t a sufficiently rigorous study, but they were all around Old Street and Clerkenwell Road in the morning, i.e. likely to be using one of London’s busiest cycling streets in the morning peak.  If the Mayor brings in a modified lorry ban, these vehicles would no longer be permitted.

I say all this to demonstrate how important it is that the law is enforced on the roads.  Manifest failures to enforce the law on the roads lead to public outrage, such as in the case of Stephen Perrin.  As has been widely reported all over the cycling web, the CPS and police failed to take any action after being presented with Mr Perrin’s video, which clearly shows an unprovoked and violent assault by a driver.

Almost every cyclist I know has either been subject to an identical or worse assault, or has witnessed one.  It is this wide-spread experience of violent behaviour on the roads, and the total failure to use legal remedies on this driver,  that lead to the hounding of the driver and his family.  I have to say that I have little sympathy for the driver, even if resorting to illegal and violent threats is inexcusable.   He should have been subject to exemplary punishment for his behaviour, precisely because it is so common, so that all road users were reminded that being on the road does not mean that the normal rules of common decency and behaviour are not totally abrogated, as many people appear to believe.

As I said elsewhere, the current penalty for running over a cyclist, either killing or inflicting what the police chillingly call ‘life-changing injuries’, is currently very slight.  Even where the police are able to prove negligence by the driver, the driver often receives a trivial administrative penalty and small fine.  The police are often hampered in these cases because the key witness is frequently deceased.  Generally the only person who sees what happens is the cyclist.  The driver wasn’t looking, (not didn’t see didn’t look) and by-standers only turn to look after the noise of the collision draws their attention.  But even so, the sentences seem extremely light.

To me, and to most cyclists, the sentences, often contextualised by the magistrate with the words ‘momentary inattention’ or some similar formulation, are a manifest failure of justice.

To tie red-light jumping by cyclists to lorries running over cyclists compounds that sense of injustice. This is what a policeman did at an operation to catch RLJing cyclists on City Road last week.  I totally accept that some members of the public view RLJing as a major problem requiring the urgent attention of the police.  I also totally accept that if you break the law, you should be prepared for the consequences.  I am not seeking to excuse cyclists that jump red lights, or argue that they should be shown leniency.  But I am saying that issuing a fixed penalty notice to a cyclist for jumping a red light with the words “we’re doing this because a cyclist got run over by a lorry last week” is grossly stupid and displays a near total ignorance of the reality of collisions between cyclists and lorries.

In numerous cases, too many to list (if you’re looking for examples, surf the contents page of Moving Target, and click on the ‘HGV’ section), the collision happened as both vehicles pulled away from a green light, i.e. the cyclist had waited for a red light to turn green, as required by law.  Reports suggest that this is exactly what Dr Giles did, to quote the most recent example.  Sebastian Lukomski definitely did.  They rarely, so rarely that it has happened perhaps once or twice in the last 20 years in London, are the result of the cyclist having run a light.

And don’t think that this ignorant policeman is an isolated example.  Policemen and women have often said something like ‘we have to scrape you off the road’ to me when chastising me for running a light, or riding the wrong way up a one way. (I used to be a bicycle messenger.  I got paid to get there quickly; obeying the law was discouraged by economic imperative).  I have the greatest respect for traffic police, who really do know what they are talking about, but no traffic cop has ever said this to me. It was always the police equivalent of white van man.

This ignorant behaviour extends to the higher reaches of the police force, as evidenced by the incredibly stupid use of Sebastian Lukomski’s crushed bicycle by the City Police in ‘education’ lectures given to RLJing cyclists instead of a fixed penalty.

I support the police.  I wrote to the Mayor when he tried to cut funding for lorry police. I support their initiatives to educate road users.  But when police make statements like this, they undermine respect for the badge, respect for the law and confound our already low expectations that justice will be done on the roads.