Cycling in London – Assorted Links 09/02/2012

Cycling safety: Riding the ‘Tour de Chance’ – and living to tell the tale – The Independent

Cyclists may get headstart on cars at busy junctions – The Guardian

The government is watching cyclists die – Cycalogic Blog

Cyclists are law-breakers – Stratagem XXXVIII blog

Lost on the road – The Times

Telegraph journalist rightly criticises Mayor’s cycle super highways but slightly misses the point when he declares cycle safety campaign is about ‘dissing’ Boris Johnson. It’s not. It’s about making the Mayor accountable for safe cycling. – Cyclists in the City

Cycling campaign relaunched on anniversary – Kensington and Chelsea Chronicle

Cyclists: sign up for training, London Councils urges – Press release

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Cyclist killed on Bishopsgate was a very experienced courier

According to a report on the website Moving Target and a number of posts on the London Fixed Gear Forum, the cyclist who was killed by a left turning coach at the junction of Wormwood Street and Bishopsgate last Friday was a bicycle courier named Henry Warwick who worked for Rico Logistics.

There will be a memorial ride organised by couriers of London this Friday. The City of London Police is still looking for eyewitnesses of the crash.

Henry is said to be the ninth courier who died on London’s roads while working.

There is a poignant video on Youtube about the work of cycling courier that features Henry Warwick. It’s an episode of a TV series called  “Ed’s up”, where Ed Robertson, a member of the Canadian band “Barenaked Ladies”,  tries out dangerous jobs.

In this episode, Ed works as a cycling courier in London and is incorporated by Henry.

Watching the film now is absolutely terrifying for a number of reasons.

The manager of Rico Logistics introduces Henry as “one of our most experienced riders”. Apparently, Henry was working as a courier in London for more about 20 years.

Ed muses about the risks for cyclists on London’s streets in a way that appears both prescient and repugnant at the same time.

For instance, Ed asserts that

“London is a city of eight million people. With that comes dangerous traffic which does not bode well with me at my new job. (…) I think I’m more afraid of this than I’ve been of any episode I’ve ever done.”

Horrifying is a scene in a video where Ed discusses the map of London and asks the manager of Rico: “Where will I die exactly?”. The answer he get is: “Oh, you could die anywhere”. The managers the  tells Ed:

“Remain nervous. If you remain nervous, you remain alert and be scared. If you don’t watch out, you’ll die.”

I take issue with Ed’s suggestion that the dangers on the roads are an act of God which is clearly wrong. London’s roads are dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians because the mayor and Transport for London give priority to motorised traffic and stick to a road design that poses unnecessary risks to weaker road users.

The traffic planning decisions of Transport for London triggers situations where even very experienced cyclists like Henry, who was on  road for almost 20 years, have no chance.

This is a point made by a number of people on the London Fixed Gear forum. For example, somebody calling himself “Badman ratio” writes:

“IT DOESNT MATTER HOW GOOD YOU ARE or how good you THINK you are, sudden death or being maimed for life can snatch you off your machine quicker than you say fixie. Henry was probably the most experienced/exemplary courier in London, if not Europe”

It’s just so sad and agonising.

How to deal with lorries as a cyclist

The rider escaped unharmed (Photo courtesy of Steve Biggs)

Lorries and other large vehicles are the single most important threat to cyclists in London. Since 2006, 89 riders died on the streets in the capital, at least 50 percent of them were killed by “heavy goods vehicles” (HGVs) or busses. The latest victim was a male rider who was killed last Friday at the junction of Bishopsgate and Wormwood Street  by a left turning coach.

According to a  study entitled “Deaths of cyclists in london: trends from 1992 to 2006”,

“freight vehicles are approximately 24 times more likely to be involved in a fatal incident than cars, 4 times as likely as buses and 8.5 times as likely as motorcycles.”

In a poignant letter to the “Evening Standard”, two trauma surgeons recently highlighted the issue:

We believe that more needs to be done to educate cyclists, drivers, road designers and those in government who are charged to lead and protect us to do more to prevent injuries amongst cyclists.”

London’s car-centric road layout and badly designed lorries are the main reasons for this tragedy. Due to a lot of construction work in the city, HGV traffic currently is on the rise in a lot of areas like King’s Cross, the City and the Southbank.

So how should cyclists cope with lorries?

An experienced London rider once gave me the single most important piece of advice:

“I avoid lorries like the plague.”

That’s basically it.

In a nutshell, the basic problem is that due to a misguided design of the vehicles, the drivers can’t see cyclists which are directly in front and alongside their vehicle. Lorry drivers have to deal with blind spots that are frighteningly large, especially on the left side of their vehicle.

This leads to three typical ways how lorries kill a cyclist.

Overtaking a lorry on the inside (“undertaking”)

One general advantage of the bicycle can turn lethal when it comes to lorries. As a cyclist, you can pass vehicles queuing in front of traffic lights. However, due to the massive blind spots of HGVs, the driver can’t see you when you’re alongside the vehicle.

When the traffic lights turn green and the lorry turns left, your life is at risk. As the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) describes:

“When turning left, a lorry will often pull out to the right first. This creates a wide gap on the left side between the vehicle and the kerb, which many cyclists think is safe to ride into. But in fact this is a very dangerous place to be.

As the lorry begins to turn, it will swing back to the left very close to the kerb. The gap between the kerb and the lorry will disappear in an instant.”

A typical accident, that happened in February 2011, was recently described in the “Evening Standard”:

“[James] Moore had been riding in a cycle lane and drew level with the tanker’s front axle virtually as it began pulling away. He tried to cycle straight on but was hit by the lorry, which had stopped in the advance cyclist’s “box”, and had been indicating a left turn.”

When the tanker turned left, the cyclist was dragged under the lorry and was terribly injured, as the “Evening Standard” explains:

“He suffered injuries including a broken left fibia and tibia, a broken pelvis, a collapsed lung and several broken ribs. He was in a medically-induced coma for three weeks and in hospital for three months.”

This is how James Moore himself recalls the crash:

“I do remember quite clearly cycling along past the junction. Suddenly, without any warning I could see, the lorry turned on me. I remember screaming ‘Stop, stop’, I think, and I think I’m going to die. Then I can remember being under the lorry and in considerable pain.”

Hence, one of the most important safety tips is: Never cycle on the nearside of a lorry.

In his his excellent e-book “Cycling Street Smarts” (freely available on the internet), John S. Allen writes:

“Don’t pass a long heavy goods vehicle or bus in a traffic jam unless there’s a full, open lane next to it. Keep your distance. If you ride close to the side of such a vehicle it may begin to merge toward you, leaving you no way to escape.”

Another important piece of advice, also by RoSPA, is this:

“If you have to stop or give way at a junction where there are no motor vehicles waiting, it may be best to wait at a point about 1 metre away from the kerb, to ensure that other vehicles arriving after you (especially lorries) pull up behind you, rather than alongside you (where they may forget that you are there and fail to see you when they pull off).”

I’m also very wary when I have to pass a lorry on the right. The blind spots are smaller, but they are still existing. Hence, I take care to have some extra space (1,5 Meter or more) between me and the lorry.

Waiting in front of a lorry at a junction

Unfortunately, there’s also a significant blind spot in front of the lorry. The driver can’t see you when you’re standing in an Advance Stop Box directly in front of the lorry. When the lights turn green and you’re not out off the way quickly enough, you’re at the risk of being run over by the HGV.

A lot of cyclists are not aware of this danger  (neither was I for a long time). This is how Kee, an experienced cyclist from London, described the blind spot in a comment on this blog:

“I was recently stopped by police in the City and invited to sit in various HGV vehicles that increasingly chock our city. The idea was to make cyclists aware that they cannot be seen. This was shockingly the case. Drivers are completely blind even if you are in front of them in the ‘cycling box’.”

I try to avoid standing right in front of a lorry at a red light. If possible, I just wait behind the lorry and don’t try to get in front of it. However, there are situations when you’re already waiting in front of the lights when a HGV turns up behind you. In such an occasion, I try to move forward into the junction as much as possible and try to make eye contact with the lorry driver. When you can see him, he can see you, too. When you look him in the eye, there’s a higher probability that he has realised that you’re there. When the lights turn, I make sure so get going as quickly as possible.

If it’s safely possible you might also consider jumping the lights in such an occasion.

A similar danger arises when you want to cross a congested street right in front of a lorry. If the traffic clears while you are still in front of the HGV, the driver can’t see you. Lisa Pontecorvo died in such a situation while wheeling her bike across Holloway Road in 2008. This is how a shopkeeper, who caught the crash on CCTV, described her  Lisa’s death:

“Traffic on this side of the road was stopped. She started to cross the road but stopped between the lorry and a car. She was waiting for traffic on the other side to stop. The lights changed and the lorry started to move.”

Even though I’m aware of the danger I foolishly got myself in a similar situation recently when I was trying to cross Kingsland Road at the junction of Tottenham Road. Fortunately, I escaped without any harm but cursed myself afterwards abundatly.

Being passed by a lorry that then turnes left / clips you

This is the biggest of all nightmares: It can happen that a lorry passes you and then cuts in or turns left. Fortunately, I never experienced it myself but James Thomas, who build the ghost bike for Deep Lee at King’s Cross, recently described such an experience on this blog:

“I’d been on the cycle lane and [a royal mail HGV] cut in on me as he overtook me at speed. I had to stop and lean onto the pavement and he missed be by less than 10cm.”

A related situation occurs when a lorry overtakes you at a junction and then turns left. Dave H. puts it this way in a comment on this blog:

“Many of these deaths arise when a large vehicle overtakes and turns left. All that publicity about not going down the inside is a huge smokescreen about the real cause of left-hook crashes.”

This probably is the most awkward situation because there are fewer things you can do to avoid it. I try to cycle as little as possible on busy roads with lots of lorries but of course it is impossible to avoid them completely.

This is Dave H’s advise how to minimise the danger:

“You will protect yourself from this hazard by learning to competently look directly behind you and ideally clocking the driver of any truck square in the eyes – to make sure they have seen you (and they are not reading a map/using the phone etc) That means NO SHADES. As a back up you have a stereoscopic vehicle detector called EARS – TAKE OUT THOSE KILLER EARPIECES. Many coroners’ reports note that the dead cyclist was unlikely to have heard the truck/tram/train coming up behind and even sounding their horn because they had shut down their second most important piece of safety kit. Finally the eyes and ears are rendered useless if you have the brain disconnected – you are riding a bike on a busy road – it is illegal for bus drivers to multi-task and other drivers can also be prosecuted for similar behaviour, cyclists should be equally focussed.”

Another important aspect is road positioning. Don’t cycle in the gutter – this induces lorry drivers to pass you and gives you little room to maneuver. John S. Allen devotes an entire chapter on road positioning in his excellent e-book “Cycling Street Smarts”, that is freely available on the internet.

Two Examples

Here are some situations I encountered in London in the last year.

Just stay behind, example 1

This is an example of a harmless looking situation that could easily have come dangerous. I was cycling southbound on Upper St. Martin’s Lane in Covent Garden and approached this lorry at the junction of Long Acre and wanted to cycle straight on. The lorry was waiting in the lane for straight on traffic and was not indicating. However, when the lights turned green, it made a left turn anyway. If I would have passed the lorry on the left side trying to get in front of the vehicle and the lights would have changed in that moment, I would have been in trouble. However, I just waited behind the lorry.

I took this picture in Islington on Cross Street at the junction of Essex Road and wanted to make a right turn onto Essex Road.

While I was waiting behind the lorry, another rider passed us and positioned herself in front of the vehicle. I guess that she can be seen by the driver (I’m not completely shure, however).

Nevertheless, I think she took unnecessary risks. First of all, she did not try to make eye contact with the lorry driver who – as I could see in his rear mirror – talking on the phone and hence not fully concentrating on the traffic. Secondly, the rider stands in front of her traffic lights and hence will find it hard to realise when the lights switch to green. However, in such a situation, it is important to get out of the way of the lorry as quickly as possible.

Cycling in London – Assorted Links 03/02/2012

Gosh, the number of articles about cycling in London and road safety in particular is booming at the moment. See yourself:

Champions call for safer cycling on roads  – The Times

Mother who turned her tragedy into a fight for safer lorries – The Times

From the driver’s cab, cyclists are all but invisible – The Times

The politics of cycling safety – Dave Hill’s London (The Guardian)

Safety comes first if we want a cycling revolution – Jenny Jones on “Comment is Free” (The Guardian)

New City of London road layout proves Transport for London has got cycle safety completely wrong at junctions – Cyclists in the City

London’s cycle infrastructure, and reallocation of road space – As Easy as Riding a bike

Monday 6 February action at King’s Cross : reminder – and news – Bikes Alive

Dan Cox – Marking the Death of Another London Cyclist – Huffington Post

Road accident statistics: how safe are our roads? – Data Blog (The Guardian)

The best way to reduce the number of cyclist deaths is to get more people cycling   – The Daily Telegraph

‘Next London Mayor must do more for cyclists,’ says father of designer hit by bus – Camden New Journal

Driver charged with manslaughter after open car door leads to death of cyclist – Road.cc

Family of cyclist Eilidh Cairns to relaunch safety campaign – Journal Live

And last but not least, here’s my latest article about “The Times” and its cycling campaign:

Is this our “Stop de Kindermord” moment?

Is this our “Stop de Kindermord” moment?

Maybe this is just wishful thinking. Maybe, however,  the 2nd February 2012 might be seen as a historic day for cycling in London when people will look back in a few years.

Today might be remembered as the day when the real cycling revolution in London started.

Today, “The Times” , one of the oldest newspapers of the world, kicked off an amazing and impressive campaign to make British cities safer for cyclists. “Safe our cyclists”, the newspaper urged on its front page.

This might be our “Stop de Kindermord” moment.

In the early 70s, in the Netherlands a movement called “Stop de Kindermord” (“Stop the child murder”) campaigned hard for a more cycling friendly road design in the Netherlands. Only these protests lead to an infrastructure that today is the envy of the world and taken for granted by most observers. (David Hembrow has an interesting post about the history of the movement and there is also a good video on Youtube on how the Dutch got their cycling infrastructure.)

“The Times” could not have been timed better. In the last 12 to 18 months, the public anger about the appalling road conditions for pedestrians in London has grown impressively.

Bloggers – first and foremost Danny Williams and Mark Ames – organised a number of demonstrations against car centric traffic priorities, poignant vigils remembering cyclists who died in traffic were held, and  ghost bikes for killed cyclists were installed.  A new group called “Bikes Alives” organises regular demonstrations at King’s Cross (the next one on 6 February). The topic was discussed in the London Assembly, and a growing number of articles in blogs and traditional news media address the issue.

The University of the Arts London has launched a campaign called “Right to Ride” after Deep Lee, one of its students, was killed by a lorry at King’s Cross last year.

Local newspapers like the Evening Standard and the Camden New Journal report meticulously about cycling related issues and the London Cycling Campaign works on a large initiative called “Go Dutch”.

On top of all this comes the impressive and vocal campaign by “The Times”, triggered by the accident of Times reporter Mary Bowers who was crushed by a lorry in November in front of the newspapers offices in Wapping and has been in a coma until today.

This campaign might be the tipping point.

The fact that “The Times” embarks on the topic proves that cycling has become mainstream. It’s not just the pastime of tree huggers or overly active lads in lycra. It’s an everyday activity that ordinary people do. It’s the fastest, cheapest and most environmentally friendly way to get around in central London. And we have the right to cycle without constant fear.

Due to car centric thinking at Transport for London, this activity is much more dangerous than it ought to be. A lot of things could be improved rather easily (here’s an example concerning Old Street roundabout, where a Boris biker was almost killed by a lorry yesterday). Some fundamental and expensive changes in road design are also necessary.

In an election year, the safety of cyclists has become one of the big issues in London. Until today, Transport for London and Boris Johnson have not taken the issue seriously. They  have chosen to ignore the fact that planning priorities and road design are to blame for many deaths and injuries of cyclists.

This approach has become much, much harder to hold up.

Cycling in London – Assorted Links 02/02/2012

Today marks a launch of an excellent campaign by “The Times” to “Save our cyclists”. Here are some links to their coverage about cycling safety:

Cities fit for Cycling – the landing page of the campaign.

Vicious Cycle Riding a bicycle in Britain is far too dangerous. Today, The Times launches a manifesto for those who pedal on our roads

A New Covenant for Cycling

On the road to more agony and regret . . . if we don’t act now

Kaya Burgess on his friend and colleague, whose journey to work ended in critical injury

Readers comments on the campain

Danny Williams, the most prolific cycling blogger who deserves a lot of credit for getting the public debate about cycling safety going, comments on the campaign and on cycling safety in general: Boris Johnson – you promised a ‘cycling revolution’ and you’ve completely failed to deliver. Even The Times suggests your thinking on cycling is way out of touch. Each of us can do something about this

Apart from the excellent campaign by “The Times”, I came across these stories:

London politicians give “qualified support” to TfL’s Bow Roundabout proposals (+ video) – Road.cc

Father sets up travel charity after son’s death – The father of Sam Harding, who was killed while cycling on Holloway Road in 2011, wants to support young people –  Travel Weekly

Boris Bike Accident In Clerkenwell – Londonist

Shared space is the future for London’s roads – Evening Standard

Cycling in London – Assorted Links 01/02/2012

Boris Bike crushed by a lorry on Old Street Roundabout – Twitter

Boris, Ken, Brian or Jenny? Giving Londoners on bikes the “Yes We Can” factor – I bike London blog

Southwark Labour council sets out a strategy to shrink current growth in cycling, that also runs counter to Ken Livingstone’s cycling policy. – Cyclists in the City blog

‘My ward has been the scene of too much tragedy. Four cyclists have died in the last two years within a two-minute walk of my home’. The response to this situation in Southwark by its Labour council is utterly irresponsible– Cyclists in the City blog

I remember screaming ‘stop, stop’, says cyclist dragged under left-turning tanker – The Evening Standard

Mary Dejevsky: Why we should all fear for friends who insist on cycling in the city -The Independent

Transport minister Theresa Villiers involved in cycling accident – The Guardian