However, being on the right side of the law gives small consolation if you’re “doored”. Additionally, even if you’re not severely injured, running into a car door is really painful, as I can report from first hand experience.
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”
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.
“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.”
“[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.”
“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.
“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.
“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
“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.
Here are some situations I encountered in London in the last year.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“My girlfriend Deep Lee (Min Joo Lee) was killed in a car accident at the junction of York Way and Gray’s Inn Road on 3rd of October, 2011. I have submitted this email as I would like the council to consider this junction as extremely dangerous for cyclists and consequently needs some immediate improvements made to protect local residents to prevent a similar accident happening again.
The issue with the road where my girlfriend was killed by the lorry is that there is no cycle lane and the road is too narrow to share the space with both cars and cyclists. Therefore cyclists are forced to be extremely close to vehicles and it is difficult for them to be seen from large trucks.
My girlfriend was just in front of the truck and both her and the truck driver were waiting for the traffic signal to change.
The driver of the truck might not have been able to see her directly and he appeared not to have looked forward using
the mirror which is placed to see just in front of the car around bumper. Consequently Deep was run over.
I would like the Council to consider making the road safer and implementing changes such as providing cycle lanes like those used in the Netherlands or making selected roads safer for cyclists and informing cyclists to use these roads.
With the number of cyclists on the roads increasing all the time (and with the college of Central Saint Martins, where Deep attended) recently having moved to King’s Cross, I am keen to prevent similar accidents happening again in the future.
This, combined with an increased number of trucks being used to construct the Olympics sites and prepare London for the games makes the risk all the greater.
I would like to urge the council to take some immediate action to improve the road layout for cyclists before more accidents happen and more cyclists are killed.
The junction where Deep Lee died has been heavily criticised by road safety experts and local pedestrian and cycling campaigners for years. A 2008 report commissioned by TfL came to the conclusion that the whole area was highly dangerous and should be re-designed.
However, TfL did not heed that advice. Smoothing the traffic flow for motorised vehicles was deemed more important than the life of cyclists.
In an appalling statement, this was blithely acknowledged by a representative of Transport for London admitted in a hearing at Camden Town hall, as the Camden New Journal reported:
A TfL representative insisted that introducing a cycle lane at the junction would “cause considerable queues”, stressing that there was “limited time” to conduct a review of the proposed changes for the junction because of a “commitment” to make them in time for the Olympic Games.
Early next year, TfL plans to make some changes at the junction. However, they do not address the fundamental issues at all. James Thomas, the maker of the memorial bike for Deep Lee, had a close look at the plans and concludes that there are
“no improvements in safety for cyclists.”
In an email to TfL, James wrote:
” Your proposals at that junction in the direction [Deep Lee] was travelling, amount to a decision to repaint the existing cycling box!
This completely ignores the problem that there are two lanes of traffic, including many HGV vehicles, entering that junction from Grays Inn road. At that junction the road narrows, so vehicles jostle for position and they also turn through 45 degrees, with the added distraction of many people crossing the road, cyclist end up being crushed under the wheels of HGVs.
That is what happened to Deep Lee.
In 2012 and foreward there will be many more pedestrians crossing the street, more and more cyclists and HGVs servicing the Kings Cross site for another 5+ years.
I warn you that the likely consequence is that more cyclists will be killed. If that is the case and with TFL ignoring their own study into the junction from 3 years ago, which suggested that real safety improvements should be made, then I believe TFL and the mayor are being negligent in ignoring this issue and should be wary of the case of corporate manslaughter that has already been suggested.”
Tonight at 6.30pm, about 60 people gathered on a narrow pedestrian island at King’s Cross, central London. Surrounded by horrific traffic – I was really afraid that somebody might get hit by a car – we all commemorated Deep Lee (Min Joo Lee), the 24 year old cyclist who died at this spot three weeks ago after she was hit by a lorry.
Deep Lee’s best friend gave a very moving speech. It was a poignant and sad ceremony that gave me the shivers. I hope that the bike will work as a reminder for all road users to respect each other and take care. It might also wake up Transport for London that a human-friendly redesign of the roads in the area is urgently needed.
Many thanks again to James Thomas, a cyclist working a few hundered yards away and to Beth (I don’t know her last name) James organised the bike and painted it. Beth, a designer, worked on the sign.
James explained his motivation in an interview with Will Perrin that is available here. I was happy that I could help with spreading the word. The whole initiative was organised informally by people over the internet who did not know each other. (Big society, here we come!) I’m really impressed by this amazing civic spirit.
On 3 November, there will be a memorial service at On 3 November, there will also memorial ceremony for her at the university. It starts at 6pm at Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design ( Granary Building, 1 Granary Square London N1C 4AA)