Corporate Manslaughter – is TfL a serial offender?

Unfortunately, this is how London streets looks only once a year. (Photo: ProfDEH via Wikipedia)

On Monday, 24 October the 14th London cyclist of the year was killed in traffic. A male rider was crushed by a tipper lorry in a roundabout near the Bow flyover in east London.

The media focuses on the fact that it was the first fatality on a so called “cycling superhighway”.

However, another fact is even more annoying and depressing.

Once again, there have been advance warnings to TfL about the the poor design of the junction where the crash happened.

As Wharf.co.uk reported yesterday:

“London Assembly Member John Biggs said he twice met with Transport for London officials over concerns with the Bow Flyover.

However, he was told there was no obvious solution which would not cause massive traffic delays. Mr Biggs said he had the same response in a written question to London Mayor Boris Johnson.”

(Diamond Geezer discusses the awful road layout at the Bow Flyover in detail here.)

This is at least the forth time this year that a London cyclist died on a road that was harshly criticised in advance. Continue reading “Corporate Manslaughter – is TfL a serial offender?”

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How to avoid King’s Cross as a Cyclist

The tragic death of Min Joo Lee, 24, who was crushed by a lorry while cycling at King’s Cross on the 3rd of October, triggered a lively debate about cycling safety around King’s Cross.

As William Perrin reported on the King’s Cross environment blog, the junction was criticised in the strongest possible terms in a road safety report commissioned by TfL in 2008.  As William puts it:

“The report was damning of the entire street environment in Kings Cross.  Sober engineer speak was interspersed with phrases like ‘highly dangerous’.”

Unfortunately, this report really has a point. However, TfL did nothing to make the area safer for pedestrians and cyclists. William considers to sue TfL for corporate manslaughter, BBC London reported about TfL’s failure, and the excellent “Cyclists in the City” blog got involved.

But how can you as a cyclist minimise the risks in the area?

My office is a few hundred yards north of King’s Cross station and I cycle around King’s Cross regularly.  I try to avoid the Ring road and the other busy roads like Farringdon Road like the plaque. In this post, I want to describe my routes in the King’s Cross area.

Continue reading “How to avoid King’s Cross as a Cyclist”

Death trap in Lambeth – TfL in full denial – help needed

This is a guest post by LindaH, who was the first one to write about the sad and fatal accicent in Lambeth last month here Johanna Bailey died. Although campaigners of  London Cycling Campaign identified the road where the accident happened as dangerous in 2008 and numerous cyclists on online forums share this view, Transfort for London (TfL) apparently does not see any need for action, as Linda reports. Let’s help to convince them. 

Help please!! Following the death of cyclist Johannah Bailey on 31 July, a meeting with TfL officials has been arranged to press for improved safety measures for cyclists in the area of Cycle Route 5 where she died. The meeting is scheduled for 12 September.

Johanna Bailey cycled this way – the spot where she dies comes after about 10 or 11 seconds, where the collision investigators’ markings are in the middle of the road. (video courtesy of “Origamist“)

TfL officials say their work is “data led” — essentially, not enough people have died or had life-changing injuries for them to take action. Having secured a meeting with them nonetheless, it is crucial that we present as much evidence as possible to show why changes here are essential. The police also have asked for copies of correspondence into safety issues here, which they will include in their collision investigation report. Police reports can mandate changes to areas deemed unsafe.

The accident site seen from the opposite direction, seconds 14 and 15. Again, the video was made by  “Origamist“.

We need to collect as much evidence as possible to strengthen our case. Have you – whether as a cyclist, driver or pedestrian — seen or experienced near misses in this area? Have you had or witnessed an accident which went unreported?

The area under discussion is the South Circular from the junction of Rudloe and Poynders Road SW4 through to the turnoff from Cavendish Road into Klea Avenue. It includes all the entry and exit points to the area: Cavendish, Hazelbourne, Englewood and Abbeville Roads, and Klea Ave as well as the housing estate entrance.

Continue reading “Death trap in Lambeth – TfL in full denial – help needed”

Bus kills cyclist on Holloway Road

Holloway Road, junction of Jackson Road: Paying tribute to Sam Harding.

Last night, I was at the spot where Sam Harding (25) died last Saturday. The Islington Cyclists Action Group, the local branch of the London Cycling Campaign paid tribute to the Sam.

It was completely heartbreaking and very unsetteling. Sam’s family and a lot of his friends showed up trying to cope with the unexpected loss of a loved one.

The Islington Tribune has published a long article about the gathering.

According to various press reports, Sam was cycling southbound on Holloway road. Right in front of Holloway Cycles  slightly north of the junction with Jackson street  a door of a parking car was opened (apparently by a child) and hit Sam. He came off and was immediately afterwards run over by  a TfL, as the Camden New Journal reports.

This is the second fatality in seven days. At least 12 cyclists died in the capital in traffic accidents in 2011, plus at least two more in just outside of the boundaries of Greater London  (details of all fatal crashes since 2006 here) ashes here: moves me especially because I live literally around the corner.

My personal lesson from this tragic incident is: Keep away from the door zone! I’m trying to pass parking car with enough distance so open doors don’t hit me.  I’m also trying to avoid busy roads like Holloway road as much as possible. Most severe crashes involving cyclists happen there. Cycling on quieter roads is possible most of the time. Sometimes, this means taking a slightly routes and  it takes a few minutes more. However, less traffic mean fewer vehicles that can possibly kill you.

The big lesson for drivers is: Do a shoulder check before getting off a car. And please, please, put the child safety lock in action when you’re driving around with kids.

The police is still looking for witnesses of the crash. Please  call the Road Death Investigation Unit at Alperton (0208 998 5319). The police wants to talk to passengers who were on the 153 bus involved in the collision.

Rest in peace, Sam.

And take care, guys!

Cyclists, busses and the unsettling death of Jayne Helliwell

TfL busses in central london

About 10 to 20 cyclists die on the streets of London each year. Almost all of them are killed by motorised vehicles. Quite often, the drivers are charged with dangerous driving and have to face an inquest. The results of these inquests, however, are frequently very depressing.

The latest example is the death of Jayne Helliwell, a 25 year old student who died on Oxford Street last April. She was crushed to death by a TfL double decker because the driver incidentally hit the accelerator instead of the break. (There are two heart breaking orbituaries written by friends and colleagues of her: here and here.)

And guess what? He was recently acquitted. The case against the driver named Carlton Lewars was dropped after it was revealed that Lewars suffers sciatica. According to a report in the Evening Standard, he claimed that he suffered a “sudden pain” immediately before his bus hit Jayne. Allegedly, this pain was the reason why he used the wrong pedal.

I’m not expert in law, generally I do trust the British judicial system and I think the presumption of innocence rightly has to be applied if there are any reasonable doubt left. So let’s assume that the “not guilty” decision by the judge was correct.

Nevertheless the whole case is deeply unsettling. The company employing Carlton Lewars – Metroline – knew about his illness but allowed him to stay behind the wheel anyway. The “Evening Standard” quoted a Metroline spokesman stating that Lewars had been declared fit by his GP and the illness did not revoke his bus driving licence.

To me, there seems to be a significant hole in the system. How is it possible that an illness does not render somebody unfit to do his job, but when he makes a grave mistake due to this illness, he’s not responsible for his behaviour?

Either his GP (hughly unlikely) , Metroline and/or Transport for London has to take responsibility, in my humble opinion. Metroline employed an ill man who was unfit to drive a bus safely and hence killed an innocent cyclist.

Looks more scary then they are - if the driver is fit.

The “Evening Standard” quoted the Metroline spokesman saying how deeply sorry they are about the death of Jayne. Well, fair enough.

But how about putting your money where your mouth is? Because of your hiring decisions and employment policies, you’re indirectly responsible for the death of Jayne Helliwell. You knowingly employed somebody who due to his illness wasn’t able to do his job properly.

Please don’t get me wrong: I don’t want to blame TfL bus drivers in general. In fact I do have a very high opinion about them and thing the vast majority of bus drivers in London are doing an amazingly good job. My personal experience as a cyclist is that almost all TfL busses are driven in a very considerate and careful manner (of course, as always in life, there are exceptions).

LCC’s “London Cyclist” magazine has recently done an interesting story on the cyclist awareness training for bus drivers. I think this is really paying off.

According to my statistics on severe cycling accidents in London only two other cyclists have been killed by TfL busses since 2006 (a male cyclist on Park Lane in February 2008 and Dorothy Elder on Southampton Row in November 2009. The driver who killed Dorothy was also acquitted, later. Freewheeler wrote a good post on that disturbing decision, and I commented on his post.)

This compares to a total of 82 cyclists, the big majority killed by lorries and vans. The low numbers of cyclist killed by bus drivers is even more remarkable given the fact that TfL busses probably significantly outnumber lorries on the streets of London, the job is very stressful and the pay isn’t fantastic.

Nevertheless, Jayne’s death and the revelations from the inquest are deeply unsettling. Hence, I urge Metroline and TfL to take responsibility for Jayne’s death. Pay a comspensation to her family and donate some funds to the London Cycling Campaign. However, even more important is a tightening of the employment rules. Otherwise, the message to any driver in London is straightforward: Convince your GP to diagnose you with sciatica. That’s the perfect insurance policy against any possible wrongdoing.

Update: On 2 November 2011 there was in inquest into Jayne’s death. The “Camden New Journal” published a brief report.

King’s Cross / St. Pancras: Accidents waiting to happen

According to my hand collected data, eight have been killed by cars and lorries in Greater London in 2011 so far (not five, as the BBC claims). The latest victim was Paula Jurek (20) in Camden last week who was crushed by a left turning lorry.

It might be only a question of time until someone gets hit at King’s Cross / St. Pancras. There is massive construction work going on around King’s Cross at the moment, probably in preparation of London 2012. Some traffic obstructions are inevitable, of course.

However, appartently the companies working on the construction sites don’t care at all for cyclists. I took this picture a few minutes ago at the junction of Pancras Road and Euston Road.

Pancras Road has an Advanced Stop Line for cyclists which is disregarded by both drivers. When I dismounted to take the picture, only the black HGV on the left had entered the box. The tractor (which was pulling a dreadful trailer and was turning left) arrived later. Both vehicles came from the construction site at King’s Cross.

I had a brief – and friendly – conversation with the driver of the tractor after I took the picture. I hold him that he was standing in a bike box. He looked at me in utter disbelief and did not understand what I was telling him.

This is really a shame. Unfortunately I don’t know who is responsible for the construction work at King’s Cross. Is it Transport for London? They urgently have to teach basic cycling awareness lessons to the HGV drivers working there. Otherwise some cyclist will get hurt sooner or later.

Why Norman Baker is right about cycling helmets

Me and my helmet

The question if cyclists should wear a helmet is one of the most contentious among cyclists. I usually wear one, as the picture taken on a bike trip in Sweden in 2006 proofs. However, I absolutely think that this should be the personal decision of any cyclist. No cyclist should be forced to wear a helmet.

I’m glad that Norman Baker, the UK minister responsible for cycling shares my view. According to the Guardian, Baker, who is a keen cyclist himself, has recently said:

“I don’t wear a helmet when I cycle. The first reason is that I don’t want to. I don’t want to wear something on my head. For me the joy of cycling is to have the wind in your hair, such as I have left. It’s free, it’s unencumbered; I don’t want to be loaded down.

“It is a libertarian argument. The responsibility is only towards myself. It’s not like drinking and driving where you can damage other people. You do no harm. I’m not encouraging people not to do this, I’m just saying I make a decision not to.”

I think he is absolutely right. But what has happened to poor Norman Baker after his remarks? He got scolded, as the Guardian reports. The paper quotes Joel Hickman, spokesman for  the road safety charity Brake:

“Last year, over 17,000 cyclists were injured on UK roads with over 2,500 killed or seriously injured. The vast majority of these deaths and serious injuries were the result of a head injury. This is precisely why many of our international and European partners have already introduced compulsory helmet wearing. Ministers should practise what they preach and when a minister directly responsible for cycling safety refuses to wear a cycle helmet, we then have to look at their suitability for the role.”

I don’t doubt that a helmet increases the safety of a cyclist. However,  Hickman is beating  a strawman, in my humble opinion. At least here in London, helmets would not have prevented most of the cycling fatalities. The biggest danger here are not head injuries but lorries. As my data on cycling accidents in London since 2006 shows, between 2009 and 2011 at least 51% of the 31 fatal cycling accidents involved lorries. According to an academic paper by Andrei Morgan et al. between 1996 and 2010 (“Deaths of cyclists in London: trends from 1992 to 2006“) “freight vehicles were involved in over 40% cyclists killed”.

You can wear the best helmet in the world – unfortunately it does not help you at all when you’re crushed by a left turning lorry which does not have proper mirrors.

Continue reading “Why Norman Baker is right about cycling helmets”