Cycling at King’s Cross – A new docking station for Boris bikes gives me shivers

The new docking station on Crinan Street / York Way

It is with deeply mixed feelings that I realised a few days ago there will be a new docking station for Boris bikes north of King’s Cross. It will be on Crinan Street right next to King’s Place, where the Guardian resides. It looks like it will be opened soon.

On the one hand side, it’s really good to see the expansion of the cycle hire scheme in the King’s Cross area. The network of docking stations is particularly patchy in this part of the city. Although I’m only a very casual user of the scheme (I prefer to use my own bike) it’s very convenient to have a docking station right next to my office on Crinan Street.

On the other hand, the new docking station really gives me shivers. If you want to use it, you have to ride your bike on one of the most notorious and cycling unfriendly areas of central London – the infamous King’s Cross gyratory.

If you happen to be south of Euston Street, you are forced to cross the junction where Deep Lee, a 24 year old arts student, was crushed by a lorry when she cycled to college on 3 October 2011. Since 2006, three other cyclists were killed by lorries in the area. Pedestrian and cycling campaigners have been fighting for years for a more human friendly redesign of the area but Transport for London did not bother to take action. They were more concerned about smoothing the traffic flow than improving the safety of cyclists. In December, the Camden New Journal reported about a special town hall meeting in Camden:

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.

Some improvement works at the dreadful junction are about to begin, but James Thomas, an architect and cyclist working on York Way who had a close look at TfL’s plan, says the changes fall short of any real improvement. James, who built the memorial bike for Deep Lee, concludes that the plans bring

no improvements in safety for cyclists

The new docking station north on York Way will lure Boris bikers to an area that is loathed even by very experienced cyclists. Many of them are tourists or otherwise inexperienced cyclists who are not familiar with the bewildering system of one-way streets around King’s Cross and are not aware of the build in dangers for cyclist on the roads around King’s Cross. To quote an infamous sentence by Boris Johnson, they will find is amazingly difficult “to have their wits about them”.

There are no bike facilities on York Way whatsoever and cycling there is absolutely counter intuitive. Between Euston Road and Wharfdale Road, the left lane is used as a bus stop. Northbound cyclists who keep left happen to be squeezed in the middle of the traffic: busses on their left, fast moving cars and lorries on their right.

I cycled there quite often and came to the conclusion that the “safest” way to ride there is if you position yourself on the road like a cyclist in Europe would do: I keep on the outer right lane next to the curb.

However, if you want to carry on north behind Wharfdale Road, you have to cross two lanes of car traffic because York Way ceases to be a one-way street there. To get to the docking station on Crinan Street, you have to cross York Way with its four lanes of fast moving, aggressive drivers. (The better way to get to the docking station is a right turn onto Wharfdale Road and then a left into Crinan Street, but tourists and people not familiar with the area won’t know.)

I consider myself an experienced cyclist who tends not be scared easily but I always feel extremely queasy when I cycle on York Way. I usually use Pancras Way as an alternative to York Way . However, this tiny street between King’s Cross Station and St. Pancras Station currently quite often comes closer to a car park for cabs than a street. In peak hours, it is almost impossible to cycle there at all. On top of that, Goods Way north of St. Pancras currently is a one way street in eastern direction and you have to cycle illegally on the curb if you want to get to King’s Place.

Leaving the docking station on Crinan Street by bike is a similar nightmare since you can’t use the York Way south of Wharfdale Road. Imagine you cycled to the docking station on Crinan Street and find out it is full. If you’re not aware of Pancras Street, cycling back to the docking stations south of King’s Cross resembles a very personal “Tour du Danger”.

All in all, the docking station on Crinan Street makes the case for segregated cycle lanes in the area even more compelling. Anything else would just be irresponsible and a gamble with human life.

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“Take immediate action to improve the road layout” – an open letter by Deep Lee’s boyfriend

Kenji Hirasawa is the boyfriend of Deep Lee, who was killed by a lorry cycling at King’s Cross on 3rd October, 2011. Kenji, who gave a poignant interview to the “Camden New Journal”, wrote an open letter to Camden’s Culture & Environment Scrutiny Committee and gave me the permission to publish it on the blog.
Deep Lee's memorial bike at King's Cross

Here’s what Kenji’s wrote:

“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.

Your sincerely,

Kenji Hirasawa”

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.”

This is where Deep Lee died - TfL plans no changes to the junction (drawing by James Thomas)

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.”

Let’s never forget her – the ghost bike for Deep Lee

The ghost bike for Deep Lee

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.

James Thomas, who build the bike (left) , and a good friend of Deep Lee (right)

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)

Here’s a blog post by Mark on “I bike London” on the installation of the bikeMore of my photos from tonight are available here.

The “Camden New Journal” and the “Evening Standard” reported about the event. James produced this brief video about the work on the bike:

Cyclist Killed at King’s Cross – A predictable death

Usually it’s great when you’re proven right. This time, however, it is utterly frustrating and appalling. In April I wrote a blog post about the dangers for cyclists around King’s Cross / St. Pancras and stated:

“It might be only a question of time until someone gets hit at King’s Cross / St. Pancras

On 3 October, unfortunately, this is precisely what happened. Around 11.40am Min Joo Lee, 24, was killed by a lorry on Pentonville Road at the junction with York Way. (The police report says it happened at the junction with Kings Cross road, but given this photo the cops got the location wrong.)

Few details are publicly known about the crash at the moment and we should not jump to conclusions. The police is looking for witnesses – if you saw something, please get in touch with the Road Death Investigation Unit at Alperton on 0208 998 5319.

Continue reading “Cyclist Killed at King’s Cross – A predictable death”

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.