“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.”

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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:

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?”

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”

My own Superhighways (I): Paddington – King’s Cross/St. Pancras

There has been a lot of fuss around the Barclays Cycle Superhighways in London – and a lot of criticism. This is the gospel according to “Transport for London” (TfL).

Barclays Cycle Superhighways are new cycle routes that run into central London from outer London to provide cyclists with safer, faster and more direct journeys into the city. The new routes are clearly marked and easy to follow.

By 2015 twelve of those cycle paths are supposed to be built. Currently two are in operation. However, a lot of cyclists severely criticise the superhighways.

Be that as it may. Here I want to present a different view on the issue. I’m going to present my own personal cycle superhighways. Or, to put it differenly and with an appropriate degree of decency, the real cycle superhighways. Most of them are not running into central London from outer parts of the city but are running across central London – routes that I frequently use on my Brompton.

My personal cycling philosophy probably is different than that of the ordinary London cyclist.  I’m trying to avoid busy “A” and “B” roads as well as large roundabouts asmuch as possible. Both are notorious accident hot spots where almost all fatal cycling accidents happen. I just don’t use them.  Most of the time, that’s amazingly easy. You’ll (almost) never see me on the Old Street roundabout, on Euston Road or High Holborn. I’m constantly looking for routes on quieter roads and trying to avoid those notorious accident hotpots.

Here’s my first example: going from Paddington station to King’s Cross station.

View and download the route ad GPSies.com.

The most straightforward way to go there would be the ring road (Marylebone Road, Euston Road). For cyclists, however, that route is a complete and utter nightmare. The northern ring road is one of the busiest and most congested roads of the city with dozens of bus lines, a lot of lorries and way too many cars. Cycling there is definitely no fun.

However, there is a great alternative which is almost completely car-free. Just use the canal.

Looking for a real cycling superhighway?

Since I’ve moved to London in October 2009 I’ve always been a big fan of the canals for cycling. But it took me almost 1.5 years to realize that there is a direct link between King’s Cross (where I work) and Paddington (where I have to get sometimes to catch a train to Oxford). This route is approximately 1.5 km longer than taking the ring road but it’s MUCH safer (I haven’t seen a lorry at the canal, lately, for instance.)

Today, in the early afternoon, it took me 28 minutes to cycle from Paddington to King’s Cross. The tube takes 19 Minutes, and the highly theoretical travel time by car according to Google Maps is 13 minutes (probably at 3am, that’s doable, in the peak hours I bet it’s more than double). I reckon that taking the canal route adds 6 to 8 minutes to the cycling journey time at most.

From my personal point of view, instead of painting existing cycle paths blue, at least some superhighway funds would have better been invested in upgrading the cycle paths at the canal. Underneath some bridges, for example,  the path is very narrow and should be widened.

Do you have your own personal cycle superhighways? Just tell me, please!