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.

Boris Bikes: Eventually I’m really getting frustrated

I used to be a big fan of the cycle hire scheme in London and defended it against criticism several times (see here , here and here).

However, now I’m really getting frustrated.

One week ago, I was trying to hire a bike with my key. However, I only got red lights and was unable to release any bike. Because I wanted to find out if there is something wrong with my key I called the call center. They were busy and I ended up in the overflow call center. Those poor guys there don’t have direct access to the cycle hire system. I gave them my key number, my mobile number and my email address and they promised to come back to me.

Guess what, I never heard anything again.  Today, however, when I had a look at my bank account I realized that TfL nevertheless charged me one pound for the access period.

I tried to log in on the internet but that did not work either. The website always asks me to reset my password but does not accept a new one.  (This is a known issue which I had before.)

I called them again and again only reached the overflow call center. Again, they wrote down my details and promised to call me back. Well, let’s see.

Stuff happens, of course. However, thanks to the Boris Bike forum I know that this is not an isolated case.  Calls recorded by the overflow call center are frequently lost, they don’t call you bank and the website is constantly making trouble.

This is really a shame. The cycle hire scheme has been running since August 2010.

These are not teething problems anymore. This starts to look like incompetence!

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.

The troubling death of Dorothy Elder -Comment

Freewheeler, who runs the blog “Crap Cycling & Walking in Waltham Forest”has written a very good post on the death of Dorothy Elder, a cyclist who got killed by a TfL Bus in London in 2009. Last week, the bus driver was cleared in court. Freewheler rightly points to some oddities of the crash and the verdict.

Unfortunately, I’m unable to add a comment to Freewheeler’s blog. Hence I do it here.

The crash happened on 11/11/2009 at 11pm.  According to the Evening Standard, the bus was waiting in front of red lights in Theobald’s Road in the middle lane and was bout to turn right into Southampton Row.  Dorothy passed the (standing?) bus on the vehicles nearside. When she was in front of the bus, she changed landes, apparently without looking or putting her arm out to indicate.

In court, a road crash expert named Barry Wheeler cleared the driver Leola Burte. He said

  1. there may have been a three-second window for Leola Burte to spot Ms Elder become a hazard
  2. however, the driver  would have been focusing on the more immediate traffic dangers to her right
  3. the view of the cyclist may have been obscured by a combination of the cab fittings and windscreen wipers
  4. The prosecution  suggested that Miss Elder should have worn more visible clothing and should not have ridden in front of the bus  in the first place

There are a number of things that deeply irritate me.

Three seconds is quite a long time.  Dorothy was either in front or to the right of the bus. Even according to Mr. Wheeler the driver would have been focusing on the things which were happening to her right. I don’t understand how this can be used an an argument in favour of the driver.

How can windscreen wipers obscure the view of a bus driver? If this is really a valid point, busses should urgently be re-designed. If the view was really obscured, why does Mr. Wheeler stress that Dorothy did not indicate? If the  driver really was unable to see the cyclist, this would not have helped anyway.

The verdict really is surprising given the fact that – according to an interview the bus driver gave to the Evening Standard after the verdict, even the bus company was convinced that the accident was the drivers fault.  According to the Standard,  Leola Burte said:

“I went into the office and they [the bus company Metroline] told me they had seen the CCTV and that I was at fault. I was treated like a murderer. They told me I was sacked and to give back my uniform.”

This is really peculiar. Either Metroline really is an utterly awful employer which does not protect its employees at all or the CCTV recording was very straightforward. Freewheeler makes another good point:

If the collision was captured on CCTV (…)  it is far from clear to me why there should be any room for doubt as to how long the cyclist was visible in front of the bus. This would be a matter of record, not speculation.

Freewheeler rightly points to the fact that at the same junction another cyclist was killed one year earlier.

All this is really unsettling. Has the jury really done a proper job? I do have some  doubts.

Some issues, but even more fun – my experience as a casual Boris Biker

Boris Bikes - the Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme in London

Over the weekend, some friends from Germany were visiting us. On Saturday (March 26) we took them for a ride on Boris bikes. Since my wife and I only have two access keys (thanks to a design flaw in the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme, but that’s another story), we had to hire two more bikes with a credit card as casual users. We had a terrific day and our visitors absolutely loved cycling in London. We cycled more than 15 miles which was great fun (and quite cheap compared to using the tube)

However, unfortunately there are still a number of glitches and inconveniences which should be rectified by  Transport for London (TfL) and Serco, the company which is running  “Barclays Cycle Hire” on behalf of TfL. Hence, I want to share our experiences. Those are my insights:

Casual access finally works

This may sound like stating the obvious, but it isn’t. Officially, the  scheme has been open for casual users since December 2010. However, when I tried to hire bikes for some friends in early January, the system declined several German Visa cards. On the Boris bike forum there are quite a few horror stories (another one)  about casual usage. But believe it or not, on several occasions we really managed to hire two bikes using a German credit card last Saturday!

The hiring procedure is a little bit clumsy

Unfortunately hiring a bike as a casual user is more complicated than TfL suggests. When you’re buying your access period (1 Pound for 24 hours), you have to insert your credit card twice. On the first occasion, the system just checks if you’ve already bought an access period. Then you have to click through several pages of terms and conditions and answer several questions (how many bikes? and so on) on the touch screen. When you’re finished you have to insert your credit card again – now you’re finally charged. I found this a little bit confusing. Pointing this out more clearly at the terminal might be a good idea. Interestingly, we did not have to enter the pin number (we used a Visa debit card issued by a German bank).

Some confusion regarding the release codes

After you’ve bought the access period, the system asks if you want to hire a bike right now. Yes, indeed. The terminal then prints a five digit release code which you have to type in using the number pad at the docking point. (When you hire another bike in the same access period, you just have to enter your credit card and get a new access code.)

Continue reading “Some issues, but even more fun – my experience as a casual Boris Biker”

Cycling in London – How dangerous is it?

“Isn’t it dangerous?” This is the ultimate question regarding cycling in London. Almost everyone asks me this when I tell them that I get around here almost exclusively by bike. I know a significant number of people who do not cycle in London because they consider it utterly unsafe.

My standard  reply to questions on cycling safety is: “Of course it’s dangerous. As life is in general.” I then explain that if you respect certain rules (“Never ever get on the left side of  lorry” being the most important one), safety is not an issue.

Afterwards I usually rave for five minutes about the benefits of cycling. I never forget to mention that, according to studies frequently cited by the CTC, the health benefits of cycling massively outweigh the risks.

Deep inside, however, I always feel a little bit queasy because I ask myself if I’m talking  somebody into cycling who might  end up under a car….

Hence I wanted to get a deeper understanding of cycling safety in London. This is why I’ve started to collect data on severe and fatal cycling accidents in London since 2006. The results are this spreadsheet on Google Docs and this map. Currently they list 59 fatal cycling accidents that have happened in Greater London since  2006.

Collecting this information was heartbreaking and a very emotional thing. I got sad, angry and frustrated by the carelessness and ruthlessness of some drivers; the errors and callousness of city planners  and the verdicts of coroners who were at least sometimes showing an astonishing degree of leniency.

Continue reading “Cycling in London – How dangerous is it?”