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.”

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?”

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”