20 May 2009
HGV Awareness, or How to make a policeman disappear
Bike commuters were being stopped by the police this morning on St George's Road, just north of the Elephant and Castle, for a quick HGV Awareness session.
It's interesting stuff. You get the chance (right, see bigger pic) to sit in the cab of a lorry (in this case, a dustcart) while a copper wheels a bike as if a cyclist was coming up on the lorry's inside.
With three cycling deaths in London in the last month - all female, all caught on the inside of passing lorries, the latest being a hit-and-run in Greenwich last week - this sort of initiative is more important then ever.
At first it's fun in the cab, steering the wheel like a kid, pretending to be a set of airbrakes and making tschhhh-tssssss noises, eating an imaginary Yorkie bar, and waving an imaginary Agyness Deyn in an imaginary open-top sports car through in front of you.
But then the copper does his bike-wheeling thing (above and below right, see bigger pic) and, wow! Just as he gets alongside your passenger door, the bike disappears. As invisible as the Invisible Man wearing an Invisibility Cloak, on a day of particularly bad visibility. And this is in a vehicle bristling with more mirrors than an Abba-tribute disco.
Of course we're all assertive and experienced cyclists and we don't go burrowing up the inside of lorries anyway. But, by gosh, it's sobering to see things from the driver's point of view.
There are some fun things at these HGV Awareness events too, though.
Thanks to a Dr Bike in attendance you can get a quick free mechanical check. A sunny Southwark Cyclist was handing out those nifty free TfL maps, free newsletters, and plugging free bike training.
And you can amuse yourself watching hamfisted cycle bloggers struggling to put up canvas signs in the breeze with the finesse of Mr Bean tying his shoelaces on a windy ski-slope just before the ad break.
Anyway, this morning, business was brisk (right, see bigger pic). The vast majority of cyclists seemed quite happy to be stopped by the police. Perhaps it was simply relief when they realised it wasn't to be arrested under Section 44 of the Anti-Terrorism Act, it was just to have some air put in their back tyre and be plied with a free map.
Only the one chap got shirty, and ranted pompously about how he couldn't stop because he was in a hurry. For ten minutes. I finished my Yorkie, made my excuses and left.