22 March 2010

HGV deaths: Critical Mass demo this Friday

Killed by a lorry turning left: the story is depressing and familiar. So far in 2010 three London cyclists have died in HGV collisions: academic David Vilaseca Perez, 46; medical student Muhammad 'Haris' Ahmed, 21; musician Shivon Watson, 28. We're on grim course for another typical year: ten such deaths is about par.

We all try to look for patterns to reveal the weather behind the grey cloud of stats. Women fare disproportionately badly in fatalities - different spatial awareness, unassertive gutter riding, blind chance? No-one knows. Foreign-looking names dominate the deaths: well, that's obvious, that's just London... isn't it?

As Moving Target says, an essential problem is that nobody saw what happened. Not passers-by, buried in the tunnel vision of their commute. Not the driver, multitasking with a hall of mirrors, conflicting road signs, a crazy schedule and illogical roadworks. And not the cyclist, because they never made it to their destination.

No fuzziness over this stat, though: in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009, HGVs were the vehicle involved in 47%, 46%, 88% and 69% of cyclist deaths respectively. Generally accepted figures show that more than half of fatal lorry-bike encounters happened when the lorry was turning left. As the Bike Show reports, it's also recognised that over half of lorry-bike deaths happen in morning rush hour.

The British Medical Journal's estimate (stated in 1994, but remaining true) is that in inner London, in relation to their traffic volume, HGVs cause 30 times as many cyclists deaths as cars and five times as many as buses. "Until the factors leading to this excess risk are understood, a ban on HGVs in urban areas should be considered," they said.

This blog, and several others, is not calling for a ban. But we are calling for a modification to a current rule that seems to us perverse. Lorries over 18 tonnes cannot drive through central London (except with a special permit) from midnight to 7am. Which puts drivers under intense and unreasonable pressure to cut corners, in every sense, every morning rush hour, when vulnerable users such as pedestrians and cyclists are at their peak. We are campaigning for the ban to be lifted.

(These are some of the blogs involved: ibikelondonBike TartLondon CyclistMoving Target ZineCycle ChicCyclodelicVeLo Citythe Bike Show podcast.)

You can make a statement by turning up to Critical Mass this Friday 26 March, which meets as usual between 6pm and 7pm at the National Theatre on the South Bank, under Waterloo Bridge. Of course, CMs are not organised and what happens is what happens, but many participants will no doubt be keen to stop at the spot near the Shard building site where Haris Ahmed made his fateful final journey. This is an important CM that may well draw some media coverage, and we urge you to take part.

Cycling is still safe... we keep saying. Yeah, like paragliding or rock-climbing or space exploration. Deaths are microscopically unlikely.

But injuries aren't, and near-misses are common, as CityBeast's cycle accidents map (see graphic, above right) grimly demonstrates. Most of us probably have a few more bristles on the brush with death several times a month. I accept it; most don't. Sane people would take the bus over a Space Shuttle re-entry every time. And it's a vicious circle. By putting people off cycling, such concerns help recolonise the roadspace with fast-moving motor vehicles.

That general climate of car-centric culture is the problem, and HGVs are only a small part of it. But what's the answer? I don't know. It's not in the back of the book. I'm not even sure of the question. I must have been away when we did that. But I urge you not to be away for Critical Mass this Friday.


  1. OK, so cyclists' lives are more important than allowing residents some peace and quiet in order to sleep, but if you want to get the lorries delivering out of rush hour then perhaps we need to have them delivering *after* it, rather than before? Or is it felt that there aren't enough hours in the day?

  2. "what's the answer? I don't know."

    The answer is segregated cycling infrastructure, so that lorries and cyclists aren't obliged to share the same space. But obviously on the Dutch/Danish model, not the parody British version. Maybe David Hembrow can enlighten us about Dutch cyclists and their relationship with the Dutch road haulage industry...

    In the short term I'd like to see enforcement of speed limits, Advanced Stop Lines, and the law against using a mobile phone. The lorry drivers you see speeding, drifting into ASLs at red, and using handheld mobiles, don't strike me as the kind of drivers who are likely to be alert to the presence of cyclists when they turn left. But of course the Met has little appetite for road traffic law enforcement (as Jenny Jones regularly reminds us).

    An amazing number of delivery drivers at red lights seem to be staring down looking at documentation, rather than paying attention to what is going on around them.

  3. Unfortunately there is no good time of the day for huge vehicles to be thundering around densely inhabited areas. That said, hardly anyone lives in the Square Mile any more, so there's a good case for exempting most of it from the lorry control scheme.

    The main reason we have so many lorries is that London is very pro-development. I'm guessing Amsterdam and Copenhagen don't have nearly the same level of commercial and residential development in their centres as we do. I don't see that changing any time soon, so we need a range of measures, including much tougher enforcement as freewheeler says. And we need to make this a high-profile issue, especially with the elections coming up soon. The Critical Mass ride is a good start, and I'll be there on Friday.

  4. "I'm guessing Amsterdam and Copenhagen don't have nearly the same level of commercial and residential development in their centres as we do."

    Guessed wrong, there is at least as much. Freewheeler is absolutely right.

  5. I didn't know those were the banned hours. I always wondered why lorries (especially construction lorries such as were responsible for the most recent death) seemed to be so busy when roads are most crowded. Now I understand.

    Surely this is a common sense solution.

  6. Happy to accept it if I'm wrong, but it would be nice to see some figures. Last year 30,000 new homes and 200,000 sqm of office floorspace were started in London. How does that compare to Amsterdam and Copenhagen?

    I'm not trying to 'make excuses', by the way, so please don't jump to conclusions. And I wasn't actually disagreeing with Freewheeler, as my comment made clear.

  7. Jim: Absolute figures won't help us, as London is clearly larger than either of those two cities.

    However, I can confirm that there are a lot of businesses in the centre of cities here in NL, and relatively few out of town shops. There are no out of town supermarkets, for instance.

    What's more, NL has a huge number of trucks. International trade is very big in the Netherlands. This country is one of the largest exporting nations and NL is where a disproportionate number of Europe's trucks are registered.

    However, in city we're mostly well away from trucks. When they make deliveries to the shops in the centre, what happens is that trucks are only allowed in the centre at particular times. However, those times are quite generous. The sign in the shopping area in Assen says that deliveries are allowed between 7:00 and 13:00 and 17:30 - 20:00 on Monday to Thursday, the morning only on Friday and slightly more limited times on Saturday.

    In practice, all the deliveries seem to happen fairly early in the morning. As it happens, the street view car could only go through the centre at the same time, so you can see the results of deliveries where normally there are no motor vehicles at all on streetview.

    However, note the design of this street. It didn't used to look at all the same. There's a photo here of the same street in the 1960s used to look like. Not only did there used to be constant motor vehicles along here all the time, but it used to look like somewhere that was designed around them. Now it's designed for cyclists, and most of the time there are only cyclists here. I think this not so subtle hint perhaps also has an effect on the behaviour of drivers.

    British roads still predominantly look like the "before" photos of Dutch roads.

  8. I cycle to work around London Bridge and one issue is the high speed of the lorry drivers in the narrow roads and tunnels near the Shard construction site. They also drive over the corners of pavements. An enforced 20 mph limit with speed humps is urgently needed. Time to lobbey the Mayor and Southwark Council.

  9. On the 16 of march 2010 I had an accident following the same "lorry turning left" pattern in Balls Pond Road (Islington). A London Concrete cement mixer literally run over me and I was so lucky as I just have a broken hip and foot. But believe me, I cannot stop thinking that my name could be with David, Muhammad and Shivon.

    There is definitely a problem and it feels that the authorities/politicians/or whoever are not sorting it out. We have more lorries and more cyclist sharing the roads, therefore more accidents. How many deaths and bad injured cyclist do they need to make a real change??

  10. some HGV Drivers do receive training on cyclist wareness training. Also technology has put sensors at the rear left of a truck to indicate if any cyclists are near and warns them of the dangers. I agree it is dangerous out there. Education and training is the key to reducing accidents

  11. It's not just London where cyclists have to dodge huge lorries. I cycline in and around Ystradgynlais in South Wales, the road leading in and out of here is during the rush hour packed with traffic going much to fast.
    A huge tanker lorry almost brushed my shoulder this morning, frightening the life out of me, and there was plenty of room for him to pull out when passing.
    Lorries and Busses are by far the ones most often to blame for bad driving, and you would think that being professinal drivers they would be the best.

  12. I have also heard recently that Boris Johson is investing a great deal of money into cycle safety training. The program is designed not only for cyclists but also for HGV drivers and other road users. If you Google London Cycle Safety you should be able to find more information. It's nice to see cyclist safety really being addressed.

  13. This is such a shame of a young life. HGV drivers have it difficult. The amount of time we spend on the road and the traffic numbers increasing its hard and these accidents can occur.

    Further training and better working conditions can help though.