Tuesday 26 October 2010

Sharing London's Streets with Lorries

Transport for London have recognised that there is a problem with lorries and bicycles sharing road space on London's streets and have launched a Cycle Safety Awareness Campaign.  the Mayor's transport adviser says that:
"We are working with freight operating companies to improve HGV safety and we are the first city in the UK to trial on-street cycle safety 'Trixi' mirrors.
'However, perhaps most vital is getting safety advice to cyclists, whether new or experienced, particularly about road positioning and crucially that being in the blind spot of a large vehicle could potentially have fatal consequences.'
I am far from convinced that 'most vital' is getting advice to cyclists (see poster above).  Yes, of course, it is important for cyclists to exercise extreme caution in the vicinity of any large vehicle; but this should not for a moment distract from the importance of getting safety information to, and demanding higher standards from, lorry drivers and their employers.
I find the most shocking thing about the poster is the state of affairs which permits a lorry driver to run down all those cyclists on his nearside without obvious blame being attributed to the driver and his employers.  'Blind spots' are not an inevitable fact of life they are a design flaw which in any context, other than motor vehicles, would be regarded as obviously unacceptable.

As Roadpeace point out nearly three quarters of cyclists killed in London are killed by HGVs (9 of 13).  Plainly this is grossly disproportionate to the numbers of lorries on the road.  Who could sensibly argue against the low cost and effective measures that Roadpeace would like to see put in place immediately drastically to reduce the risk to vulnerable road users from lorries?

It is true the Mayor has a Freight Operator Recognition Scheme.  Freight operators who care will no doubt sign up.  The problem I experience commuting is that the vast majority of lorry drivers are very good (usually the best motorists) around cyclists.  However when they are bad, they are very very bad.  These bad drivers are often employed by undertakings that do not sufficiently care.

I do not know whether Sunlight or Oil Salvage Company, for example, are members of the Mayor's FORS - I rather doubt it; certainly they have not bothered to respond to the video footage I have sent them showing their lorries speeding by me far too close.

Sadly, in my experience, it is no use whatever reporting bad driving to the Metropolitan Police.  The Met may be interested in setting up initiatives, such as Roadsafe London that make it look as though they are taking action.  However the claims made that  'At Roadsafe London we make attempts to contact every driver in all cases reported to us. Please be assured we will research every submission in order to task police activity, but be aware we will not initiate a prosecution other than in exceptional cases. To make an allegation of a driving offence with a view to prosecution, you will have to attend a police station and complete a reporting form.' require some resourcing or they are mere verbiage.  Further the Met continue to put off complaints that should lead to prosecution by inconveniencing the complainant with the need for a personal attendance at a police station and a notoriously lengthy form.  I used the Roadsafe site in July, wrote to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner on 21st September, and more than one month on have had no substantive response at all despite reminders.

In short it look like a good initiative but the Met will only make a serious effort to investigate in cases where a death (or at least, resources permitting, a serious life changing injury) has occurred.

I try to remain as dispassionate as possible, but I have done the bikeability course, I make myself visible and I take no risks around lorries; nonetheless all too often I am in close proximity to a lorry because he (and in my experience the few women lorry drivers are much better than the men) has forced that on me.  What is true for me is also true for thousands of London cyclists, and I have no reason to suppose was not also true of all of the 8 cyclists killed in London last year by lorries.

Going back to the TfL poster at the outset of this post, my guess would be that the bicycles were at the junction first (and the lorry is about to turn left without indicating; for added realism the front of the lorry should be stopped at the front of a never enforced advanced stop line).  To prevent the lorry pulling alongside, the cyclists would have had to have taken the centre of the lane, something which is specifically discouraged by the woeful cycle lanes across the capital.  These lanes should be 2 metres wide on busy routes or a minimum of 1.5 metres wide where the speed limit is 30 mph or less in accordance with the Department for Transport's own design standards (paragraph 7.4).  Where they are less than that and/or optional (dotted lines) they should be removed.  Having been forced into the position in the poster, the cyclist needs to ensure he leaves it before the lorry moves.  Most junctions in London are controlled by traffic lights; the cyclist in those circumstances needs cautiously to get ahead of the lorry before the light turns green.  Likely as not he will then encounter the Met's enforcement action in the form of a fixed penalty for jumping a red light.  A misdirection of resources?  I leave you to be the judge of that.

I agree with the family of Eilidh Cairns, one of the 9, that restrictions on the right of HGVs to use the road should be considered at least until they are able to demonstrate they can do so in safety.  With this unfair mismatch, it is not the cyclists who should be leaving the roads, it is unsafe lorries and unsafe drivers.  A recognition scheme with trained drivers and suitably equipped lorries should be mandatory and police resources should be redirected to following up all serious complaints against lorries before disaster strikes.

Finally anywhere in London, save those elevated motorway monuments to motorcentricity, twenty is plenty and far exceeds the speed a motor vehicle could hope to get around anytime between 6 am and 9 pm.  Lorries are equipped with tachographs, enforcement would be easy and there is a precedent for differential speed limits elsewhere.  Why not restrict lorries and buses to 20 mph on all non-motorway routes within the M25?  If that slows Porsches and 4 x 4s down too, is that a bad thing?

POSTSCRIPT:  Eilidh Cairns was from the North East and her family are constituents of Fiona Hall MEP who is calling for support in the European Parliament to mandate the fitting of sensors and cameras on lorries to remove blind spots.


  1. Did you see the painfully accurate parody of that poster? Available in one of my posts from July

  2. Martin, I noted your comments on the roadsafe site, and have decided to ask the Met to 'comment' with some FoIA information: http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/efficacy_of_roadsafe_website

    No idea what will come back, but like you I'm not entirely convinced it'll be the finest of news. Still Cycling England will be able to lobby ... er, maybe not ...

  3. Have you seen the City of London's version?

    Similar to the tfl one but with a cyclist actually being run over by the lorry. Obviously in the tradition of the Think! campaign's shock tactics. I can't imagine a more effective way to put people off cycling and to make cyclists appear responsible for any accidents they may be involved in.

    The lorry running over the cyclist has City of London branding - grim irony?

  4. Any lorry on the road since 2000 now needs upgraded class II IV & V mirrors (but not class VI), so only a few lorries with old style mirrors remain. So why the f**k did TfL's media people choose one of those old trucks for the photo and video?

    Not only has the truck got pre 2000 mirrors and no class VI mirror showing the front of the lorry, the wide angle mirror on the left side is wrongly adjusted (see the video). The imaging is further distorted by showing the lorry having started to turn, moving some of the cyclists out of view of the class II mirror, in the real world a driver would look before doing that, if he swung right to start with then the mirror view would sweep across all the cyclists. If the driver hit any of these cyclists I would think he should be prosecuted, even jailed for having a wrongly adjusted class VI mirror. The poster lies, most of the cyclists are in full view of the driver's mirrors the others will be partially in view.

    The poster fails to show the two most dangerous positions for a cyclist; just in front of the lorry where a class VI forward mirror should show them; and way out on the left, say 2metres away, where the cyclist thinks the lorry is going straight on but as it slows and turns sharply across their path there is no escape - as someone put it - having "that position thrust upon you".

    The only use for this poster is a training aid for drivers, they need to recognize that cyclists could be all around them. Then they need to find a driving strategy to ensure the safety of all of them, even the ignorant ones who have not heard the warning messeages about being on the left of lorries.

  5. Martin,

    The Met were very quick with the FoIA request:http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/efficacy_of_roadsafe_website

    They've got a range of activity as a result of reports, although you'd obviously hope that they start getting more traffic there, to see how much more can be done.