Inquests Into Cycling Deaths Highlight Superhighway Safety Fears

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There have been two inquests into cyclist deaths on Cycle Superhighway 2 this week. Coroner Mary Hassell, who heard the cases of both Brian Dorling, who died at Bow roundabout, and Philippine De Gerin-Ricard, who died on a Boris Bike outside Aldgate East tube station, has been scathing of the flagship superhighways during the hearings. Both cyclists died after being hit by HGVs.

The BBC’s Tom Edwards and Evening Standard’s Ross Lydall were in court and reported the sometimes shocking evidence in detail. Pc Simon Wickenden, from the Metropolitan police’s traffic management unit, told both hearings that concerns had been relayed to Transport for London about the layout of CS2 in 2008, listing 21 concerns about Aldgate gyratory alone that they believed made it unsafe. Speaking during the Brian Dorling inquest about Bow roundabout, Pc Wickenden said

The advantage [of the blue paint] is that it highlights the potential presence of cyclists to drivers… The disadvantage is quite clear. One: it places cyclists in a position in the roundabout where they may come into conflict with traffic when it is leaving the roundabout. Two: it may give cyclists a false sense of security… In my view, it would be safer not to have the marking at all on the roundabout.

During the same inquest, accident investigator Pc Alex Hewitt was asked about the legal status of cycle superhighways and responded “It’s just a piece of blue paint”. After watching CCTV evidence, the coroner said

It just seems to me that it’s an accident waiting to happen if cyclists are guided into the space where blue paint is on the left and they’re in the very place where the lorry is going to hit them. It seems like they’re being guided into the place where they’re most vulnerable.

Debbie Dorling, Mr Dorling’s widow, said

This was supposed to be a dedicated cycle route offering people a safer way to use their bikes on the capital’s congested roads. It’s only after Brian’s death that TfL has seen fit to act to change the junction’s layout so that vulnerable road users such as cyclists are given priority over larger vehicles which would otherwise pose them a greater risk.

In the inquest into Philippine De Gerin-Ricard’s death, the coroner heard that she was in the lorry’s blind spot, and would have been visible for less than four seconds. TfL’s lawyer suggested that Ms De Gerin-Ricard should have been wearing high visibility clothing; however, it was a sunny evening – her mother, furious, responded to the claim by saying “what needs to be tackled is the provision of proper lanes for cyclists, so that cyclists are protected”.

Witnesses described how there wasn’t enough room to allow Ms De Gerin-Ricard to get past the lorry, with police explaining how a TfL redesign of the road had made the inner lane 3m wide. The lorry was 2.4m wide; a cycle hire bike is 67cm wide. The coroner’s judgement is that the death was accidental: an “appalling accident”. Ms De Gerin-Ricard’s father shook the hand of the lorry driver as they left court.

Despite evidence that police had, and have, grave doubts about the safety of cycle superhighways, Boris Johnson insisted their roll out would carry on as planned.

The blue paint serves an important purpose in showing the motorist that this is a place where the cyclist is going to be in large numbers. My message to Londoners is that I still believe that it’s the right way forward for our city.

The coroner will be sending full reports to Transport for London.

Photo by Ben Kelly from the Londonist Flickr pool

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  • Denny Halford

    I am uncomfortable with the idea of cycling on the inside of motorised traffic. One of the main causes of accidents involving cyclists is that drivers will say they did not see the cyclists (and encouraging them to be on the inside seems the wrong thing to do) If it were up to me, I would find a way of compelling ALL cyclists to wear hi-viz clothing on all public roads. I would go to the extent of providing the kit (I doubt it would cost any significant amount of money but I bet it would reduce the number of collisions by more than half, just like that)

    • Stella

      Luckily its not up to you and making the victim pay will not prevail. Dutch cyclists are not compelled to wear hi-vi and they are much less likely to die on the roads. This clearly indicates that cyclists not wearing hi-viz is not the problem and therefore compelling them to do so will no solve the problem. The problem is a combination of poor road design and poor attitudes among motorists towards other road users.

  • Rob

    I am disgusted by the comment from the TfL lawyer about Ms De Gerin-Ricard not wearing hi-viz. The incident occured at 6:30pm on a summer evening in July. It was not dark, nor was it getting dark. This is victim blaming in the extreme and is terribly hypocritical given that the cycle superhighways are marketed by TfL themselves as being “faster and safer”.
    There is nothing super about blue paint.

  • andybrice

    I think the fundamental source of all these dangers is that the Highway Code regarding lane-sharing and cycle lanes is very vague.

    The rules regarding a dual carriageway are quite clear. And you never turn left from the right-hand lane.

    But what about cycle lanes? Who has right-of-way when a motor vehicle is turning left? Is it okay for a cyclist to undertake a vehicle that’s indicating left? Does it depend on the road markings?

    Even if these things are specified somewhere, do road users actually know?

  • http://gplus.to/casalotti Andrea Casalotti

    In any other realm, TfL would be prosecuted for corporate manslaughter.
    1. They are the Transport Authority in charge
    2. They encouraged people to ride on defective facilities
    3. They were warned about the defects by professionals
    4. They did not fix the defects because Boris Johnson had told TfL to prioritise “smoothing traffic flow” over the safety of vulnerable road users.

    How more evidence do you need? Imagine the same thing had happened in any other transport arena (rail, air, ships). Managers would be sent to jail immediately.

    But here the Great British public is fooled by that Criminal Buffoon.

  • Frogmella

    Surprise surprise, Holdsworth uses tragedy for cheap political point-scoring, yet again.

    • Dave H

      Can you point out the “political point-scoring” in this article? I can’t see anything here that wasn’t factually sourced, and the points raised are consistent with the reporting by major (independent) news media.

  • Dick

    The weird thing is: all this unsafety for just this little bit of extra for free car flow. Cars, who will be waiting at the next red light anyway. In the Netherlands good cycle design is not so much about great bike infratructure, but about calming car traffic.

  • truckingwrite

    The most important thing is to seperate cycles from trucks at junctions, including roundabouts. A rethink on design and layout is probably the answer. In London there is opportunity for alternative routes for cycles at junctions, even if it means cyclists sharing pedestrian areas.

  • Degsey

    I think it is very much a driver awareness issue. Even some of my most respected friends believe that since cyclists “don’t pay road tax” they are not entitled to use the road. I am constantly irritated by how close drivers pass by, often feeling the mirror brush me. This requires cyclists to be much more aggressive in their defence. Engineering may help, but I think driver education needs to be the top priority. I once had a driver yell “I hope you die!” at me in a round-abound. A little extreme for civilised Britain I think.

  • Ric

    The brightest hi-viz jacket is useless if you are in the blind spot of an HGV’s mirror. Boo to the TfL lawyer for his mendacious point scoring.

  • Amy Blair

    This is no doubt down to driver awareness; all drivers must be responsible for their ownvehicles and what damage they can cause!

    The number of cyclists seriously injured has sadly increased in recent years,the installation of advancedsafety system technology to large vehicles will help to reduce accidents considerably. The eyescan technology will not only be a benefit to the cyclists by sounding an audible signal but also alert drivers with blind spot proximity sensors on the vehicle. This technology should be a
    must for all large vehicles entering high pedestrian and cyclist zones!!!