Inquests Into Cycling Deaths Highlight Superhighway Safety Fears

Rachel Holdsworth
By Rachel Holdsworth Last edited 58 months ago
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

Last Updated 17 October 2013