Friday, 19 April 2013

Another week, another person crushed on a bike by a tipper truck in central London. This is becoming ridiculous. We need meaningful and proper intervention - on our roads and in the construction industry. And we need it now.

Junction of Theobolds Road / Gray's Inn Road today
Picture courtesy Joseph Stashko
2009. A green tipper truck. Just near Oval tube station at the junction of Kennington Park Road and Harleyford Road. Plus Catriona Patel, cycling to work.

What followed?

"'I've lost half of my life' - a man speaking today about the death of his wife. Katrina  [sic] Patel was crushed by a lorry last year, cycling through the morning rush-hour by Oval tube station. The driver, Denis Putz, was over the legal drink-drive limit. He was on his mobile phone. And he'd been caught 'driving while disqualified' 20 times before. He was jailed for 7 years yesterday and 'banned from driving' for life." Read that carefully - he'd been caught driving while disqualified 20 times before. What sort of industry hires people who are so utterly incapable of doing the job safely and gets away with it?

The tipper truck stopped after today's road collision
with a Boris biker
Picture courtesy Rossithebossi
This afternoon, a young man on a Boris bike airlifted to hospital with extremely serious injuries. Pictured left, guess what, a tipper truck involved in the collision. 

This is how the UK media thinks we can make the roads safe for people on bikes who have to cycle around tipper trucks: 

I don't hold out much hope for trixi mirrors or sat nav gizmos making a blind bit of difference.

What I do trust, however, is the report by the Netherlands' road safety institute which says this: "Truck drivers do not make the best possible use of the different mirrors [and] cyclists insufficiently take account of the fact that trucks have a limited visual field. The ultimate solution for the blind spot problem is a structural separation of trucks and cyclists."

HGVs and bikes forced into the same space on Cycle
Super Highway in the City of London
Enough is enough. The solutions proposed and promoted by the UK media are half-baked, ill-thought through and not good enough. The Dutch are right. You need to keep tipper trucks and people on bikes apart from each other. The majority of people killed on bikes on London's roads are killed in collisions that involve tipper trucks. 

But you also need to sort out the lethal practices of the construction industry. Every week, it seems, another person is mauled or killed by a tipper truck. My view? The construction industry has a lot to answer for. As ibikelondon blog puts it: "A combination of unscrupulous payment practices whereby some drivers are paid per load, a distinctly criminal element that runs through the haulage industry, and the fact that most drivers (no matter how careful) can't actually see the vulnerable road users around them, combine to ensure that HGVs are the most dangerous vehicles on the roads, and account for a shocking level of deaths." I'd clarify that comment a bit and say it's not just any old HGV drivers. It is largely (but not exclusively) tipper truck drivers that are the menaces on our streets, driving waste for the construction industry.

The Mayor needs to start showing he means business.

These trucks are not allowed to reverse on site without a banksman/woman. So why on earth is the construction industry only responsible for trucks on-site, not on our streets?

Boris Johnson commented last week that he might consider some sort of lorry ban at rush hour or for lorries without the right safety kit (although I'm not entirely sure he has the powers to do this yet). But he also needs to speed up the development of cycle networks that are safe for people to use and where, as the Dutch road safety institute says, they are kept well, well away from tipper trucks and other HGVs. He also needs to call up councils like Westminster which is proposing to make its streets even narrower, forcing HGVs and people on bikes into the same narrow space

And in the meantime, I'd recommend you read Mark Ames's sage words of advice: " Always remember; if the truck is ahead, stay back.  If the truck is behind, get ahead."

But just using this common sense isn't enough. I avoided being run over by a tipper truck last summer by bailing out on to the pavement. The driver decided to overtake me in a pinchpoint. The only two options were a) deliberately fall off my bike b) have the driver run me over. This, by the way, is a pinchpoint on Cycle Super Highway 8 that now has a massive 'look out for cyclists!' sign in front of it. The engineers know it's not safe. It isn't safe. They need to sort it out. Getting ahead or staying back isn't enough to keep you safe on a bike. We need meaningful and proper intervention - on our roads and in the construction industry. And we need it now.