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4 years ago today London bicycle messenger Sebastian Lukomski died
23.02.08 by Buffalo Bill

Of the 7 London bicycle messengers that are known to have died whilst working, I only met 2. I knew Mark Francis, killed in 1999, very slightly. After he was hospitalised (Mark took more than a week to die from the injuries inflicted by the lorry), people described him to me, but I couldn’t picture him. It was only at the funeral, when I saw a picture of him taken at a messenger party that I had helped to organise, that I recognised him. The church was full of grieving relatives (including the 3 mothers of his children) and friends, and all I could think, on seeing the picture, was ‘him? He blagged his way in – he still owes the event £3’…

Of the other 5, I met the family of Edward Newstead after his death, accompanying them to the trial of the driver that killed Ed, and I know people that worked with Calvin Simpson, Reidar ‘Danny’ Farr, Joe Cooper and Paul Ellis.

Seb was the first London messenger to have been killed whilst working that I knew properly. He was well known within the community, and well liked. His death was a hammer blow, and London messengers and their friends spent a week in mourning. Many people went down to the spot where he was killed on the night that it happened, and returned on Friday to spray his name on the road. Vodka was poured. Tears were shed.

A massive crowd attended the memorial service at a Polish church in Islington on the Sunday, and the Duke of York made more money that week than any previous under the extant management.

I remember feeling a sense of failure in the wake of his death, because 4 months before, at the Annual General Meeting of the London Bicycle Messenger, a motion had been passed to call on the Mayor of London to ban HGVs (now known as Large Goods Vehicles) or lorries from Central London daytime. I felt that I had wasted time in moving forward with the campaign, and that Seb’s death could have been avoided if I had put more energy into raising the issue of London cyclists killed by left-turning lorries.

So I started writing letters. It being an election year, I wrote to the candidates for Mayor of London that were standing that year (I recall there being around 10) asking for their comments on our proposals. The original letter, and the replies, are over on the LBMA HGV campaign page.

Ken did not reply straight away. In fact, he failed to make any reply at all. But as chance should have it, a journalist called Graham Bowley, who worked at the Financial Times, which is at the other end of Southwark Bridge from the scene of Seb’s death, had seen what happened in the evening of 23rd February and followed the story up. He wrote the longest article on the death of a London cyclist (messenger or not) that has yet appeared in the UK press. It was published in the FT magazine, and a shorter version showed up in the Standard. And it so happened that I was working as an unpaid volunteer for Noel Lynch, who was then a Green Party Member of the London Assembly. Noel heard about the case, and asked a question of the Mayor about Seb’s death, and when the LBMA could expect a reply.

Perhaps Ken was intending to reply, but hadn’t got around to it, and perhaps major news coverage and a question from democratically elected representative suddenly galvanised the levers of power. No matter which, we got our reply and the HGV/cyclist process began. I have written about the process before and don’t want to bore everyone with all the details again.

The net result was research by the London Accident Analysis Unit, which was eventually sent to the European Parliament, and later ‘leaked’ to the national press. And Transport for London began a series of initiatives to educate cyclists and HGV/LGV/lorry drivers about the problem.

Now, 4 years after Seb’s death, all new lorries, starting this summer, will have to be fitted with a 4th mirror that eliminates the blind-spot left and front (see this article for more detail). This mirror will also eliminate the most common excuse of defence lawyers in court – that the cyclist was in the driver’s blind-spot.

There is also a new offence of causing death by careless driving, which carries much more appropriate penalties (in my view) for the crime of negligently killing another road-user. The driver that killed Seb was convicted of driving without due care and attention, and received a £1000 fine and 3 endorsement points in sentence.

So some things have changed for better since Seb’s death. On the other hand, London cyclists are still being killed by lorries, the majority by left-turning lorries. MT reported on 6 in 2007, and Charlie Lloyd at the London Cycling Campaign reckons that there were a total of 7 London cyclists killed by lorries in 2007.

the bike lane on Upper Thames Street

And the road layout at the junction where Seb was killed, as you can see from the pictures, has been changed to include an advanced stop line for cyclists, with a feeder lane, which you will notice is not enforceable (the separation line is broken not solid), on the left. This encourages cyclists to ride up on the left of traffic, and stop to the front and left of the vehicle at the front of the queue. If that vehicle is a HGV, and not fitted with the new mirror, or the driver fails to look (as the driver who killed Seb did not) then a potentially fatal collision could result.

Andrea Casalotti of Velorution defends the ASLs saying that a well-trained rider can use them to their advantage. In my view, a well-trained rider would not only be well-advised to not use them, but also to ignore them completely. These things are badly designed, and put inexperienced cyclists in mortal danger.

Karli and Charlie 9's dedication

Also, this week the London Bicycle Messenger Association ceased to be. The two greatest achivements of the LBMA (apart from getting messengers and their friends together for beer and bicycle fun) were ECMC 2003 and the HGV campaign. ECMC 2003 prepared the ground for the great London fixie explosion of 2007, and the crew that got together started that other fantastic London messenger innovation, Rollapaluza. But it seems the passing of the LBMA is not much-mourned, judging by the lack of comment it has aroused, as opposed to the controversy raging over whether front mounts are cool or not, and whether I misquoted House of Pistard in relation to the continuing debate over messengers and alleycats.

But this is looking on the blackest side of the coin. The streets are safer now for cyclists then they were in 2004, even if they are not safe enough. And that’s because people remember who Seb was, what a lovely guy he was, and what a waste it was that he was killed.

Overdrive's words at Henry Warwick's memorial ride
Statement from Henry Warwick's family
London courier killed whilst working, 3rd February 2012
Michael Bryant to publish book about '28 seconds' that led to death of Darcy Allan Sheppard
Larry Z dies, wake 13th February 2010
Toronto bike courier killed during altercation with politician
London's couriers mark the street
5 years since Seb was killed
Bike lanes in New York City
What to do about lorries?

  1. Kudos for a well written piece, Bill


    ed    28 February 2008, 23:00    #
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