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Boris left at the lights
16.04.09 by Buffalo Bill

The Mayor of London has announced that he will be asking the Government to change traffic laws so that cyclists can turn left at red lights. He hopes that this will cut the number of collisions between cyclists and HGVs. As you will know, if you are a regular reader of this blog, 3 women have been killed by collisions with lorries so far this year. I doubt that being able to turn left on red would have enabled any of the 3 to avoid the collisions that killed them.

Meryem Ozekman, killed at Elephant and Castle last week, was nowhere near a traffic light when she was run over. Rebecca Goosen, killed on Old Street, was almost certainly going straight on over the junction with Aldersgate Street, as her office was on Cowcross Street, so she is likely to have followed Clerkenwell Road at least to the St John Street junction.1 And Eilidh, killed at Notting Hill Gate, is known to have followed NHG all the way down to Shepherd’s Bush, and, in any case, is reported to have been on the right hand side of the lorry that killed her.

I think the Mayor’s proposal is worth pursuing, and I think the idea is a good one, but it’s too simplistic to see it as the answer. As Jack Thurston reported months ago,

City of London [Police] spot checks on HGVs [were] carried out on 30 September 2008 as part of the Europe-wide Operation Mermaid2, which is intended to step up levels of enforcement of road safety laws in relation to lorries. On this one day, 12 lorries were stopped randomly by City Police. Five of those lorries were involved in the construction work for the 2012 Olympics. All of the twelve lorries were breaking the law in at least one way. Repeat: a 100 per cent criminality rate among small random sample of HGVs on the streets of central London. The offences range included overweight loads (2 cases), mechanical breaches (5 cases), driver hours breaches (5 cases), mobile phone use while driving (2 cases), driving without insurance (2 cases) and no operator license (1 case).

We also know that 2 lorries involved in fatal collisions with cyclists in the last 2 years were missing mirrors.3 Given that there is a new law on the books obliging all lorries registered since 2000 to fit more mirrors, and that a failure to see the cyclist by the driver must have been a factor in all 3 of the deaths mentioned above perhaps the Mayor ought to be making statements to the effect that the Met Traffic Unit will be doing a lot more random stops to make sure that these mirrors are actually fitted.

1 For more on these deaths see this Standard article.

2 More on Operation Mermaid, which is a cross-border operation aimed at taking dangerous lorries (and dangerous lorry drivers) off the road, see this story on the TISPOL website.

3 See Driver that killed Lisa Pontecorvo had removed mirror and Dead cyclist’s widow wins compensation.

Pink Express rider hit & 'critically' injured by lorry this morning
Guardian piece on Sheppard's death and trial by media
Guardian story on lorry deaths makes serious error
Perceived danger of lorries - a survey for London cyclists
Two London cyclists killed in two days by lorries
8th female London cyclist killed by lorry?
Police appeal for witnesses to fatal collision, 11th London cyclist killed
Daily Mail attacks cyclists, Jenny Jones says write to your MLA
Cynthia Barlow of Roadpeace on cuts to 'lorry police'
Boris Johnson reduces London cyclists' safety; MPs protest

  1. Agree with all of this. But you don’t say whether this left turn thing is a good idea or a bad idea.

    Putting aside the point that Boris should be doing other things that will help reduce lorry/cyclist collisions, do you think this left turn idea is good or bad?

    Jack    16 April 2009, 09:45    #
  2. Sorry Bill. Just re-read the post and you do say you think it’s a good idea worth pursuing. Must pay more attention.

    But what about the point you made on Twatter earlier in the week about it encouraging cyclists to ride up the left side, on the inside and the dangerous side of lorries?

    Jack    16 April 2009, 09:47    #
  3. Dunno. It seems likely that it will, but if combined with clear instructions not to get too close to either side of a lorry, then…

    BIll    16 April 2009, 10:09    #
  4. I think the idea of a 10 second advantage for cyclists when the light turns from red to green would be a good idea, giving time to get ahead. Separate traffic lights for cyclists and resulting longer waits for motor traffic.

    Jack    16 April 2009, 13:42    #
  5. ‘Tis a pity Boris wasn’t left in the womb.

    — overdrive    16 April 2009, 17:13    #
  6. A good idea to a point and I’d be in favour. A couple of definite drawbacks though. I’d say resentment towards cyclists has decreased in recent years. (Just my opinion.) Letting bikes sneak through red lights will increase resentment. I feel this scheme will almost certainly lead to more fatalities because it will encourage cyclists to sneak up on the inside of trucks. What someone called Killing Zone cycle lanes on the forum a while back have the same effect. Pedestrian islands have a similar effect. Having to dash 30 feet pedestrians think about it but having to dash 12 feet to or from an island tends to give them unjustified confidence. Human nature. Not much that can be done about it.
    The advance green light at junctions is something I’ve always been keen on. 5 seconds would do, it doesn’t have to be 10. There seem to be hundreds of junctions in the centre of town where a 10 or 15 second green phase on a pelican has become 20 or 30 seconds in recent years. I don’t see how that’s necessary or especially beneficial. The time pedestrians have to wait between changes is still the same. Giving 5 seconds of that time to cyclists would reduce collisions and save lives. Advance stop lines/boxes always puzzle me. Why are they there? Yes, they allow cyclists to get ahead of traffic but I’ve never seen a cop pull a cyclist for sneaking a couple of yards forward at a junction without an advance stop box. It’s common sense that we have to do it for safety reasons at times. I was told that Southwark Council were nicking motorcyclists for using the advance stop boxes. Daft and thoughtless. What does a considerate motorbike do if he’s between a bus and a HGV at a stop line and a cyclist comes up behind him? Moves forward and lets the cyclist out. Fining them for doing it is just typical of what happens when unnecessary laws replace discretion and common sense.
    As for the random checks on HGV drivers in the City, are we sure of the source there? I can’t see that police could have randomly stopped drivers who just happened to be on their cellphones. Probably inaccurate to say that all the infractions were criminal as well. Still unnerving stats however.

    — Friar Bellows    17 April 2009, 12:58    #
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