Sebastian Lukomski - 3 years on
21.02.07 by Buffalo Bill
I will be out of the country on Friday, which is the third anniversary of the death of Sebastian Lukomski, the seventh London bicycle messenger known to have been killed by a lorry whilst working. So I am posting this now, as my own tribute to him. The paint has all but faded, but I am still troubled by his death.
3 years on, what has changed? Not a great deal. A month ago a cyclist was killed by a lorry not more than 500 metres from where the lorry killed Seb. The number of cyclists killed each year in London has remained steady at around 21. The only year in which the number was significantly less, 2004, the year that Seb was killed, is now the subject of an investigation of Metropolitan Police. According to Transport for London : ‘The Metropolitan Police is currently investigating a discrepancy with casualty data from late 2004/early 2005, when serious injuries were noticeably lower compared with following months. This has led to the figures showing a year on year increase in serious injuries in 2006.’ In 2004, the reported figure for cyclists killed in London was 8, I think, although it remains very difficult to find any numbers relating to London road traffic casualties, other than trumpeted decreases expressed in percentage points. In any event, the 2004 figure was a lot lower than the 2003 figure.
Personally, I am very sceptical of any of the figures coming out of the London Road Safety Unit, as they once sent the London Bicycle Messenger Association a letter in which they totalled the following figures : 24, 21, 20, 19 and gave the result as 74. It should be 84. A trivial error, but the figures were the numbers of cyclists killed in London in 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002.
I am also sceptical of the investigation, given that the reason for it is given as worries about the ‘figures showing a year on year increase in serious injuries in 2006.’ I was in a meeting, representing the LBMA, as part of the campaign to reduce the threat from Heavy Good Vehicles (aka lorries, or trucks to our North American brethren) to London cycle couriers and other cyclists, when Chris Lines, head of the LRSU, produced the 2004 figure. I do not remember him calling the figures into question then. I can remember saying that there was a need not to be complacent, and that there might be special factors in play in 2004, namely the publicity surrounding Seb’s death (a 6 page article in the Financial Times magazine, and a double page spread in the Standard), and the death of Vicky McCreery, who was run over from behind by a bus on Blackfriars Bridge. Ms McCreery’s death generated an awful lot of publicity, probably 10 times that which accompanied Seb’s death.
Perhaps, I wondered then, and still wonder now, more public awareness of the threat from HGVs to cyclists led to people being more careful on the roads, not least lorry drivers, who are by far the most likely to kill a cyclist, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal in 1994, called ‘Deaths of Cyclists in London’, which says that the risk of heavy goods vehicles being involved in accidents in which cyclists die in inner London can be estimated at five times that of buses, 14 times that of light goods vehicles, and 30 times that of cars. The study also suggested that until the factors leading to this excess risk are understood, a ban on heavy goods vehicles in urban areas should be considered.
I also wonder why Ken Livingstone, Mark Watts, his Transport and Environment Advisor and the London Road Safety Unit have never once publicly even considered the possibility of a ban on HGVs in London, or indeed even mentioned the 1994 study, despite having committed themselves to investigating the problem. The outcome of their investigation, which the LBMA participated in, led to Tranport for London’s new campaign to reduce the number of cyclists killed in collisions with HGVs which amounted to : highly visible signs … fixed to the back of 300 Sainsbury’s HGV trailers which operate in London and … posters ... across the Capital.
So I am suspicious that the only reason that the 2004 figures are being investigated now is because of the nearly 200% (I can express human tragedy in percentage terms too) rise in cycle fatalities from 2004 to 2005, which rather gives the lie to Chris Lines statement at the time of the launch of the HGV campaign : We are making great progress in cutting the number of cyclists hurt on London’s roads. Ken Livingston likes to use the phrase ‘world-class city’ a lot. He has said that he wants London to be a ‘world-class cycling city’. But with a major construction project called the 2012 Olympics coming up, and the accompanying explosion in HGV traffic, I think he needs to do a lot more to prevent cyclists from being killed by HGVs, otherwise London will be far from a world-class cycling city. I suggest that he goes back to what the LBMA proposed in 2004. Finding some ‘world-class’ statisticians who can add up properly would be good too.