Of door zones and inconsiderate haste

An interaction with a pair of impatient Police Officers (see below) motivated me to write this post.

The Highway Code is quite clear where one should ride a bicycle on a road with parked cars:

Rule 67:

look well ahead for obstructions in the road, such as drains, pot-holes and parked vehicles so that you do not have to swerve suddenly to avoid them. Leave plenty of room when passing parked vehicles and watch out for doors being opened or pedestrians stepping into your path

But we know that most of the Highway Code rules aimed to protect vulnerable road users are ignored by drivers, Police and traffic engineers.

Here is a road in Westminster:


A couple of years ago I raised this issue with Edgar Agrar, a vile toad, at the time Cabinet Member for Transport and the Environment, pointing out that

  • the signs encourage people to ride on the door zone
  • anyone riding safely to the right of the signs gets honked by obnoxious drivers

His response: the signs are there just to alert drivers of the presence of cyclists; a response so idiotic that he could only have copied it from the king of bullshit, Boris Johnson, whose antics cost the lives of at least six people on blue paint.

BTW, in the world capital of bullshit, Argar has been duly rewarded with a seat in the House of Commons, to add fodder to that den of idiots, also called Tory back-benches.

However, even the handful of enlightened engineers probably fail to understand the subtleties of safe road positioning.


In the picture above, A is the door zone; to be avoided. However, B is also unsafe, because it leaves a gap just wide enough for a car to squeeze through; therefore to avoid close passes, one needs to ride at C, i.e. in the middle of the road.

The problem of course is that to the driver behind you it looks like you are being intentionally  obstructive; well, tough, if she honks, there is only one way to respond:


This is an unwholesome way to design streets and makes an unpleasant environment to ride bicycles; which is why most people don’t and why the sub-standard proposals for the Central London Cycling Grid are such a disappointment.

Vision Zero means designing unnecessary conflict out of our roads. Here are the key concepts:

  • Residential streets like the ones above should not carry through traffic;
  • Through various interventions, it must be made clear to motorists that they are guests on residential streets;
  • The width of residential streets needs to take into consideration not just the door zone, but also the width to the right of Channel B; it should not encourage close passes.

Just a few metres ahead the road narrows:


Here riding in the middle of the lane does not generate hostility, because it is obvious that there is no space to overtake. Too many roads in London are the wrong width: they encourage either close passes or hostility.

On Friday afternoon, as I was riding on Channel C in the wider section of the street, I noticed blue lights coming from a Police van, driving behind me. I found a gap in the parked cars and let it pass; except that the Officers (incidentally of British Transport Police) had no urgent call: they just wanted to tell me off for slowing their progress.

What I fail to understand is why people are in such a hurry to breathe the fumes of the car stopped at the next set of lights; but after all, given a normal distribution of intelligence, half of the people are below average. The issue however is that street engineers have to acknowledge that most people when enclosed in metal boxes become bestial, and this should not endanger or inconvenience the rest of us.

One of the most important things that needs to happen in London is the establishment of the Motoring Grid. The Police Van shouldn’t have been on that road in the first place. They were just rat running. Rather than taking the red route, they should have been on the Blue Route, because they had no business to fulfil in Fitzrovia.


Appendix 1 – After having tweeted the incident, I received a call from a BTP officer; we had a chat  which he followed up by writing the following:

I have identified the officers who were driving the vehicle that had an interaction with you today. I have given the driver an appreciation of the challenges faced by Cyclists that use London’s congested roads and their vulnerabilities.

We need to credit the willingness of the police to engage with people unhappy with their behaviour; however it seems more an exercise in PR than actually admitting that an abuse of power had taken place, symptomatic of an institutional culture which is deeply unsympathetic towards vulnerable road users.

Appendix 2 – Some people have asked whether the BTP have jurisdiction on public highways. They used to be confined to police the railways, but the Terrorism Act has widened their remit … to tackle Lycra Terror.

TfL starts to acquiesce to our demands

In March 2015, we wrote to Ben Johnson, who manages Transport for London’s road safety programme and to Isabel Dedring, Deputy Mayor, Transport at Greater London Authority, with a long list of proposals, which included Tom Kearney’s Fourteen Points to make London’s Bus Service less dangerous.

We did not receive an enthusiastic response, but it seems that concerted campaigns from different fronts are having an effect on TfL’s culture and we are seeing the first results.

Number Two of the 14 Points (Subscription to CIRAS by Bus Sub Contractors) was adopted at the beginning of 2016.

Yesterday TfL announced a substantial set of new policies with Leon Daniels stating “We will not rest until we get the number of people killed and seriously injured down to ZERO” (video: 01:50).

Tom Kearney dissects and comments on the proposals here. He makes the key point  that

TfL’s announced danger reduction actions are measurable.  Whether or not TfL’s proposed programme can be called “world leading” will depend on how—or if—these actions are actually executed.



Tom Kearney says “First steps towards Vision Zero”

Sound bites, glossy reports and press releases don’t make our streets safer. “Putting Active Travel at the core of Transport” and “Learning from Mistakes” do.

To highlight how much TfL has to change, here is what the residents of North Greenwich say, in a petition launched after the preventable death of a woman by a TfL bus

Peninsula residents have raised the everyday hazards and risks to TfL, councillors, the MP, the GLA and the developers. We have told them about the regular near miss incidents involving buses hurtling through and confused drivers in the wrong lane trying to get to the O2 or Millennium and Peninsula Retail Parks. They say TfL is in charge but TfL refuse to listen or even talk to local people.


That is why we remain of the opinion that changing TfL is a Herculean task that only a Mayor fully and enthusiastically committed to Vision Zero can accomplish in a speedily fashion.

Our presentation at Vision Zero Conference

Vision Zero London Conference Jan 2016Vision Zero London Conference Jan 2016(1)

How do we know that? TfL has told us in June 2015:Vision Zero London Conference Jan 2016(2)Vision Zero London Conference Jan 2016(3)Vision Zero London Conference Jan 2016(4)Vision Zero London Conference Jan 2016(5)Vision Zero London Conference Jan 2016(6)

Therefore, just as TfL has been very professional and successful in implementing the Congestion Charge and the Cycle Superhighways (Version II), we are confident that TfL will be professional, competent and successful in adopting Vision Zero, if the new Mayor believes that Londoners deserve an environment where they can walk and cycle without fear of being killed or seriously injured.

What do the main candidates think about Vision Zero?

We are confident that Caroline Pidgeon, Sian Berry and Zac Goldsmith will adopt Vision Zero, if elected.Vision Zero London Conference Jan 2016(7)

The question is:Vision Zero London Conference Jan 2016(8)

Does he have the courage and the vision of his namesake? Both are needed to implement Vision Zero. It is not a question of publishing glossy reports, but radically change the culture inside TfL Vision Zero London Conference Jan 2016(9)Vision Zero London Conference Jan 2016(10)


Zero compliance above, because humans don’t wait 78 seconds at a lightly used crossing. In spite of a TfL employee being killed by a Tfl-contractor employee, TfL refuses to change the pedestrian green phasing.

Vision Zero London Conference Jan 2016(13)


Vision Zero London Conference Jan 2016(11)

As we have documented, in the fatal collisions above, Police blamed the cyclist at E&C and the lorry driver at LC; cases closed, no lessons learned, no changes made, waiting for next inevitable fatality.

In all other realms of human activity, investigations are very different. Below are the Health and Safety Executive’s guidelines:

Vision Zero London Conference Jan 2016(12)

But HSE refuses to investigate road collisions even when a professional driver is involved.

Here are some initial concrete steps to guide the new Mayor:

Vision Zero London Conference Jan 2016(14)Vision Zero London Conference Jan 2016(15)

North Greenwich fatal bus crash – why was 10mph bus speed limit lifted?

Guest post by Dave Holladay:

There are a few questions to get answers to concerning the fatal crash on the North Greenwich Busway, just before daylight broke on 4th January.

The road arrangements here are confusing.

Bus Crash N Greenwich Bing 2011 -7

A dual carriageway? No: two bidirectional roads side by side, with insufficient visual clues to tell pedestrian which way to look.

What looks like a dual carriageway, is in fact a conventional road and a parallel bus-only road which carries almost all the bus services heading in and out of the North Greenwich Interchange.  That can mean a pretty intensive stream of buses going through, as seen from the ‘wall of red’ with white roofed buses stacked back nose to tail after the crash.


Buses and pedestrians are bad news – per vehicle per year buses have the highest pedestrian hit rate for any class of vehicle. Now that isn’t really surprising, as to run a viable bus service you have to put buses where the pedestrians are, and then you invite them to walk up to the bus to get on board, but it does highlight the need for added vigilance when operating buses, and due diligence being paid the the way bus routes are planned in every sense.

Bus stations are a focus for this with services concentrated in to one place, but recognising the potential for increased hazards, and a boosted risk of serious collisions, the Health & Safety Commission (who oversees bus stations as these are not public roads), expect the operators and owners to have clear arrangements to manage safety. This usually means a speed limit of 5 or 10 mph, and a layout that excludes pedestrian activity for the space where the buses operate, and has arrangements for pedestrians to cross, where this is necessary.


If 10mph limit was set at Greenwich busway, it implies that it was deemed to be as risky as a busy bus station.

The position with the North Greenwich busway is unclear, but it may well be appropriate that H&SC investigates this fatal crash under HSAWA 1974 (as a Section 3 issue) rather than TfL or LB Greenwich (as RTA 1988 Section 39 demands that they MUST investigate crashes and take action on safety as appropriate).  Mention of past incidents and crashes, suggest that IF the relevant roads authority had been compliant with the albeit badly flawed Section 39, there would be a paper trail of other reports and (Section 39.3.b&c and Section 39.2.a(i)&(ii)) action proposed to improve road safety and promote an appropriate safety campaign). This is I reckon especially relevant for a busway from observation of the way that bus lanes and a recently completed busway (in Glasgow) are often carrying buses travelling at 30mph (because they can) whilst the surrounding traffic in cars and on foot is moving at a much slower tempo, often, with a bus lane, just inches away. 

What has emerged is that the roads in this area have confusing and potentially non compliant signage, and pedestrian crossing works commenced with the development c 2007 have never been completed. Additionally a 10mph speed limit where pedestrian activity, crossing the busway in the vicinity of the bus stops just before John Harrison Way was signed and in place in 2008, but the signs were neatly removed from all 4 poles in 2014, leaving the busway with a completely inappropriate 30mph speed limit.


2007 – 10mph roundels

Bus Crash N Greenwich  Google Jun 2015-1

2015 – Roundels have disappeared; poles still there – What is the speed limit?

A non compliant design of ‘pseudo’ pedestrian crossing (of the busway) is visible on the 2008 pictures, complete with LOOK BOTH WAYS road markings, but like the 10mph speed limit – not completed on both sides of the busway and not a trace by 2014.

Bus Crash N Greenwich  Google Jul 2008-2

Bus Crash N Greenwich  Google Jun 2015-2

2015 – No pedestrian crossings in spite of the triangular signs still there

A detailed review of the pictures reveals non-standard(and non compliant?) use of various road signs (per the Traffic Signs Manual (TSRGD Chapters 3,4,5), and every off placing of signs warning pedestrians to LOOK BOTH WAYS when crossing the busway at John Harrison Way but turned to face the drivers using West Parkside and the busway, and including signs saying this before crossing West Parkside.

Bus Crash N Greenwich 8(1)

Bus Crash N Greenwich 6

Signs not in the line of sight of pedestrians

Isn’t there meant to be a safety audit of this? Where is the original, and, presuming that the 10 mph speed limit signs were erected with facility for enforcement, where is the original Traffic Regulation Order for this, and where is the paperwork which, presumably voided the 10 mph speed limit here and saw the signs all neatly removed?

In March 2015 the Parliamentary Committee on Transport Safety (PACTS) concluded that a structure of crash investigation and regulation that delivers such low casualty figures for air, rail and marine transport would deliver a major reduction in our roads casualty tolls and called for a highways version of RAIB/AAIB/MAIB as a key starting point. Some vision of what this means can be seen from RAIB reports where road vehicles are involved and in the absence of a regulator with a comprehensive and robust remit, letters were sent to DfT, Roads Authorities and vehicle operators recommending action to deliver safer road design and management, and vehicle design and operation. At Croydon (2008) one measure – reducing the risk of passengers being sent through the upper deck windows in a bus crash was a call to DfT and Bus Operators, at Oxshott (2010) 4 recommendations to DfT and Surrey CC on managing the risks of large vehicles crashing off bridges on to trains. So what has been delivered?

Until we have self-driving HGVs, drivers need to act as robots

Two recent court cases have shed light on a troubling issue that creates danger on London roads: HGV drivers changing their route out of their own will.

Here are the cases:

As reported, after dropping off his load near Elephant & Castle, HGV driver Edwin Humphries set his SatNav for the return journey to Telford. A few hundred metres later, Humphries decided to override the SatNav which was telling him to turn right at the junction. He felt that turning left would have been quicker (he had started work at 07:00, it was now 16:00 and still half of London and 250km separated him from his home). Problem was that he was on the wrong lane, one with an arrow pointing right. He probably spent the minute that the lights took to turn green debating “right or left”, finally decided to turn left and killed Abdelkhalak Lahyani who was riding to the left of the lorry, intending to go straight and probably did not notice the belated indicator.

One month earlier John Green loaded his skip lorry in Chancery Lane and started his trip back to Rainham in Essex. Below in green is the route that he was probably intending to take.



However at Holborn Circus, instead of turning left on Charterhouse Street to join Farringdown Road, he turned right into New Fetter Lane (red route). At the end of Fetter Lane, he turned left into Fleet Street and stopped at the Ludgate Circus junction. Here he realised that the right turn was prohibited. Not only that, there is a weight restrictions going forward to Saint Paul.



Green could only go left. He was probably upset of having to waste time and was probably remapping the journey in his head. The lights turned green and only then did he start indicating; by this time Victor Ben Rodriguez was riding on the cycle lane intending to go forward and was to the left of the lorry; Green turned and killed Ben Rodriguez.

In both cases the late decision by the lorry driver to change direction caused a fatality.

This is inadmissible. The routes of HGVs must be fixed before departure along well-defined risk-assessed routes. Drivers need to be alerted of risk factors as they are met, through their SatNavs. Under no circumstance should a driver be allowed to stray away from the planned route. If that does happen, the employer needs to be informed and the incident be logged.

The construction industry is (slowly) addressing the issue that the strict Health and Safety procedures in place inside a construction site are non -existent as soon as the lorry driver leaves the site. Contractors are required to follow prescribed routes, but there is no monitoring.

Recently I witnessed a cement lorry from Lafarge driving down a residential street, which could not have been part of the official route.


I reported it to the company, who after investigating the matter, interviewed the driver and following his attitude to the incident, decided to fire him. This is obviously positive, but

  • what would have happened if I hadn’t reported the incident?
  • are the new employers of the driver aware of the incident?

We welcome the construction industry latest effort, the 10 point Manifesto for Road Safety, especially the first point:

For all property developers and contractors to recognise that health and safety on the road is as important as it is on site

something that regrettably the Health and Safety Executive repeatedly has refused to do.

We hope that after reading this article the CICC will tackle with robustness the issue of enforcement of prescribed routes.

A final point

It is clear that any lorry over 7.5 tons (medium size) driving East on Fleet Street has to turn left at Ludgate Circus. However the great majority of cyclists do not know that.

This is a crash that was built in by design.

If Victor Ben-Rodriguez had known that the lorry had no other choice but turn left, he would have not been killed.

It is therefore imperative that a warning signal be placed before the junction warning cyclists that all lorries will be turning left.

This is the type of obvious measure that unfortunately London’s Transport Authorities never take, because they have not learned the Vision Zero principles.

UPDATE: Our recommendation is that all HGVs, not just construction ones, need to adhere to approved risk-assessed routes. It would also prevent silliness like this.

London Assembly asks Mayor to adopt Vision Zero

Motion passed unanimously by the London Assembly:

This Assembly notes the positive environmental and health effects of walking and wishes to see London become a safer city for pedestrians.

This Assembly notes the Mayor’s target to halve the number of people killed or seriously injured on London’s roads by 2020 compared to the Government base line of 3,627[2].
This Assembly believes that a target of 1,813 people, or fewer, being killed or seriously injured on London’s roads by 2020 is still too high.
This Assembly believes that the Mayor should adopt the Swedish Vision Zero approach to road danger, which incorporates five key principles:
  • Safety: road traffic systems should take account of the fact that people make mistakes and should minimise both the opportunity for error and the harm done when they do occur.
  • Ethics: human life and health have highest priority.
  • Responsibility: those who design and manage road systems share responsibility with road users.
  • Mechanisms for change: We must all be ready to change to achieve safety.
  • Active travel which encourages healthy forms of transport such as cycling and walking.
This Assembly further notes than Vision Zero combines strong enforcement of traffic law and better roadway engineering with campaigns to discourage dangerous behaviour on roads. It also aims to raise the profile of traffic safety problems and help change cultural attitudes, which are too accepting of road death and injury.
This Assembly calls on the Mayor and TfL to take a bold approach to pedestrian safety. We need ambitious targets to drive forward progress on pedestrian safety, the political will to make difficult decisions, and clear leadership to build the momentum to change our roads and streets for the better. Adopting Vision Zero principles for London’s road safety policy could change public perception of road dangers as an inevitable part of modern city life. It would remind people that death and injury on our roads can be avoided if a serious effort is made to tackle the causes of the problem.
Valerie Shawcross,who proposed the motion said:
“London has always been a pedestrian friendly city, but it ought to be a safer city for those who chose to walk. Whilst the Mayor’s target to halve the number of people killed or seriously injured on our roads is welcome, it falls far short of what he should be aiming for.

An ambitious Vision Zero strategy, which vigorously enforces traffic law, improves road engineering, and works to discourage dangerous behaviour on the roads, is the only true route to boosting pedestrian safety. All the evidence points to regular walking as crucial to good health; the Mayor should be promoting walking as a way to tackle our obesity crisis and be doing more to make London a pedestrian friendly city.”

Sian Berry, Green Party candidate for London Mayor:

“We look forward to working with the Vision Zero campaign group to tackle systemic road danger and risk on our streets.”

Caroline Russell, Green Party Local Transport spokesperson:

“Reducing danger will make London into a more liveable city and save communities from the trauma of road death and serious injury.”

A tale with one victim and many villains

On Thursday 19.11.15 the Coroner’s Inquest was held of the killing of Abdelkhalak Lahyani at Elephant and Castle on 13.05.14 by Edwin Humphries, who was driving a 26-tonne lorry.

Abdelkhalak Lahyani Image by the family

Here are the facts that emerged at the inquest:

Humphries drives a large lorry from Telford to London (approx. 250km) arriving at his destination on the Walworth Rd at 14:15. After downloading, he has to wait one hour because schoolchildren near the site are coming out. [This incidentally is another example that a rush-hour lorry ban protects some people, but transfers the risk to others, if other measures are not also applied].

At approximately 16:00 Humphries drives up the Walworth Road, which has two lanes North, one of which is a bus lane. It has no cycle-specific infrastructure. The road then turns left, and 70 meters before the Elephant & Castle junction the lanes become three: the bus lane becomes a general lane for left turning traffic and the two other lanes have right turning arrows painted:

Humphries stays in the middle lane. After a further 40 metres, between the left and the middle lane, a cycle feeder lane is painted:

View looking back

The traffic light is red and for 1 minute and 20 seconds Humphries is stationary in the middle lane, front of the queue. In the left lane, a car and a van are also waiting; in between a moped blocks the exit of the feeder lane into the ASL.

At the Inquest, Humphries testifies that
a. he thought the left lane was still a bus lane
b. he had not noticed the feeder lane
c. he had not noticed the moped.

Humphries’s SatNav tells him to go right but he decides to turn left, thinking it would be a less congested route. [Humphries had taken a 5 year break from driving HGVs and had just resumed 6 weeks earlier; this was his first trip in London in a long time]. Humphries does not remember when he made this decision.

Thirty seconds after Humphries stops at the lights, Lahyani reaches the area on his bicycle and then disappears from view of the four CCTVs. Layani works on the South Bank and he intends to go straight and right at the junction.

Although PC Smith, the investigator, has shown that the lorry’s left indicators were on when the lights turned green, he did not mention whether they were on when he arrived at the junction. The Coroner did not pick up on this crucial point.

When the lights turned, the tragedy quickly unravelled: the moped sped away and turned left; behind it  Lahyani cycle straight; Humphries turned left; Lahyani was hit by the side of the lorry, fell under its left rear wheel and suffered fatal injuries.

The villains

Transport for London – This junction had been redesigned in 2010, with no consideration for cycling safety. A feeder lane in the middle of a three-lane arterial road, with bus traffic moving left to right and substantial HGV traffic moving right to left is a recipe for disaster. It only takes a small error by a driver of a large vehicle to end the life of an innocent person. The laziness of TfL is further evidenced by the cycle lane on the left of the carriageway, visible from this aerial shot of the protest organised by Stop Killing Cyclists.

The green strip on the pavement at bottom right, is meant for left turning cyclists. It suddenly stops, with no indication of where to go and where to rejoin the road. Scandalous.
After Lahyani’s killing, SKC used chalk to show a possible solution to keep people on bikes safe: a cycle track on the wide expanse of pavement both for left turning cyclists and for those intending to go straight (with the track splitting at the top of the picture, one arm safely rejoining the carriageway, the other crossing the street, adjacent to the pedestrian crossing). A year and a half after the killing, TfL has not modified the junction. People are forced to ride in the same environment that killed Lahyani.

Boris Johnson – The Mayor infamously stated “If you keep your wits about you, Elephant & Castle is perfectly negotiable.” The killing of Lahyani can be strictly linked to this statement.  Boris Johnson did not intend to kill Lahyani, but by mandating the prioritising of “smoothing traffic flow” over the safety of pedestrians and cyclists, he is most responsible for his death (and that of many others). Some may want to give credit to Johnson for delivering a few kilometres of good quality infrastructure in his last year on the job; they forget the victims of his crass policies: we should honour the five victims who had to die on his blue paint, before his belated conversion, rather than praising him.

The Metropolitan Police – Some Collision Investigator Officers are thorough and we have praised them in the past. In this case, PC Smith has shown to be woefully inadequate. At the inquest he went out of his way to blame Lahyani for riding his bicycle where TfL had asked him to. He stressed that CCTVs did not show the exact position of Lahyani during the 50 seconds when everyone was waiting for the green light. When I challenged him outside of court, asking him why didn’t he explain the most likely series of events, Smith said: “He could have been anywhere, even on the pavement”, an impossible scenario. However his most damning failing has been not to draw the attention of the court to the clear contribution that the road layout had to the killing. We are going to report him to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (Yes we know, another total ineffectual body). The testimony by PC Smith was so bad that the only conclusion that one can take is that this was a stitch-up between the Metropolitan Police and its paymaster, Transport for London, who clearly have no intention of redesigning the junction.

Coroner Ballard – In spite of clear evidence that Lahyani had done nothing wrong and that he ended up being in an extremely vulnerable  position because of inadequate and unsafe provisions, the Coroner did not contemplate issuing a Prevention of Future Death report. This is dereliction of duty:

Paragraph 7 of Schedule 5, Coroners and Justice Act 2009, provides coroners with the duty to make reports to a person, organisation, local authority or government department or agency where the coroner believes that action should be taken to prevent future deaths.

The barrister representing the family at the Inquest – Shamefully unwilling to challenge the Police testimony, the barrister responded to my questions of why she hadn’t, by saying, “That is not what Inquests are for”. Another highly paid professional who doesn’t know the law and her job.


Lahyani has been killed and no lessons have been learned. The people who caused his death, the driver, Boris Johnson, Transport for London have made errors of varying severity. Not only they have not been punished, but these errors have not been formally recognised and therefore are not going to be corrected. The Metropolitan Police, the Coroner and the barrister are therefore responsible for the future injuries and fatalities which sadly are inevitably going to happen at this junction.

The incompetence and impunity of these villains are the reason of the intolerable number of people killed while walking and cycling in London.

How the Motoring Grid would have saved Dennis Carbon

Dennis Carbon was killed by a lorry driver on Lisson Grove earlier this month.

Photo courtesy of Evening Standard

At a vigil organised by Living Street, Dennis’ cousin, Christina Daniel described how the junction where he was killed is extremely dangerous, especially for the hundreds of elderly residents of the Lisson Green estate who want to reach the Church Street market.

Christina Daniel, with red flowers, remembers her cousin. Photo by Brenda Puech

Indeed during the 30 minutes of the vigil, we witnessed inappropriate speeds, hostility by drivers and elderly pedestrians unable to cross on time. A few days earlier, Christina says, ““I stopped to drop off flowers at the site with my daughter and a car almost knocked down an elderly woman right there – we were so shocked!”

Where it happened: Lisson Grove is a dangerous barrier between where many elderly people live and where they shop.

In spite of Section 39 of Road Traffic Act, it is unlikely that Westminster Council will study this collision and draw lessons from it. And yet just 30 minutes allow us to understand the key factors that make tragedies like the killing of Dennis inevitable:

  1. Inappropriate speed – Westminster is the only Borough refusing to lower the speed limit from the present 50kph.
  2. Insufficient time to cross – After six seconds, the green man disappears, leaving pedestrians anxiously guessing whether there is time to finish crossing.
  3. Inappropriate amount of motor traffic – Lisson Grove is used as a rat run by residents of St. John’s Wood, South and West Hampstead.

Let’s look at each of the three points from a Vision Zero point of view.

30 kph – We all know that slower speeds mean more reaction time and less devastating impact. There is also an important psychological element: if you are driving, 30kph feels slow. If you need to keep your speed much slower than you think you are able to do, your outlook changes: you no longer get frustrated by a few seconds “wasted” to let a pedestrian cross or driving behind a child riding his bike to school; you stop seeing the car as a vehicle to make you go fast (unless there are other cars in the way). A 30kph street has much more considerate drivers.

6 sec. green man – When you challenge TfL that 6 seconds is too short, their stock answer is “It complies with DfT regs”. Besides being an asinine response, it belies the mindset of traffic engineers, which is that the system is safe, as long as you follow the rules, no matter how inconsiderate they are. The reality is that when rules are inconsiderate, people don’t follow them. Here is the crossing at Lisson Grove:

The green man is probably vanishing now. What should the couple do? Wait in the middle of the island for another 40 seconds, with fast lorries and buses speeding either side of you, or risk it and finish the crossing? What if there were no vehicles stationary at the lights? According to witness reports Dennis Carbon, who was walking with a stick due to a stroke, started crossing with the green man and somehow was run over by a driver who thought he had priority.

Rat run – In the Netherlands, Lisson Grove would not have the level of motor traffic it has. The reason is simple: it is not an arterial road, so it should not be used by through traffic. In reality it is used by residents of other neighbourhoods who instead should be using two perfectly adequate arterial roads, the A5 Edgware Road and the A4 Finchley Road.

The red route (West End Lane, Abbey Road, Lisson Grove) needs to be filtered so that it stops being a rat run. Through traffic is to be limited to the purple roads.

The principle of the Motoring Grid is that cells cannot be crossed by through traffic. It is an essential part of Vision Zero because it removes danger from most of the roads. The Motoring Grid also re-educates drivers in these concepts:

  • not all roads are available when going from A to B,
  • most short journeys are easier by bike
  • when one drives away from an arterial route, one is a guest of that neighbourhood, and as a guest, one should respect local residents, especially the elderly

If the Motoring Grid had been in place, would have the driver who killed Dennis Carbon be driving on Lisson Grove?

What would Vision Zero Britain look like?

In occasion of the forthcoming Vision Zero UK conference in January 2016, we have the pleasure to publish this article by Prof. John Whitelegg, one of the world’s leading experts in sustainable mobility and author of the just published book, Mobility

Vision Zero
John Whitelegg
Stockholm Environment Institute
University of York

“Road traffic crashes are predictable and therefore preventable … the time to act is now. Road users everywhere deserve better and safer road travel”
World Health Organisation (2004) World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention, World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland, page 164

In the calendar year 2014 two elderly pedestrians were killed on the A49 road in the vicinity of the small town of Church Stretton, Shropshire (population 4,700).  These deaths had a large impact on this small town, affecting many people and extending well beyond the boundaries of close family and friends.  Both of those killed were well known and both were physically active and going about their normal everyday tasks.  The WHO conclusion quoted above is clear and accurate. It is glaringly obvious that local residents in this quiet corner of Shropshire require a much stronger and deeper approach to road safety than is currently on offer.  This would come under several names e.g. a total system approach or a fundamental redesign approach or what is known in Sweden as Vision Zero.
Whatever name is used the principles are clear:

  • Death and injuries in the road traffic environment are predictable and preventable and a total approach to all the variables that contribute to death and injury must be redesigned to get the numbers down to the lowest possible level.
  • The design principles are based on physical and kinetic energy and require that mass and velocity are controlled to minimise or eliminate death and serious injury in crashes. At the core of the Vision Zero is the biomechanical tolerance of human beings. Vision Zero promotes a road system where crash energy cannot exceed human tolerance.
  • Current approaches to road safety are inadequate.  There is no learning mechanism linked to redesign and funding to produce a total design that eliminates death and injury.  When a fatality occurs on the UK road system very little happens to learn from that incident and apply the new knowledge to making sure that the probability of similar incidents in the future is significantly reduced.
  • Death and injury in road crashes are a public health problem and not a problem that falls exclusively within traffic planning and traffic engineering specialist areas.  Public health embraces important issues around measures and interventions at a population level that are  intended to change attitudes and behaviour and an understanding of “denominator issues” and a deep understanding  of looking at the total “burden of disease” and DALYS (disability Adjusted  Life Years”

All of these principles are part of the Swedish “Vision Zero” road safety policy.
The denominator issue
In Hillman, Adams and Whitelegg (1990) the authors present and analyse data to show that the numbers of children making independent journeys to school had reduced from about 80% in 1970 to 8% in 1990.  The numbers of people exposed to risk had gone down and this reduction in the bottom line of the fraction (the denominator) had played a significant part in reducing death and injury.  Official statements in the UK often proclaim the success of road safety measures because numbers killed and seriously injured have gone down.  If the denominator shrinks then the KSI number goes down as a result of people abandoning the street e.g. not walking to school and it has nothing to with road safety measures.
A key principle in Vision Zero is to reduce road traffic danger and risk so that the denominator goes up (more people use streets) and KSI numbers go down.

Vision Zero

In October 1997 the Swedish Parliament adopted its “Vision Zero” road safety policy.  This policy sets a target of zero deaths and zero serious injuries in the road traffic environment and puts the responsibility for achieving this goal on all those responsible for the total road safety system.  This means that the detailed design of the road, the vehicle and driving behaviour must be tackled as a “total system” so that “a mistake in the road traffic environment does not carry the death penalty”.  The Swedish approach is an ethical and civilised response to the unacceptability of death and serious injury on the roads.
Vision Zero sets a clear ethical tone to the road safety policy discussion.  We do not have to accept death and injury as inevitable even if the number is lower than it could be.  We do not have to think of the victim as in some way responsible e.g. he/she should not have been walking along the road or should have been wearing a high-visibility jacket.  We do have to think about the ability of the human frame to absorb kinetic energy and adjust speeds accordingly.  We can and should have a total 20mph speed limit on every residential road and on all A roads a couple of miles either side of a small town or village (like the A49 in Church Stretton).  We can and should change the culture of driving so that high speeds become as unacceptable as drink driving.  We can and should enforce the speed limits but as much by cultural change and social marketing as by traditional policing. We can and should retro-fit generous bike paths and pedestrian paths on existing roads as well as make them mandatory when governments start talking about £15 billion on new roads.  

What would Vision Zero Britain look like?
The key policy interventions include:

  • Speed control (20mph in all urban areas and on all roads when those roads approach or leave towns and villages)
  • Blood alcohol limit set at the Swedish level (0.02%).  England and Wales is currently 0.08%
  • A zero tolerance policy for drug taking and driving
  • Accident investigation agency modelled on the Swedish experience and independent of the police
  • Law reform to deal with citizen concern about severe outcomes being dealt with “leniently” and a judicial system  that respects those affected by death and  injury and learns lessons from individual incidents and makes recommendations for changing those aspects  of total design that are not working as well as they should
  • Road traffic reduction
  • Urban design to deliver clear road traffic danger reduction danger reduction for vulnerable users

The key message in Vision Zero is that all these things must be done in ways that every measure and intervention supports every other measure and intervention.  It is important to harvest the power of synergy where everything works in the same direction and where an overall ethical, zero tolerance approach takes root in every part of the system.
The two pedestrian deaths in the vicinity of Church Stretton have resulted in no action whatsoever to deal with speed limits, pedestrian crossing facilities or pedestrian pavements.  There is no learning mechanism.   Vision Zero means that the deaths would be investigated in detail and steps taken to make sure the factors that gave rise to the deaths are dealt with.


Sweden’s Vision Zero policy has been in place for 18 years and has had a transformational effect on the way road traffic danger and total design is tackled.  It energises every component of the system and stimulates a year-on-year improvement in the ways the total system operates.

Swedish fatalities in 2011 (the latest statistics available from the European Commission) were 29 per 10 billion passenger kms, the lowest in the EU.  The EU-27 average is 61 fatalities on the same measure.  All death and injury statistics have to be treated with great caution because of the denominator problem discussed above but the EU statistics are still relevant to a policy discussion.

The Vision Zero debate is at its core very simple.  It is about choice and what kind of future we want.  We can have a future based on the idea that “accidents happen” and we accept that the way we move around will inevitably kill and injure people.  Alternatively we can have a future based on the idea that we will transform the total road traffic environment to get as close as possible to zero deaths as possible. Vision Zero is the embodiment of the ethical alternative.  We can do far more to eliminate death and injury on the roads.  If fatalities are predictable and preventable as the World Health Organisation maintains why we would not set out to eliminate this scourge?
P.S. You can read John’s 2006 report on Vision Zero here