Month: April 2014

Victim blaming part 2

On Wednesday 9th April, an Inquest was held for the death of Venera Minakhmetova, who was crushed by a left turning lorry at Bow roundabout, where two other cyclists have been killed in 2011.

At the inquest there was only one witness, whose testimony proved to be unreliable. There was no CCTV camera at the junction, and the Police investigators reconstructed the crash from the tachograph on the lorry and concluded that “on balance of probabilities”, the victim did not stop at the cyclists-only red light prior to the junction.

Mark Treasure has written eloquently and clearly why the Coroner was wrong in deciding that the work that TfL has done at Bow roundabout is sufficient in making the junction safe:

All the fiddles and bodges that have been implemented at Bow are a flawed compromise, intended to fit cycling in around the margins of motor traffic flow, rather than coherent design. It’s a great pity the inquest seems to have ignored the issue of whether it could be substantially better – good enough to eliminate future tragedies.

Not forgetting that

There are still no pedestrian crossings at this roundabout.

I would like to comment on this remark by the Coroner in her summing up, as reported in the Evening Standard.

“It’s important that I’m open and honest about the cause of this collision, for no other reason that other cyclists need to understand what dangerous behaviour contravening a red light is, and that there are potentially devastating consequences.”

 1. Venera was a frequent user of this junction and she had expressed her anxiety about the lack of safety. The Coroner should have concluded that “on balance of probabilities”, Venera was either confused by the new traffic signal set-up, installed only a few days before, or by the behaviour of the lorry. It only takes a couple of visits to the roundabout to appreciate that the most pressing danger are left-turning vehicle, and that must have been in Venera’s mind as she was negotiating the roundabout. It is insulting to the victim to assume, as the Coroner has done, that she recklessly and obliviously entered the junction, when there is no evidence that she did that. Especially if, as it has been alleged, she consciously went through a red light, it is reasonable to assume that she was extremely alert of the danger; Venera must have assumed that the lorry was going straight; it follows that either she was ahead of the lorry and the driver should have seen her, or she was behind it, and it was not indicating. “On balance of probabilities” these are the correct deductions.

2. Many organisations and individuals had pointed out that the new design was confusing; when the cycling light was showing red, it would have been amongst a sea of green lights. What is astonishing is that TfL installed this new system, which was new and untested, without studying how users would react. The Coroner should have issued a Prevention of Future Deaths report, asking Traffic Authorities to monitor novel schemes with CCTV or with people on the ground.

Picture by Charlie Lloyd
3. A few years ago, TfL conducted a study to investigate why women riders are over-represented in fatalities due to left-turning lorries. It concluded that most probably it was a consequence of women riders being more likely to respect green lights and move off at the same time as lorries on their right who decide to turn on their path. As Copenhagenize has recently reported, good infrastructure promotes rule-following, because users trust the system; London’s infrastructure is so poor, so dangerous and so disrespectful towards people walking and cycling, that people cycling find their own surviving strategies. In a jungle, you survive by instinct, not by following rules.


Scandalous new scheme at Holborn Circus

Holborn Circus is a six-armed junction, which used to have a statue of Prince Albert on a horse in the middle. The Corporation has removed the statue because it was deemed to be “a significant contributor to road accidents”. But have they made the junction safer for people cycling? The North South axis (Hatton Gardens – Fetter Lane) is the most useful for cycling because it allows people to avoid the dangerous and ugly Farringdon Road. Holborn Circus is now no longer reachable from Hatton Gardens. The Southern end now has a No Entry sign:

The pavement on the left has now become “shared space” with small bicycle signs faintly painted. However there are no signs or indications of what one should do. If one continues ahead (and there are no signs saying one cannot), then one has to negotiate this incredibly complex junction without being able to tell who has a green light, because the Hatton Gardens arm has lost its traffic light. The engineers do not expect you to take such a suicidal route. But look what they have in store for you: Somehow you are meant to understand that the curvature in the small paving is a recommendation for you to turn left, around a blind corner (still on the pavement):

So you follow the snake, around a blind corner, with only 40cm of pavement, make a sharp right and stop at Charterhouse Street:

You are now supposed to cross the street, but there are no lights for cycles here, only for pedestrians further to the right. This means you have to guess which arm of the junction has green and whether that traffic will come down Charterhouse Street:

Do you see, now there is a vehicle turning into Charterhouse Street from High Holborn; when High Holborn gets a red, the lorry waiting at Fetter Lane may drive down towards you. During the day, it will be very difficult to guess when it is safe to cross:

As you and a few others play this Russian roulette, you are of course blocking the pavement for all pedestrians.

Moreover, notice how the advisory cycle lane down Charterhouse Street begins only AFTER the pinch point:

This is a criminally deficient scheme. I will be writing to the Corporation to take immediate remedial action, before someone gets seriously injured.
Finally, with the removal of the signal at Hatton Gardens, the engineers should have installed a zebra crossing there.

Victim blaming again and again

Coroner Mary Hassell did not have a good week. She sat at the inquests of three cycling deaths which occurred last November and in two occasions she decided not to pursue the real cause of the tragedies and instead blamed the victims. I will start with the last inquest, regarding the killing of Khalid al Hashimi, who was hit by a bus on Whitechapel High Street when returning home from his birthday party.

Khalid was cycling at around 23:30 on the Eastern pavement up Leman Street, which is one-way South. He reached the junction with Whitechapel High Street and this is what he saw:

The traffic lights have no green man. He looked ahead and he saw the red light for traffic coming from his right and he saw a vehicle stopped at the lights. He assumed that it was safe to cross. Anyone not familiar with the criminal neglect by London authorities of pedestrian safety would have assumed the same. Notice also that the lights on this side of the street are invisible to a pedestrian. In reality, the red light refers only to the right turning lane. Traffic going straight or turning left has a green light, but a pedestrian has no way of knowing that unless she turns her head left to check the traffic lights on the other side of the junction. But with two visual clues that it is safe to cross, most people will not seek a third confirmation. Moreover the phasing of the lights further East results in the right turning lane filling up before the approach of the traffic going straight. In other words, this visual miscue is prevalent.

Khalid started to cross and he was immediately hit by a bus traveling at approx 40kph (= 11m/sec) from his right. One may ask, how come his peripheral vision did not see the bus coming. The reason is that 13m to his right there is a large brightly lit poster in the middle of the pavement, obscuring the oncoming traffic travelling in the first two lanes.

This is a criminal design. Khalid was assessed to have alcohol in his blood, equivalent to twice the driving limit. That is irrelevant (shame on the Evening Standard to put it on the headline). MOST SOBER PEOPLE WOULD HAVE ACTED THE SAME WAY. They would have seen two clues that it was safe to cross and their vision of the bus would have been obscured by the poster.

 Why isn’t there a green man? Most likely because TfL does not want people to cross at this point, because the second leg of the crossing is always on “virtual red”. However if a pedestrian is on this corner of the junction and wants to go to the corner immediately opposite (i.e. SE -> NE) via signalled crossing, she would have to back track 15 metres, push a button, wait 25 seconds and then navigate four sets of lights, only one of which is co-ordinated with the next one. It would take on average three minutes and fifteen seconds.

In other words, TFL IS EXPECTING US TO WASTE MORE THAN THREE MINUTES TO CROSS A JUNCTION. It is this chronic disrespect and discrimination against Active Travel that induces risky behaviour which kills people. In the eyes of all civilised people TfL is criminally negligent.

 However Mary Hassell decided it would not be appropriate to issue a Prevention of Future Deaths Notice, in spite of the conditions being exactly the same as five months ago, and focused on the irrelevant fact of the alcohol in Khalid’s blood.

 TfL MUST install a green man phase across the junction. As an urgent interim measure, it must remove the poster. I have written to Peter Hendy in this regard.

Finally please note that Leman Street is very wide; there is ample space to put a contraflow cycle lane, thus not forcing people to ride on the pavement.

My Manifesto as Pedestrian Champion

The London Assembly Transport Committee has issued a report on Pedestrian Safety “Feet First”.

I endorse the Committee’s recommendations:

Adopt a Vision Zero approach to eliminating road death and injury,
Appoint a senior representative to champion walking (a similar role to that of Andrew Gilligan for cycling),
Use an assumed walking speed of 0.8 metres per second to calculate minimum crossing times and audit sites where Green Man times have changed,
Provide monthly data on pedestrian deaths and serious injuries,
Develop plans to improve 24 pedestrian collision hotspots by October 2014,
Publish a timescale for implementing 20mph speed limits, Improve the safety record of large vehicles,
Ensure road crime is included in Met crime statistics.

If nominated, I would happily accept the post of Pedestrian Champion.

This would be my Manifesto

– Encourage TfL to put Active Travel at the core of all their operations, and adopt a Vision ZERO approach.

– Rule 170 – We need a strong publicity drive, backed up by energetic Police action to eliminate the scourge of turning vehicles which do not yield to pedestrians. This is a key “broken windows” policy. It will radically change motorists behaviour;

– Encourage the replacement of many signalised pedestrian crossings with zebra crossings;

– Ensure that traffic signal phasing is proportional to all road users flows, of adequate duration for pedestrians, and, if user-operated, immediately responsive;

– Ensure that pedestrian desire lines are respected whenever designing crossings, especially around Parks and Schools.

– Ensure that all pedestrian KSIs are properly investigated, both in respect to human behaviour and infrastructure failures;

– Pressure TfL to enact motor traffic bans on High Pollution days and engage with all Local Authorities to limit the contribution of motor traffic to poor air quality