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.