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.


One comment

  1. At the inquest it was made very clear that there was an untraced vehicle stopped ahead of the truck that struck Venera’s bike FROM THE REAR – a very significant detail which should effectively have made the proposition that she raced up the nearside and cut across untenable.

    At the inquest the Police calculations and other measurements (the truck had a tracking device) conclude that the driver had accelerated to just 13 mph at the point of impact. This does not square with the normal riding speed for a fit commuting cyclist like Venera, who would easily be travelling at 15-20mph. No evidence was taken or sought to assess the average speed at which she travelled on a routine basis for her regular commuting trips. The claim that she undertook the truck (ie travelling significantly faster than the truck) and was then in front of it travelling slowly enough to be hit at 13mph does not fit any basic laws of mechanics.

    At the inquest the traffic signal sequence was described ONLY from the point at which the cycle traffic got an advance green signal 2 seconds before the motor traffic. Evidence from numerous video records shows 1) the circulating traffic fails to stop when their signals turn red, and can prevent cycle traffic from setting off when their lights turn green – this frequently by at least 4 seconds and can be up to 10 seconds AFTER the cyclists can move off.

    Clearly (and with video evidence of this) the delayed cyclists are then moving away at the same time as the faster vehicles reach the same point and attempt to turn left. This creates a major hazard of the cyclists moving slowly as a faster motor vehicle arrives and the driver attempts to turn left.

    My postulation is that Venera was prevented from setting off immediately on the green signal by circulating traffic, and then was forced to take avoiding action when the vehicle in front of the truck that killed her cut her up with a left turn. This may have left her stopped or destabilised and right in the path of the truck as the driver turned left. If that mystery vehicle had been a small van, then Venera would have been hidden from view to the truck driver until she became visible after the van had passed her, by which time she could well have been in the invisible zone (the solid composite steradian of space hidden by the A pillar, the mirror cluster, and the bottom cut-off of the windscreen)

    The Police evidence appears to confirm that she was directly in front of the truck but the range of the proximity sensor is so small that for an approach speed of over 2 metres per second there would be minimal warning of anything being driven towards in a position directly in front of the truck. After impact the truck driver continued for 49 metres before being stopped – never noticing the noise or felt the bike going under the wheels. The inquest evidence noted that there was traffic noise (typically 80+dB during peak hour – but no measurements were quoted), and no detail presented on whether the cab window(s) were open (a modern truck with a closed cab massively reduces the ability to hear what is happening outside – truck drivers are frequently stopped well after the point of collision in such crashes but this is rarely reviewed at the inquest to discover why the drivers fail to notice the victim’s shouts/noise of the crash/local commotion).

    I’d really want to revisit this evidence with supplementary evidence on how the advance start system fails to keep cyclists safe.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s