Island of Death

On 29th October 2019, Lukasz Binkowski was killed, crushed by the wheels of a lorry on the South Circular in Catford.

At the inquest the incident was described in a way that puts all the blame on the victim, who was unable to put forward his version.

Lukasz Binkowski had been cycling on a grey mountain bike to Camberwell, where he worked as a driver at a cleaning products company. Shortly before 6:30am, the lorry had safely overtaken him with “good clearance”, before moving back into the left lane near Ravensbourne Park.

However, as the traffic was brought to a stop for 11 seconds due to a red traffic light near Catford station, Lukasz cycled along the near side of the lorry. Being in the space between the pavement and the vehicle, he appeared to onlookers to have lost his balance after the lorry started to move forward, and fell underneath the rear wheels.

The lorry had warning signs on its rears and although the exact mechanism is uncertain, it was at this point that Mr Binkowski either lost his balance or was caught by the forward movement of the lorry, being caught by the wheels and sustaining his unsurvivable injuries.”

The truth is much more nuanced than that, as anyone who spends fifteen minutes at the junction, can easily understand.

The South Circular is very narrow in many stretches, and this is one of them. Riding West, the road meets a Y-junction with the South Circular veering right.

For someone riding a bike there are only two bad options when the carriage way splits into two lanes:

a. ride on the right lane for 200 meters

b. ride on the left lane and near the junction switch to the right lane

The second option is the one that feels safer at the outset (i.e. when one has to decide); but of course is more dangerous near the junction.

Moreover, if the traffic lights at the junction are red, the rider has a difficult decision of where to wait: there is no Advance Stop Line and there is no space to filter through to wait in front of the first vehicle.

There is a small striped area at the cleave of the Y. The critical issue is that it is quite narrow, and it is often driven over by buses and large vehicles driving left, as below.

The natural response is to wait as right as possible. In other words, to avoid being run over by moving vehicles from behind, one is tempted to stay as close as prudent to stationary vehicles on the right.

This is what Lukasz did and it proved fatal.

The lorry to Lukasz’s right moved and he was dragged under its wheels.

In the dysfunctional system we have, Lukasz’s death is “an unfortunate accident”. No lessons have been learned and nothing will be done to fix this death trap.

Of course the reason is that it is difficult to fix. Mixing lorries and bicycles on narrow arterial roads is completely antithetical to Vision Zero. Probably the best solution is to transfer cycle traffic to an alternative high quality route

In a country where leaders were honest, the Mayor would set up a system which learns from tragedies such as the killing of Lukasz and builds safe infrastructure for active travel. But we don’t live in such a country.

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