junction

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.

Tale of three junctions – Part 2: Deptford Broadway

This is a classic Vision Zero case:

  • a design, safe on paper, actually had a fatal flaw
  • when someone actually was killed as a consequence of the flaw, no proper investigation took place
  • Vision Zero London went to investigate and detected the fatal flaw
  • we are now waiting for the flaw to be corrected, but how long will it take? The last words we heard: “This will not be immediate”

In the afternoon of Sunday 16th September 2018 Julia Luxmoore Peto had gone shopping in Deptford. Just before 17:00 she was at the large junction between New Cross Road and Deptford Church Street.

Until a few years ago, this enormous, extremely busy junction had no protected pedestrian crossing; Transport for London eventually placed signaled crossings on three arms of the junction. However the design had a fatal flaw, not immediately apparent from the drawings, but indisputable to anyone who spends fifteen minutes at the junction.

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Julia’s intended path had three stages:

  1. An unprotected crossing of the slip road for traffic turning left
  2. A signaled crossing of three lanes of traffic coming from West: two going straight and one turning right
  3. A third crossing (signaled) of the westbound traffic.

The phasing of the motor traffic of the second crossing is a. straight only, b. straight and right turn, c. right turn only. Naturally the pedestrian light shows red during the three phases. However 90% of the traffic goes straight, and after the second phase, when it stops, it gives the misleading impression that it is now safe to cross.

For someone crossing North to South, this false signal is augmented by the fact that often the traffic stopped at red consists of lorries, which obscure the third lane.

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It seems safe to cross. But beware of the third lane!

In the picture above, the lady may forget that the third lane is still on green. Adding to this confusion is the geometry of the staggered crossing, a dog left, which leads people to look away from the potential danger coming from the right.

Julia crossed the third lane as a bus approached; she was hit and died in hospital the following day.

At the inquest, the Coroner issued a Prevention of Future Deaths report to Chris Grayling concerning the issue that the signal of the second stage of a staggered pedestrian crossing may confuse people crossing the first stage. This is obviously an important point, but it is unlikely to be the contributory factor of the fatal crash here.

The PFD notes that, following the crash, TfL had installed louvres on the pedestrian lights to obviate the problem cited by the Coroner. We alerted TfL’s Vision Zero team that that measure was insufficient because the real problem was elsewhere, namely in the confusion created by the hidden third lane. That was the fatal fault in the design that killed Julia. We arranged for TfL’s Vision Zero team to view the site and they agreed with our analysis.

At the site visit, a number of solutions were discussed. For instance the staggered crossing can be redesigned so that it is dog right, so that the attention of pedestrians is drawn towards and not away from danger. We wait to know what TfL will implement.

We also pointed out that the crossing of the slip road should have a zebra:

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Is it appropriate for an 8 year old or an 80 year old to risk their lives here?

Finally, we suspect that there are many junctions with a similar flaw. We strongly urge Transport for London to review all their junctions if it is the case.

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Julia was only 27 when she was killed; she was training to become a speech therapist. This is how her father remembers her:

“She loved her friends, the children she worked with, and her family. She had lots of friends and they were very important to her.She wanted to work with people and help people. She had travelled to lots of different parts of the world, including working at an orphanage in Mongolia during her gap year. She believed in social justice and she was a feminist, and she believed in supporting people who were less fortunate than herself. She would have made a cracking speech and language therapist.”

She was killed as a consequence of a faulty design.

Let the image of this wonderful young woman be a constant reminder to everyone at TfL that the way they design roads may have tragic consequences; it requires constant supervision whether people use the facilities the way they were drawn on paper. Humans are not robots: they are fallible and don’t like to waste their time. Good design takes the humanity of users into consideration and creates systems where attention is directed towards what matters.

 

Tale of three junctions – Part 1: King William Street

Three junctions, where people have lost their lives or severely injured, and the wrong lessons have been learned.

Part 1: King William Street

This is probably the most dangerous junction for pedestrians in the City of London. It is on TfL’s list of 73 killer junctions and apparently TfL is designing a new layout (we have not seen any plans yet). I have raised the lethality of the junction with the City of London Road Safety team more than two years ago, but they claim it is TfL’s responsibility.

It would have been kept in the back burner for years, if it had not suddenly sprung in the news, following a court decision adjudicating costs on a collision between Robert Hazeldean who crashed into Gemma Brushet while riding his bike.

However, as is usually the case in England, the wrong lessons were learned. Nobody has focused on the junction and people have tittle-tattled on the judge’s decision to ask Hazeldean to pay for Brushet’s cost even if blame was apportioned 50-50.

Even shabbier has been the behaviour of organisations such as British Cycling and London Cycling Campaign which used the opportunity to market their memberships with inclusive 3rd party insurance.

No one has spoken about the junction, the root of the problem.

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The key lethal feature of this crossing is that one arm has ALWAYS conflicting motor traffic. That is right: there is no phase when it is safe to cross.

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View from North

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View from South – Traffic stopped at red – but it is NOT safe to cross

To make things even worse, the Southbound motor traffic is most of the time stationary, thus giving a deceptive clue that it is safe to cross.

Add to this mix the English arrogance that who sits at a wheel (or rides a bike) has always priority over pedestrians and you have a death trap.

Now watch this two minute video, and you scratch your head: how can a civilised country design and refuse to alter something so dangerous and disrespectful to its citizens?

Notice from the beginning: motor traffic stopped at red, but West arm is not safe to cross.

00:35 Watch the speed of the bus – if a pedestrian had been confused and was crossing at that point, the driver would have had no chance to take evasive action -> death with 80% probability (and the pedestrian would have been blamed)

00:55 People crossing are given no clues that southbound traffic has now a green light and are taken aback.

01:05 Eight people squeezed between buses. Why do English people accept being treated with such contempt?

01:25 Pedestrians unsure about oncoming cyclists

The incident that had everyone fibrillating happened in 2015; in 2017 there was another incident where a pedestrian suffered serious injuries. We are now well in the second half of 2019 and TfL is still designing. They are in contempt of Section 39 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, which compels the relevant Transport Authority to take action when road design has contributed to serious incidents, to prevent similar incidents from happening again.

Our solution is simple: get rid of the traffic light and put a zebra crossing. It should not take two years to do that.

UPDATE 12.08.19 – As Robert points out in the comment below, motor traffic is forbidden from turning left from Cannon Street. So the green arrow from the West is not a legal traffic flow. However if one is crossing King William Street, one may not be aware of this prohibition and one’s attention may be split three ways.