Thursday, 13 August 2009

Carnage in Cycling City

Almost every day there seems to be another report of cyclists being injured by vans and lorries here in Cycling City. Yesterday a Bristol Traffic reporter witnessed the aftermath of such an incident in Ashley Road where a cyclist in her 20s was run over by a left turning lorry.

The day before a 52 year old cyclist was hit by a van on Winterstoke Road and is now reported to have died from his head injuries (yes, he was wearing a helmet). Later on the same day a cyclist in his 20s was run over by a left turning lorry at Old Market. Last Thursday a cyclist in his 30s was run over by a left turning lorry at the bottom of St Michael's Hill. Finally (sadly only for the purposes of this piece) just four weeks ago a cyclist was knocked down by an ambulance at the bottom of Tower Hill.

View Cycle and ped injury incidents in a larger map

We cannot comment on the individual circumstances of these collisions beyond what basic information is given in reports (and even then we must be wary of accepting such reports as accurate). But we can make a few observations about the circumstances that seem to be common (though not necessarily contributory factors) to several of these incidents. Firstly all involved commercial vehicles presumably driven by "professional" drivers. Secondly three involved lorries turning left. Thirdly in most cases there were cycle lanes which it seems the cyclists involved were using.

If my experience is typical then cyclists need to be more wary of "professional" drivers than the average motorist. This applies to many bus and taxi drivers as well as those of vans and lorries. There are many reasons for this - they tend to be driving bigger, wider vehicles, they are under pressure to meet schedules and they tend to be over-confident and blasé, even arrogant. But should we not expect higher standards from "professional" drivers?

Left turning lorries are well documented as a problem for cyclists, especially the younger and inexperienced ones and it seems particularly women (as in yesterday's Cheltenham Road - Ashley Road incident and a string of recent deaths in London). This may be because lorry drivers are negligent about checking their left side for clearance before turning and because inexperienced cyclists have not yet learned to be wary of lorries. But should cyclists have to compensate for what is arguably negligence by the drivers involved?

In many cases cyclists are encouraged to overtake on the inside of potentially left turning traffic by the arrangement of cycle lanes. The Cheltenham Road - Ashley road junction is a classic where cyclists mostly going straight on are funnelled into a cycle lane on the left side of the left turning lane. This so obviously sets cyclists up to be in conflict with motor traffic that one wonders at the sanity of the world, or at least of the so-called 'cycling' officers responsible for it.

Final point - what support are these cyclists getting from Cycling City? If I was running the show the first thing I would do is set up a Cyclists' Support Centre, somewhere where cyclists could drop in and get a sympathetic hearing and practical support in their struggle to assert their right to use the public highway. But as we know almost the first act of Cycling City was to vilify cyclists who rode through red lights and so to fuel the antipathy to cyclists expressed in many of the online comments to the Evening Post reports.

Thanks to Bristol Traffic for the pictures.


Adam said...

Not sure HGV drivers are always negligent. They do have a massive blind spot down the left hand side of their vehicles. There's a scheme in London going on where they get cyclists to sit in HGV cabs so they can witness how people can "disappear" when they're on the left of an HGV. This blind spot needs to be addressed ASAP in the form of better mirrors. In London Boris is promising blind spot mirrors by 2012 or something ridiculous. How many people will be injured of killed before 2012?

With or without mirrors though we need to be educating each other (as cyclists) of the dangers navigating HGVs. The only way people know about being wary around them is either through passing the word amongst friends / associates etc or through horrific news of injury and death. There needs to be an awareness campaign but it's unlikely there will be as it usually involves money / ad costs etc.

I'm not suggesting cyclists are in the wrong but I am suggesting that we have to know how to look out for ourselves and others around us.

Of course ludicrous cycling infrastrucure that endangers cyclists does nothing to help the situation and there are many lanes (the Chelt RD one in particular) that should be removed or altered immediatley. In the meantime we just need to be aware tat we need top make our own informed decisions about when and when not to use them. I choose not to use them approx 90 percent of the time.

Chris Hutt said...

Good point about the blind spot that HGVs have, but how ludicrous that they are allowed to use the roads with such a blind spot. Surely it can't be that difficult or expensive to fit mirrors with the capability to eliminate blind spots!

If Bristol City Council and other government agencies insisted that all HGVs being used in connection with their business, permits or contracts have such mirrors fitted most contractors would comply pretty quickly.

Dru Marland said...

This is an issue covered in a recent Woman's Hour programme. Cynthia Barlow, whose daughter was killed by a lorry, has been campaigning for the introduction of proximity sensors to HGVs. As she pointed out, though they are expensive, they are not as expensive as the cost of investigating the fatalities caused by HGVs...

Spandangle said...

I cycle to and from work in Bristol city every day. I am really really hacked off at the way my safety is put in serious danger by motorists at least once on every journey. I am even more angered by the attitude of these drivers. Has anyone followed the recent readers comments left on the BEP website, following cyclist accident stories? It seems the general consensus amongst non-cyclists is that cyclists deserve everything they get!

Undertaking is an issue I feel very strongly about in particular. To expect cyclists not to undertake is unreasonable. Quite often you are cycling alongside up to a mile of stationary/slow traffic as it edges through junctions, traffic lights and roundabouts. As soon as the traffic begins to move again cyclists are expected to screech to a halt to allow motorists to turn right. Undertaking is not an offence and to put it into a context which car drivers may be able to comprehend; the same scenario exists where there is a 2+ priority lane for commuters, I am sure that vehicles undertaking in these lanes are given more consideration than cyclist are, by vehicles turning left.

We need to be campaigning to Bristol City Council for these blind spot mirrors to be installed around the city. We need a campaign to raise awareness of undertaking and we need changes in the Highway Code and traffic laws to back up the position of cyclists. Sustrans? Anyone want to start a group?

Undertaking is not an offence. From the Highway Code;

Turning left
Use your mirrors and give a left-turn signal well before you turn left. Do not overtake just before you turn left and watch out for traffic coming up on your left before you make the turn, especially if driving a large vehicle. Cyclists, motorcyclists and other road users in particular may be hidden from your view.

When turning
• keep as close to the left as is safe and practicable
• give way to any vehicles using a bus lane, cycle lane or tramway from either direction

Jon Rogers said...

Thanks Chris

I have been discussing with officers how best to respond to these distressing occurences (I won't call them accidents).

The cycle lane on Cheltenham Road leading up to the left turn into Ashley Road has perviously been cited as a dangerous one.

A bit further down, at the new signal controlled crossings, one of the rationales for the "no left turn" into City Road from Stokes Croft was the danger to cyclists.

In the other direction, I note the improved cycle lane layout approaching the advanced stop lane just past The Arches on Gloucester Road, at the left turn into Zetland Road.

We have so much that we can do, I sometimes feel a bit overwhelmed with how best to prioritise, especially when so much of the Cycling City plans were agreed with Cycling England before my time.

We already review the circumstances of significant cyclist injuries and learn lessons. This relies on coordinated action with Police and the NHS. I am looking at how we can beef up this process.


Anonymous said...

Maybe get rid of cycle lanes which seem to make cyclists feel invisible/invincible given that no one should cross/use 'their' part of the road?

No one would ever think of trying to undertake a lorry in a car so why should a cyclist be different?

Chris Hutt said...

Jon, I appreciate the scale and complexity of the problem that you confront but, as I think I've said before, above all you need to have good, independent policy and strategy advisors to draw on.

Such advisors should be able to 'see the wood for the trees' as it were. Otherwise the overview tends to get lost amongst all the detail but without that overview it's not clear what all the detail is adding up to.

I think that is a fair summary of what has gone wrong in the past. Traffic engineers focus on what they can do in practice (e.g. cycle lanes and ASLs) and that tends to become the strategy by default. Better if tactics were driven by strategy and that in turn driven by policy, based on sound principles.

MJ Ray said...

Don't take Cycling England agreement as an unbreakable seal on the plans. If you want to do something better than originally planned to improve cyclist safety, they should agree to the variation. I sometimes worry that cycle-clueless council officers are second-guessing what Cycling England and other partners would say.

SMB tech geeks said...

Why don't we protect cycle lanes from left hand turns with concrete bollards or curved metal crash barriers? At least then the worst that could happen would be a bit of missing paint from these lorries/vans!

Chris Hutt said...

Wherever cycle lanes or tracks have been created there has been a big problem with left turning vehicles (right turning in mainland European context)cutting across the lane/track and failing to give way to cyclists.

The best solution that I have seen (in Copenhagen) is for the cycle lane/track to merge with a left (right in Copenhagen) turning traffic lane so that turning traffic has to merge into the flow of cyclists, behind or in front of cyclists but not alongside.

Jon Rogers said...

MJ Ray says, "Don't take Cycling England agreement as an unbreakable seal on the plans"

We aren't - we are working in close liaison with Cycling England and there are a number of changes already happening.


Harry M said...

I think cycle lanes on streets must be made real - at present they are faded lines and pink tarmac on roads. They only create indecision and put cyclists at risk. They are driven on, parked on and ignored by many drivers. As SMB tech geeks said they need actual protection. They need raised kerb edgings of at least 1ft to prevent vehicles intruding. I know this doesn't help when cyclists have to cross junctions but at least it would create some 'safe havens' for cyclists on increasingly dangerous city streets.

Chris Hutt said...

Harry, the arrangement you describe is more or less what they have in Copenhagen, but the problems arise at junctions where conflicting movements occur and where most actual collisions occur.

What is the point of giving cyclists more 'protection' where they are least at risk (between junctions) if that puts them at greater risk where they are already at most risk (junctions)?

Besides Copenhagen and other places where such segregation is common are flat. Bristol obviously isn't and that complicates matters since cycling speeds can vary so much - anything from about 5 mph uphill to 30 mph downhill. You can't accommodate such a range of speeds on one standard type of facility.

I think that in general we should avoid attempts at full segregation since it is difficult to accommodate at the complex junctions we have in Bristol. Look at the Bristol Bridge - Baldwin St junction for example where everyone experiences ridiculously long delays.

There will of course be exceptions where we can achieve a high quality largely segregated route and in such cases then by all means let's do it but we need to recognise that such arrangements are not practical on most of the highway network where motorists must be persuaded that they have to share the roads.

MJ Ray said...

"motorists must be persuaded that they have to share the roads" - yes! That's the key point!

I asked THINK Road Safety about cycling-related adverts, like the old "give cyclists room" and "steer clear of cyclists" adverts. Apparently they don't have any and have no plans for any. It's left to local councils, which is both a scandalous avoidance of a national problem by the national government; and another burden on already over-stretched local council finances.

Anonymous said...

"Look at the Bristol Bridge - Baldwin St junction for example where everyone experiences ridiculously long delays."

As a pedestrian I find myself more in conflict there with cyclists than cars.

You can judge where cars are coming from by the lights. Cyclists seem to come out of nowhere ...

SteveL said...

That BB/baldwin st junction is a mess. If you are cycling from castle park -or on the pavement on the S. side of baldwin street, you get a green light when the pedestrians get their go. But that isn't a straight on only light, its a "go where you want" light, which encourages you to turn over pedestrians, especially if you are trying avoid Baldwin St (no fun) and cross town on St Nicholas St. instead. Coming out of St Nicholas St. is worse.

This doesn't excuse people on bikes forcing pedestrians to jump out the way -I dont defend running through zebra crossings or light-controlled pedestrian crossings, but with a lighting system that sort of says "you can go now" it's hard to say that at this junction the bikes aren't being encouraged by the signage.

Linda said...

Although class VI mirrors increase the view of the lorry driver, they still do not eliminate all the blind spots, and EU legislation means they don't have to be installed before 2014 I think.

Perhaps Bristol could trial some of the Trixie mirrors on some of the junctions to see if that would prevent some accidents.

But it does need to be together with education for both cyclists and lorry drivers.

Chris Hutt said...

On the Bristol Bridge - Baldwin St junction it's interesting to recall how it came to be laid out in that particular way.

In the early 1990s Avon County Council were implementing a system of Urban Traffic Control called SCOOT (an acronym of some sort). The object of the exercise was to increase the capacity of the city centre highway system by I think 20%.

The work involved installing lots more traffic signals (e.g on gyratories and roundabouts like St James Barton), converting zebra crossings to Pelicans (e.g. in Baldwin St)and linking them all to a central computer.

Naturally cyclists were ignored in the initial design work and I made a bit of a fuss about this, pointing out that cramming 20% more traffic into the city centre wasn't necessarily a good thing.

Elected members (who were much more progressive in outlook than their officers - plus ça change..) were quite shocked to discover what they were actually doing with UTC/Scoot and the officers hastily starting claiming that the extra capacity was to benefit public transport, pedestrians and cyclists rather than general traffic.

To give this claim some credibility they had to make some last minute modifications to the plans to include some cycle facilities, which is why Bristol Bridge is a bit of a dog's breakfast. It also explains that odd bit of cycle lane on the east side of St James Barton.

Jon Rogers said...

Interesting comment on highway history. I am sure there are other examples.

The key to reducing mistakes in future is to open ideas, plans and information to wider scrutiny.

The blogs offer a great way of bringing information to the attention of those with knowledge on topics, who can help us politicians ask the right questions.


BikerChick said...

Currently in the UK motorcycles get compulsory basic training before riding on the road. Bicycle riders could benefit substantially from such training.

The "life-saver" manoeuvre performed by motorcyclists is totally applicable to all riders, if the bicycle riders had checked their blind spot on the right hand side before making a left turn, they would have had a better idea of what was going to happen next. It's called a life-saver for a good reason.

I'm pretty certain by always practising a few basic safety manoeuvres on bicycles we could prevent some horrific accidents.

PeteJ said...

Ironically enough, that bit of cycle lane coming up to James Barton is one of the very few I've ridden on in Bristol that's actually *useful*, though crossing over to it coming out of Moon Street (ex. Wilder Street) can be a bit exciting.

Chris Hutt said...

I think we're talking about different cycle lanes Pete. I'm referring to the one outside The Bristol Fashion (is it still called that?)leading towards the bus station exit. You I think are talking about the bit on the Stokes Croft approach which I agree is useful.

PeteJ said...

Ah, so we are Chris. The one you actually meant is a prime example of worse than fucking useless - how to make things more dangerous while still meeting your greenwash quota.

Anonymous said...

There's some interesting diagrams on HGV blind spots here:

Its good to remember that if you can't see the driver in the mirror, then he/she can't see you.

Those L-shaped ACLs are a menace though, especially if you're trying to turn right.

Cap'n said...

stay out of the cycle lanes they are dangerous

Cap'n said...

stay out of the cycle lanes

Anonymous said...

how about putting warning signs up for motorists where there is a cycle lane and a left turn is approaching to remind drivers to 'GIVE WAY TO CYCLISTS'.

I was hit at the beginning of the week by a car which swerved into the cycle lane to turn left. The traffic had been at a standstill and the driver obviously didn't check his mirrors when it started to move again. I was appalled by his complete lack of concern for my wellbeing ( I was fine by the way thanks for asking!) and his justification which was 'I was indicating'. He drove off shaking his head, like I was the idiot....