Advice for us all; cycling safely with lorries in London

Last week a brilliant young woman was killed by a truck in central London as she rode to work by bicycle.  Dr Katharine Giles becomes the third cyclist to die in central London in 2013, and the 62nd cyclist to die in London since our current Mayor, Boris Johnson, took up office in May 2008.

Following Dr Gile's death some soundbites from Boris have been receiving a lot of press attention; "In future we are going to be stipulating that no HGV can enter London unless it meets cycle safety standards" he has said, effectively mooting a ban of trucks that don't come up to his standards.  Whilst this is welcome, soundbites are worthless unless they're followed up with action.  He said the same back in 2010, this time on account of the pollution that some lorries cause, but failed to match his words with results.  Meanwhile the needless tally of deaths has risen; who remembers the case of Jao Lopes, the HGV driver who got away with a slap on the wrist for running down cyclist Eilidh Cairns in Notting Hill, only to kill again, this time crushing 97 year old Holocaust survivor Nora Guttmann on a pedestrian crossing?

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Lorries pose a very distinct and dangerous threat to cyclists; they account for about 45% of all London cyclist’s death, but just 5% of traffic. The British Medical Journal, in their 1994 study ‘Death of Cyclists in London’ said “the risk of heavy goods vehicles being involved in accidents in which cyclists die in inner London can be estimated at five times that of buses, 14 times that of light goods vehicles, and 30 times that of cars.”  That report recommended an urban lorry ban some nineteen years and many cyclist’s deaths ago. 

A combination of unscrupulous payment practices whereby some drivers are paid per load, a distinctly criminal element that runs through the haulage industry, and the fact that most drivers (no matter how careful) can't actually see the vulnerable road users around them, combine to ensure that HGVS are the most dangerous vehicles on the roads, and account for a shocking level of deaths.

A three-pronged approach is needed to stop these unnecessary deaths; strong prosecution of the law by the Met, installation of cheap and effective safety equipment like sensors, mirrors and side guards, and most importantly an adjustment of the operating hours of the London Lorry Ban.  Ludicrously, the overnight ban ends as the morning rush hour starts, meaning the most dangerous vehicles on our road come roaring out of their yards just when people are cycling to school or work.

The Olympics showed we can use and control our road network more dynamically without adverse effects. It is time for the Mayor to show real resolve on this tragic issue, before another needless fatality involving an HGV.

Until such action is taken, it is essential that all cyclists in London are fully aware that there is no such thing as a safe HGV to cycle around: most of the time trucks cannot see you, their drivers cannot hear you, and they will not feel you if you are caught up in their wheels.  Until the source of danger is reduced, I think we owe it to ourselves - and to all our friends who ride bikes - to ensure we know how best to ride around lorries:

Above: How many bicycles can you see in the wing mirror of this truck from the driver's position?

The same truck, photographed from the outside; none of these cyclists were visible from inside, and all of them are in fatal danger.  This excellent demonstration of lorry blind spots was by BBC London transport correspondent Tom Edwards in his recent harrowing TV report.

Of course, I am absolutely against any idea of blaming the victim – many of the cyclists who have died as a consequence of HGV collisions have been accomplished cyclists acting within the law (Indeed, 7 London cycle couriers have died as a consequence of collisions with HGVs and lorries in recent years, and it’s arguable that they are the most knowledgeable cyclists on our roads.)  The simple fact is this; cyclists and large vehicles sharing the same piece of road is a source of conflict – sometimes with awful consequences.  And I know from what I see every day when riding that it is obvious not all cyclists in London are fully aware of the risks of getting too close to trucks, or riding down their inside.

Stay back, or get ahead.

There's not much you can do to stop lorries overtaking you when moving forward with traffic, but there is plenty you can do to manage your personal safety at junctions; statistically the scene of most fatal interactions between HGVs and bicycles.

In a sick twist of road planning irony, the advanced stop line (or ASL, or "bike box") and filter lane that you find at most traffic lights in London is exactly the same shape as the blind spot of most lorries.  Furthermore, cycling down the filter lane of an ASL past the inside of a truck puts you in the crush zone should that truck start to turn left.

The advice is this; if you are approaching a set of traffic lights and there are already lorries waiting at the lights ahead of you (remember, they may be about to turn even though they're not indicating) then stay back.  Do not go down the side of the vehicle under any circumstances.  Hold back in traffic and wait for the truck to move on and complete its turn when the lights turn green - remember that larger or articulated lorries may have to pull a long way out to the left before turning right, and vice versa.  Be patient, and give the truck lots of room.

A typical lorry blind spot - look familiar?

If you're at the traffic lights waiting and a truck pulls up behind you, try to get ahead of it as much as you can.  There is a large blind spot in front of the driver's cab which you may not be aware you are in.  Try to get at least 5 metres ahead of the lorry, and don't be afraid to turn and give the driver eye contact, or even a little wave to make sure they note your position.  Better still, consider dismounting your bike and walking across the junction if you are turning left or right.  Contentious though it is, if it is clear and safe for you to jump the red light without threatening any pedestrians you should consider doing so.  (And before anyone gets on their high horse I've been given this very advice on several occasions by road traffic investigators; the Police who have to come and take deceased cyclists off of the road)

Always remember; if the truck is ahead, stay back.  
If the truck is behind, get ahead.

In a nutshell, try to put as much clear space between yourself and any large vehicles at junctions as you safely can.

I'm going to be sitting down and talking to a couple of my friends who cycle to work over lunch today and making sure they're all fully aware of this information, as well as having a "refresher" chat with my partner when I get home.  If we all do the same, and help to spread the word of how to interact with trucks, perhaps we can help to limit cyclists in London's exposure to danger, whilst we wait for our politicians and leaders to limit the source of it.

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25 comments:

nilling said...

It's such a pity there are no more Public Information films to get these important safety messages across :(

ibikelondon said...

In a way I agree @nilling although I have been encouraged by some of the recent Think! road safety campaigns. Also, in this modern world we live in one of the joys of the internet is that we can our own messages out there and help to spread them ourselves, hence this post. Thanks for stopping by!

Diana said...

I think you are totally correct, the safest way to approach lorries is to just stay well back. Although it means your commute might take longer, it seems to be the only safe option ( in my opinion). I saw someone almost get taken out by a HGV today in Kentish Town, and although the driver was clearly an idiot the cyclist put themselves in a reckless position too by charging up the inside. Patience could be a life saver!

Anonymous said...

Bit off topic:

The closest I came to a serious injury was when a lorry driver (who had seen me, I think, walk-across at an earlier traffic lights) caught me up on a straight bit of road, then matched speed + moved left to force me off the road. A pedestrian asked if I was ok... I wish I'd been a bit more organised and taken number plates/her phone number/etc. I'm worried that such an evil person is still out driving massive lorries (this one was transporting concrete pipes)... I worry that my failure to report the incident then will end up in the future someone getting injured by them.

I should say: Lots of drivers aren't like that! but you probably have to assume the worst. And the blind-spots etc mentioned above mean even the best drivers can only do so much...

Take care everyone! If the politicians act we'll soon have safe cities to cycle in!

Dave H said...

The lorry ban won't be workable. The really large articulated trucks don't enter Central London anyway, if at all possible and observing the main roads heading in to London almost all HGV's disappear during the rush hour as no employer or client is going to have an expensive truck & driver stuck in traffic and costing money.

The major truck traffic in London, especially during the day is construction site traffic and that is not going to get banned. The dominant type is the 32T 4 axle rigid - the heaviest weight that a rigid can be ergo the maximum payload - 20Tons for moving large amounts of material on and off site. this work is by its nature transient and creates some alarming effects. Building The Shard required 30 concrete mixer trucks running round the clock with 3 shifts of drivers for over a week, and a number of fatal and serious HGV-Cyclist incidents around Bermondsey seem to align with the intensive muck-shift and pour period.

Transient work means a transient workforce, with many drivers supplied through agencies, further clouding the ability to deliver due diligence in checking driver competence (In Lopes second crash it was difficult to establish who he was driving for). Rigid HGV's can be driven on a lower category of licence, and those with Class 1 licences will naturally be attracted to the cleaner and more regular work, driving for retail and logistics operators, potentially leaving a less qualified pool to drive the most damaging (DfT report identifies 4 axle 32T as causing greatest road damage) and dangerous trucks in town

There is a solution and now that TfL has reinstated the Freight Unit I urge everyone to lobby for action. Truck movements in London cannot easily be banned BUT they can be managed. The work at St Pancras (Francis Crick Institute) had around 50 trucks making 150 trips/day for at least 2 months to move the spoil dug from the site on a 63 mile round trip out to Pitsea, when less than 1 Km away is a railway siding used to deliver aggregates, and equally close-by is a 2 track abandoned railway line, which could have taken away the spoil on just 2 trains per day. Even a short journey to the river or canal can make a difference and if the facilities are in place the developers will see a substantial cost reduction from putting typically to 1000T (50 trucks) on rail or 2000T (100 trucks) on the river with a single 'driver'.

Major projects progressing include London Bridge Station - rail connected - but apparently not able to provide any spare rail sidings, or a temporary concrete batching plant over the tracks, to cut down on truck movements. Given the location and volume of material coming out it might even have made sense to run a conveyor belt out to load barges in the Pool of London (where the 11,000T HMS Belfast indicates the capacity for freight on water).

To the South the demolition of the Heygate Estate and site clearence could see 200 of more truck movements put on to the Elephant and Castle roundabouts for several months, would a strategic connection to the railway directly beside the site be possible for this and future development in the area?

Given the major impact that a reduction in this bulk haul traffic will have on cycle safety, there is a case to make that some of the £1bn cycling fund actually underwrites the delivery of facilities which can be pressed on developers to avoid the default so often taken of simply hiring in trucks. One thing though you can be certain of - there is no way that a complete daytime ban on the most dangerous trucks can be delivered in London, the solution has to be in managing down the mileage covered before the material being moved can be put on rail or river*.

* there is a wharf in the City - by Cannon Street which is currently under exploited, and only available when the tide is in - it has a container loading crane and can take a 500T barge alongside.

David Kernohan said...

Sound advice - It beggars belief how some cyclists behave around these vehicles.

Clearly utterly oblivious to this kind of info. Got to hope that they don't learn the hard way one day.

I think an HGV ban would be difficult to implement but TFL should be made to stick to their commitment for cycle safety technology on all lorries in London.

departmentfortransport said...

I reckon that the BBC demonstration is flawed – the mirrors on the lorry aren't positioned correctly. Why can we see the side of the vehicle, rather than the road along the side? Do people position their car wing mirrors so they can see the rear doors and petrol cap, but not things alongside the car?

I'd argue that a curved mirror would fix the problem shown pretty easily (or even a quick lean forward by the driver) but all the safety devices in the world are worthless if they're not used properly.

Regarding getting well ahead of an HGV that has pulled up too close, bike users are in the unfortunate position of having to choose between following the law and considering their own safety.

I put as much space between myself and large vehicles by never riding on "main" roads, sticking to the quiet back streets. It takes longer but there's very little terror.

Most people avoid cycling near lorries by never ever riding a bike, of course! And that's a reasonable position to take.

Anonymous said...

The London Cycling Campaign (LCC), are actively promoting their Safer Lorries Campaign:


"Our Safer Lorries, Safer Cycling campaign calls on every London council to only use the best-equipped lorries and best-trained drivers to help stop cyclists being killed on our streets."

Find out more on their website and if you can, get involved! So far the majority of London's Councils have signed-up and many more are being encouraged to do so.

Oh and if you see someone in a dangerous road position, pull them over and explain what they did right and equally importantly, how to approach the same situation safely.

Anonymous said...

^ URL TYPO, NOT REPOST:

The London Cycling Campaign (LCC), are actively promoting their Safer Lorries Campaign:
http://lcc.org.uk/pages/safer-lorries-safer-cycling

"Our Safer Lorries, Safer Cycling campaign calls on every London council to only use the best-equipped lorries and best-trained drivers to help stop cyclists being killed on our streets."

Find out more on their website and if you can, get involved! So far the majority of London's Councils have signed-up and many more are being encouraged to do so.

Oh and if you see someone in a dangerous road position, pull them over and explain what they did right and equally importantly, how to approach the same situation safely.

Anonymous said...

I know nothing about this horrific accident, but I witnessed a girl killed by an HGV in Oxford, at a junction I know very well as a cyclist (and indeed as a driver). In that case the cyclist was wholly responsible for her own death, as she put herself somewhere the lorry driver patently couldn't see her, after he had already "cleared" that area visually. He could not see her and had checked only a moment earlier that that area was empty - she rode into it (alongside the lorry) just as he started to move. He was signalling left (many witnesses to that) yet she tried to ride up his nearside. Cyclists MUST accept responsibility for their own behaviour on the roads.

Henz said...

@departmentfortransport

I think that the lorry in the BBC demonstration is turning (the cab is at an angle relative to the flatbed). If the cab were inline I expect that the cyclists would be within view; however, the demonstration seems to aim to demonstrate what happens in a left-turn situation.

I Bike Stockholm said...

"If you're at the traffic lights waiting and a truck pulls up behind you, try to get ahead of it as much as you can. There is a large blind spot in front of the driver's cab which you may not be aware you are in."

Even though that sounds like a good advice it pretty much shows how far down the road we are. If the truck pulls up behind you but has not seen you (blind spot or not in front of the driver's cab) the driver does not deserve to keep his licence. He must have seen you right? Or was he/she driving with closed eyes the last hundred meters?

elliot said...

excellent blog. thanks.

i like the advice to consider cycling through a red light, but actually think that better advice would be to jump off and walk across the junction. there are no jaywalking laws in the UK, and we should use that to our advantage.

jumping off has the advantage that no pedestrians/police/PCSOs will get all hoity toity with you, and you won't need to justify your actions; and if any incident should occur, you've not broken any law. your halo remains intact! it's not like it even takes significantly longer than cycling.

ibikelondon said...

@DaveH Thank you for your excellent insite in to alternatives to so many construction lorries running around our city. I can see that you're quite knowledgeable on this subject. In your view what is holding developers back from using water and rail freight more? Is it cost alone, or legislative issues, or the difficulty of dealing with the rail market, or a combination of all these things? I know that the Olympics relied on rail a LOT (water not so much despite their colourful press releases to the contrary) and this really helped to keep the site safer and reduce the volume of trucks in the area so a change can be achieved!

ibikelondon said...

@Departmentfortransport I don't know if it is worth looking at very fine detail as to whether the HGV ban is flawed or not. The point, surely, is to raise awareness amongst vulnerable road users of the specific issues surrounding HGVs, which I think it does well.

Of course there shouldn't be dangerous trucks on the road and of course we should be lobbying for change, but until those aspirations are realised I don't see the harm in making it quite plainly clear just how potentially blind and dangerous trucks can be.

@elliot You're quite right, getting off and pushing sometimes doesn't hurt anyone!

@ibikestockholm We are in a terrible situation, but looking back at the individual circumstances of some of the deaths reveal that despite the fact that of course drivers ought to be able to see what is ahead of them, that's not to say that they always do (or aren't on their phones whilst going through their paperwork as was the case with a cyclist who was killed a few years ago).

Thank you to everyone for all your interesting comments and insights, this issue seems to really strike a chord and I'm happy that the message in this post is getting out there and hopefully helping to raise awareness of this issue!

Anonymous said...

Great post, thank you so much. EVERYONE should read this.


I thought one of the best ideas I heard was to replace all the doors on these trucks with glass doors - simple and cheap and means the driver can see so much more of what's beside him just by glancing.

Anyway, please keep up writing posts like this - you should get funding for this great public service!

ibikelondon said...

@Anonymous Thank you for your kind comment.

You're quite right that transparent doors make a big difference, as do lower cabs. Combined with side impact sensors it could really help with the shocking fatality statistics. If you haven't seen them already, the London Cycling Campaign drew up some fantastic proposals for what a "safe as can be" lorry ought to look like: http://lcc.org.uk/articles/lcc-challenges-construction-industry-to-adopt-its-safer-urban-lorry-to-reduce-lorry-cyclist-deaths Needless to say it looks very different to the terrifying skip lorries we see tearing around town!

Gary France said...

The introduction of an urban lorry ban (as suggested by the BMJ nineteen years ago), or forcing lorries to make construction site deliveries overnight is, I am afraid, wholly unrealistic. Regrettably, so is insisting on Olympics style delivery regimes for all construction works in London. I will try to explain.

The majority of construction sites are banned from working overnight by the relevant Local Authority in which the construction site is located. By Local Authority, I mean the local council. This includes any work that makes any noise, including the unloading of delivery lorries. The reason is, even in places like the financial district of London, people do live there and they are protected by Local Authorities whose impose working hour limits on construction sites that generally mean no noise after about 6pm and none at all on Sundays.

This means that developers and construction companies are forced to make deliveries during normal working hours. Aside from the limit on hours, it would be very dangerous to unload building materials on construction sites at night in the dark. Flood-lighting the working areas would be possible, but once again, would be banned by the Local Authorities in order to avoid disturbing neighbours.

Night time deliveries wont therefore work. That means that day-time lorry bans won’t work either. I do agree that most delivery lorries don’t drive during the rush hour. To beat the traffic, they are already at the site before the rush hour starts and being unloaded.

David H makes some good points about using alternative methods of transportation, but in most cases, for most construction sites, these are not realistic. I am sorry to seem to put a dampener on these issues but if expectations are build up, hopes are raised that something could be done, whereas realism suggests otherwise. The use of railway or rivers / canals for deliveries does work for certain materials to certain locations. Setting up a railway yard to take deliveries by rail needs a huge amount of room and obviously a rail line running to it. Most construction sites have neither. The Olympics in London was able to use rail for the delivery of bulk loose materials like aggregates purely because there was a railway yard already on the Stratford games site. The simple fact of the matter is that only a very few other constructions sites would be able to use rail in London. Okay, some might argue that you could make some deliveries into other railway yards and then make the final delivery by lorry, but that defeats the point. Sorry, but railway usage is simple not realistic for most construction sites.

[continued below…]

Gary France said...

[continued from above…]

The Olympics didn’t rely on the use of rail a lot as suggested. The construction of the Olympics used rail mainly for the delivery of bulk loose materials (which there was a huge volume of) but most deliveries of construction materials were done by road, using a very strict regime that utilised a marshalling yard on the M11 that most large lorry vehicles had to report to before following a prescribed route to get to the Olympic Park site.

Using rivers and canals are even more unrealistic. It only works if there is a river or canal immediately adjacent to the construction site. David’s suggestion about using conveyors is a good example – it sounds good In theory, but doesn’t work in practice. Excavating the basement for the Shard at London Bridge was done by traditional means, where the excavators directly loaded into large trucks and those trucks used the road system to get to where the soil needs to be taken. If a conveyor was used for this, and David makes it sound very simple to “load barges in the Pool of London”, this would mean setting up somewhere for the lorries to load onto the conveyor on the construction site (there actually wasn’t anywhere big enough), running the conveyor through the station and over railway lines (Railtrack would love that suggestion!), crossing Tooley Street with the conveyor, then running it through the newly completed More London office development (for which permission would never be granted), before it could tip into barges right next to a highly used river embankment. Furthermore, the barges would then need be taken to somewhere to be unloaded (another facility need and to be paid for) , then add the cost of removing the soil from the barges (not cheap) before reloading the soil back into lorries to the taken to the place it was finally going to be used. Just how realistic is all of this? Not at all. You see, what sounds like a good idea, is really not at all feasible. David suggests a cost reduction is possible, but that is nonsense in the real world. Methods like these are often looked at by developers but ruled out because of the complexities, cost and limited opportunities available. If they really were cheaper, developers would use them!

Is a temporary concrete batching plant above railway tracks really an option, as suggested? Let’s consider that one. Aggregates are delivered by train using gravity-fed hoppers which mean the stones fall out of the train into an underground facility. Hmm, I don’t see that being possible at London Bridge station as suggested. Then that aggregate needs to be lifted to above the tracks, which given a significant amount of room (not available at the congested London Bridge station) before being mixed above the tracks on a massive temporary structure (concrete weighs a great deal). The plant would need to be washed down between batches which is very messy and so the train operators would love that above their trains. Get the point? Another crazy idea portrayed as being easy.

I am sorry, but these ideas will simply not work in the vast majority of cases. What we need to look at is education, training and a few simple rules. Education is the easiest. Take the current ‘Look out for motorbikes’ TV and poster campaign which tries to makes cars drivers more aware of motorcyclists. I think that works. Something like that to teach cyclists not to put themselves in danger (come on, we all see that every day) would be a great help and very easy to do. Better training of the lorry drivers better is a no-brainer. Fit safety equipment (better and curved mirrors) to lorries is really cheap – far cheaper than most of the other suggestions about removing lorries from the streets.

Okay, this has been a long comment, but I hope it goes some way to putting some realism into the suggestions about getting rid of the lorries. Oh, and before you ask, no I do not work for the haulage or lorry industry, but I am a realist.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 17 April 2013 23:32 said

"...cyclist was wholly responsible for her own death"

Well, part of the responsibilty lies with road traffic engineers for coming up with road layouts that mix lorries with cycles in the first place. And all those who encourage them in doing that. And those who designed lorries with such limited visibility. And all those who insist on driving unnecessarily and not paying anywhere near the full economic cost of their driving habit, thus ensuring roads are more crowded than they need be and hence ensuring more such dangerous conflicts will occur.

I just can't accept your categorical statement. To put the blame _entirely_ on the victim in such a case is to imply the world is somehow perfect, and that nobody else's actions have any consequences, which seems a bit ridiculous.

Human beings make mistakes. Those mistakes occur in a wider context - one largely created by those with power - which partly determines the consequences of those mistakes. I don't see why everyone else involved in creating the dangerous situation in the first place gets let off the hook.

Anonymous said...

@Gary France

I agree with your suggestions (and can accept your analysis of the logistical realities) but I would also want to see prosecutions of firms who employ known bad drivers (the Joao Lopes and Denis Putz cases come to mind), and, additionally, the imposition of real penalties on inept and reckless drivers (of all kinds, not just those of HGVs) instead of the bizarrely lenient treatment they currently get.

Matthew Smith said...

I'm a truck driver (although I drive 7.5-tonners, not construction lorries) and also a cyclist. Having observed the behaviour of some of the tipper drivers, I can say that these vehicles are a menace to all road users, including other truck drivers. The nature of them is that they are small, with very powerful engines - often 420bhp when their laden weight is 32 tonnes - and the drivers know that if they get into a scrape with any vehicle other than another of the same kind, it will be the driver of the other vehicle that comes off worse. It might even be an idea to introduce a special licence to drive these things, or make them restricted to class C+E licence holders or another special licence. Right now, you can drive an eight-wheeler on the same licence as a standard 16-tonne box van.

I've also seen quite a few of them driven recklessly. Last year I was coming off the A31 near Farnham at a junction with the link road to the M3, where there is also an entrance to a quarry. Some idiot driving an eight-wheeler hurtled down the slip road, weaving in and out of the traffic in his apparent desperation to get to the quarry before the sky fell in or something. As he approached the entrance, he pinned a car into the side of the road - I'm not sure if the car was damaged but I think it was driven off the road. The car driver got out and attacked the truck driver, and the last I saw was the two of them fighting. I've personally had them driven perilously close to my truck on a narrow dual carriageway flyover (Greenford on the A40, if I remember rightly).

However, it's not *just* them - I find that some truck drivers have the same attitude, that they've got the most bulk so they can drive how they like and bugger others' priority, especially cyclists'. (I've had this done to me by an artic driver at a roundabout who must have seen me approaching - he just drove straight out as if I wasn't there.) Also, the visibility issue must not be used as an excuse for this kind of behaviour. If a truck driver overtakes a cyclist, he will see them in front of him first. We also have blind-spot mirrors in many trucks now. My conclusion is that many of the offenders just don't care.

Steel Classics said...

I wonder if the DoT would do well to start an advertising campaign in magazines that simply tells riders "STAY AWAY FROM LORRIES"

On our rides when we take new people out we always get them to hold back from passing a lorry in traffic until it is absolutely clear to do so and we know we are going to get a good headstart from it.

It may seem like blame shifting to some but sometimes youv've got to be pragmatic to get the message out.

hemcoined said...

The simple fact of the matter is that only a very few other constructions sites would be able to use rail in London.
Loading Arms

Renatas Steponaitis said...

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