Day 2 of The Times Cities Fit For Cycling campaign focuses on lorries

Views from the cab and the bike lane as newspaper outlines its suggestions for improving infrastructure

by Simon_MacMichael   February 3, 2012  

The Times 'The road ahead' graphic

The Times newspaper, which yesterday launched its Cities Fit For Cycling campaign, has turned its attention today to the danger posed to cyclists by lorries, including the experiences of two lorry drivers that make for chilling reading. Today’s coverage, four pages in all in the print edition, also includes a graphic of the approaches to a roundabout highlighting existing dangers on the roads, plus what could be done to make them safer.

“In an ideal world,” says The Times in a lead article today, “the high, wide, long, deafening HGV would not be sharing road space with something as low-visibility, quiet and fragile as the combination of a bicycle and an unprotected human body.

“This is why The Times cycling covenant calls for the creation, or designation, of many more miles of dedicated cycle ways. As statistics from the Netherlands and Scandinavia illustrate, the safest space for a bicycle is one from which motorised transport is removed.”

It acknowledges, however, that “the provision of such infrastructure takes time or money or both,” and may in any event be difficult to bring about in places such as the City of London.

“Other solutions,” it continues, need to be considered, outlining the difficulty drivers often have in being aware of the presence of cyclists, notwithstanding the deployment of safety features such as sensors and mirrors, which it calls to be made compulsory for lorries in urban areas.

That point is starkly illustrated in an article today written by Philip Pank, a Times journalist and regular cyclist, who spent a day in the cab of a cement mixer lorry in London.

“The view from the cab of the concrete mixer was terrifying for a cyclist who has spent 20 years nipping through London traffic,” he wrote.

“Even from a lorry fitted with the most up-to-date technology, the cyclists we encountered on a drive through the capital were all but invisible whenever they passed close by.

“As the truck turned right on to Tower Bridge Road, a cyclist suddenly appeared centimetres from the front wheels. She had jumped the traffic lights and I don’t know how the driver managed to avoid crushing her against the railings.

“Because his vehicle had been turning right, the cyclist was not picked up by the sensors on his near side. With no fluorescent clothing, she was indiscernible in the four mirrors focused on the lorry’s blind side.”

The driver of that lorry, Jason Stockham, explained: “You can’t see her until it’s too late. You should have the best Hi Viz, helmet and lights you can. You have got to do everything you can to let me see you.”

The journalist added however that even those wearing high-visibility clothing disappeared in the blind spot running for two metres around the vehicle.

“What you should be doing as a cyclist is going in front of the lorry and making eye contact with the driver,” continued Mr Stockham.

“It is awareness training and that awareness has to be on both sides,” he added. “There are going to be people who have got the hump with cyclists, but they have to concentrate more on training drivers.”

The threat cyclists face from left-turning lorries in particular is an issue constantly reinforced by road safety campaigners, and one evidenced by a succession of stories here on road.cc, including a report earlier this week of a cyclist who narrowly escaped with his life, but suffered permanent injuries as a result.

As many of the comments to that story suggest, while often it is a clear case of negligence on the lorry driver’s part, in other cases cyclists take unnecessary risks that perhaps unwittingly put them into the danger zone.

Anyone who regularly cycles in a large city will have seen fellow riders expose themselves to danger; more often than not, they will ride away unscathed, often unaware of the risk they have just taken.

While sensors and mirrors undoubtedly have a part to play in helping make drivers aware of cyclists, many will argue that it is just as important that cyclists become familiar about how large vehicles negotiate the road; while little can be done about a lorry overtaking, cyclists can avoid riding up the nearside of one waiting at the traffic lights, for example.

The importance of awareness and safety training for less experienced cyclists who can sometimes put themselves at grave risk without even realising it is sharply underlined by the account of the second lorry driver interviewed by The Times in today’s newspaper.

Steve James had been driving an articulated lorry on a single carriageway road in Bedfordshire when he saw a cyclist up ahead, travelling in the same direction.

“I saw a cyclist about half a mile away,” he revealed. “I moved right over to straddle the white line down the centre of the road because there was no oncoming traffic.

“I’ve always been told to give the cyclist plenty of room, because the vacuum created by the lorry when you’re going quite quick can pull them in front of the car that’s behind you.

“As I got level with the cyclist he just turned right. Never looked, never put his arm up.

“If he’d looked, he wouldn’t have done it, but he just did it.

“So I spun the wheel as fast as I could, braked, put the vehicle into the ditch on the other side of the road, hit the cyclist with the front near side of the cab, threw him down the road about 30 or 40ft.

“I ended up in the ditch. I didn’t see him go down the road – I just heard the crump.

“I couldn’t get out the driver’s side, I had to climb out and get out of the passenger side. I ran over. There were about three to four people there. We did the best we could for him – first aid and so on. I grabbed my quilt off my bunk and wrapped him up to keep him warm until the ambulance arrived.”

The teenage cyclist suffered serious injuries, particularly to his chest, and Mr James believes it was only the fact that the front of his lorry was fibreglass rather than metal that prevented the youth from being killed.

Eventually, the victim recovered, although the Times reports that he continued to suffer from memory loss.

Mr James went on to describe the guilt he felt in the aftermath of the incident, and said: “Every time I see a cyclist I remember the accident. But I got the letter that said the accident was nothing to do with you, we’re not taking any further action. And that was such a relief to get that.

“The police rang up the day after and asked if they could pass on my details to his mother. I said yes. She rang me up and said, ‘Thank you for not killing my son’. And I cried. It was really emotional. You don’t know what else to do.”

Now, whenever he passes a cyclist, the driver gives a blast on his horn, something he admits is not always well received. “If they respond, that means they’ve seen me, and I’m happy,” he confessed.

However, he insists that the design of cycling infrastructure such as the Barclays Cycle Superhighways in London needs to be reassessed.

“You look at Boris Johnson and London and the cycle paths. He’s put them on the near side of the vehicles. So they’re in the cycle path and they’re undertaking all the time.

“I can’t think of any solution apart from take the cyclists off the road and give them their own cycle ways,” he concluded.

In a graphic that accompanies those stories, The Times, which on its front page highlights the support its initiative has received including from high-profile cyclists including Sir Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton, as well as politicians and ordinary cyclists, highlights dangers inherent in current road design and provides some pointers for the future.

The interactive graphic can be accessed on this page of the newspaper's website by clicking the ‘Graphic: A new covenant’ tab, and the key points are:

The road as it is

Junctions: Lorries turning left
It is estimated that half of female cyclists and a quarter of male cyclists who lose their life on the road do so because of a large vehicle turning left [ed – The Times does not cite a source]. Typically, the cyclist moves up the left side of the vehicle, thinking it will turn right or go straight on, but the vehicle turns left and traps the cyclist.

Railings
Railings prevent cyclists escaping if vehicles start encroaching.

Parking
Parking on cycle lanes forces cyclists into traffic.

Road surface
Pot holes and drains are the cause of many accidents.

The road ahead

Cycle tracks with kerbs
Cyclists are safest when bikes and cars are separated. Cycle lanes which have simply been painted on tend to become car parking spaces, and end up being used by other vehicles, especially buses and taxis; this is why the raised cycle lane is so important.

Traffic lights for cyclists
A separate green light for cyclists can help to move bikes swiftly and safely out of junctions and ahead of cars by giving them a head start.

‘Skyway’ cycle paths
Short stretches (around 150m) are being introduced in Copenhagen to reduce contact between cycles and motorised traffic. They are a great way to move traffic very quickly and very safely when roads are cramped.

Create a network
If part of your journey is a safe and pleasant experience – that is all very well. But if it is punctuated by unsafe junctions and main roads, you are more likely to opt for the car. Cycle lanes need to link up and go places, otherwise they’re pointless.

20mph speed limit
It might feel slow, but experts claim keeping city centre traffic at 20mph could have a huge impact in reducing all road fatalities.

Tracks away from roads
Use parks, walkways and other off-road areas for cycle lanes.

Parked cars to protect cyclists
Car parking should be between cycle lanes and the main road. If car parking is next to the pavement, the cyclists protect parked cars from traffic. If the cycle lane is next to the pavement, the parked cars protect the cyclists.

Register your bike
Should we have number plates for bikes? If cyclists want respect and to consideration on the road, then perhaps they should also be held accountable for their cycling.

We imagine that the suggestions put forward by The Times, and that last one in particular, will give rise to a fair deal of debate, but one thing that seems clear from the reaction to yesterday’s coverage of the campaign in the media is that cycle safety is now an issue being discussed at national level. Whether that translates into action remains to be seen.

The Times is urging readers to get involved in three ways, outlined on its website: First, to sign up to its campaign so they can be kept up to date with developments; secondly, to spread the word by social media on sites such as Twitter, where the newspaper suggest using the hashtag #cyclesafe; and thirdly, by writing to their MP.

12 user comments

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There's more tomorrow - Chris Hendrie, on Twitter @Fiat_238 tweeted us to say "campaign in Saturday's edition has a story about my accident last year when I bust my collarbone."

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [8025 posts]
3rd February 2012 - 14:26

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If they keep this up I may withdraw the first sentence of my comment on yesterday's article: "By tomorrow morning it will be forgotten."

As for accountability and registration, I don't see that solving anything. Like peds, cyclists need to know their responsiblities too - being illuminated at night, not hopping on and off kerbs or jumping red lights when drivers are watching... However, most collisions between cyclists and larger vehicles are not due to the cyclist doing something wrong.

What needs to change the most is the attitude of many drivers to other road users (not just cyclists)!

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [1946 posts]
3rd February 2012 - 14:27

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What about all the Sun reading white van men that would sooner run you off the road than slow down for 5 seconds?

posted by pmr [167 posts]
3rd February 2012 - 14:50

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The part about registering bikes is not mentioned on their manifesto that invites you to register your support here:
http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/public/cyclesafety/contact/
If it had of been I don't think I would have signed up.

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posted by TheHatter [810 posts]
3rd February 2012 - 15:00

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I agree with most of the above.

Motorists - 20 mph for all urban areas. - Yes. Bring it on. It will encourage Audi man to get a bicycle when I over take him at 25 mph.. : )

Joking aside the Sharing the Road campaign will be an easier pill to swallow for motorists if they feel there is seen to be sacrifice on both sides. In addition to Simon E's comments about cyclists conduct I would make it illegal to filter up the side of lorries and buses at lights and junctions for bikes. I cycled to work for 10 years in London. I've made a mistake once or twice and had to hop off to avoid getting crushed against the kerb. It's not safe to sit on the inside of buses and lorries and no matter what is spent on mirrors and sensors this positioning of bike against lorry is never going to be sensible. Getting a few feet up on traffic through dangerous cutting in is a drivers trick. We shouldn't insist on joining them.

Ok. I can hear the usual reposte. "What happens if you're over taken by lorry etc as you approach junction?" Fine. Slow down. Let them pass and take up position behind them. If they're being dangerous report them. From my experience cyclists are guilty of the same need for speed as motorists. I use to risk my life every day of the week on a dash from Camden Town to Stoke Newington letting no other rider past me in my own little TDF. Fun - but daft and now I have kids I wouldn't dream of doing it.

I appreciate the comments by both lorry drivers above. What I don't appreciate is being told to dress like a clown to ride my bike safely. Hi Vis is the scourge of modern Britain. Worn by every wannabe official and well meaning timid rider it only perpetuates the idea that motorists can keep their foot on the accelerator as it's up to us cyclists to be seen.

I wear Blue, white and black club kit all year round and I use lights even in daylight when it's dull winter weather. If I cannot be seen in such an outfit the motorist probably shouldn't be driving on medical grounds. I've started seeing horse riders in full hi vis with hi vis anklets on the horses recently. What state have we reached where this is seen as acceptable?? I'm not joining hi vis world even if it's law.

I'll get down off my soapbox now.... Plain Face

Silly me. You're probably right....

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posted by MercuryOne [1058 posts]
3rd February 2012 - 15:03

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TheHatter wrote:
The part about registering bikes is not mentioned on their manifesto that invites you to register your support here:
http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/public/cyclesafety/contact/
If it had of been I don't think I would have signed up.

Well, it isn't part of the manifesto, and it's clearly phrased as a question to stimulate debate rather than as a suggestion of what needs to be done. Unworkable, however, as has been well documented elsewhere.

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posted by Simon_MacMichael [8025 posts]
3rd February 2012 - 15:09

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>Joking aside the Sharing the Road campaign will be an easier pill to swallow for motorists if they feel there is seen to be sacrifice on both sides.

Sacrifice is would be fair enough if both sides were on an equal footing - cyclists aren't.

>In addition to Simon E's comments about cyclists conduct I would make it illegal to filter up the side of lorries and buses at lights and junctions for bikes.

Motorcyclists can filter too - is that supposed to include them ? It's about education/awareness of when it is and isn't appropriate. You can't legislate for ever little thing.

posted by JonD [180 posts]
3rd February 2012 - 15:13

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Just a quick heads up...

Is that a typo in paragraph 5?

Shouldn't it read lorries in urban areas, rather than cyclists? It reads as though cyclists should have the mirrors and sensors.

Good article, we'll see where the whole thing goes.

Ooooh, me legs...

posted by Oh heck... [47 posts]
3rd February 2012 - 16:04

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@ Oh heck... You're right, thanks for spotting that!

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posted by Simon_MacMichael [8025 posts]
3rd February 2012 - 16:16

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So a helmet is a conspicuity aid as well now? I think my cowboy hat is more effective in that respect. Better at keeping the sun off, too.

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posted by trevorparsons [13 posts]
3rd February 2012 - 16:21

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"Parked cars to protect cyclists" - this has been shown to increase risk to cyclists.
The over-riding assumption behind this kind of thinking is that death for cyclists comes from behind. The cyclist "protected" by parked cars is simply ignored and unseen as they approach intersections consequently they are more likly to be hit there.
The same goes for seperate facilities - increase risk of death and injury. This kind of infrastructure is about assuaging the fear of being hit from behind, and satisfying motorists who want cyclists off the road.

posted by imaca [44 posts]
3rd February 2012 - 23:09

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To be honest, I'll take a campaign like this over one fronted by a cycling organisation any day: not only is it being driven by a national paper, but it has a simple, clear message which everyone can buy, cyclist or not.

No doubt we could waste a huge amount of time picking holes in it - like the parked cars and registration bits - but the overall thrust of the campaign is something we should all be able to get behind.

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posted by timlennon [227 posts]
4th February 2012 - 14:03

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