Aspects of the design of London’s cycle superhighways are confusing and may have contributed to the 2011 death of Brian Dorling at Bow roundabout, the coroner in the inquests into the deaths of Mr Dorling and Philippine de Gerin-Ricard has said.
Writing in the inquest’s Prevention of Future Deaths report, coroner Mary Hassall instructed the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson and roads authority Transport for London (TfL) to respond within 56 days explaining what action would be taken to make the cycle superhighways safer.
TfL says it is considering the report and will respond in due course.
One key problem the report identifies is that some sections of cycle superhighway 2 are not designated cycle lanes. During the inquest, accident investigator PC Alex Hewitt described the road markings at the point where Mr Dorling was killed as “just a piece of blue paint.”
In her report, Ms Hassell writes: “The unbordered blue strips that have been painted on some roads are confusing.
“I heard evidence that many cyclists and motorists simply do not appreciate that such a blue strip without a white line border (whether unbroken or broken) is not a cycle lane.”
“The confusion has the following potential consequences.
“Cyclists wrongly assume (as Mr Dorling may have done) that they have priority, and are lulled into a false sense of security.
“Cyclists believe that they have to ride on the blue strips, which may not be the correct position for them to assume in particular circumstances, most particularly when going round a roundabout.”
Ms Hassall also pointed out that the strips give drivers the false impression that they should only expect to encounter cyclists on the strips, and that where the blue section is in a lane too narrow for a bike and a motor vehicle to share it, drivers may either straddle the lane markings instead of safely overtaking, or simply drive along the blue section.
She added that drivers might then “get into the habit of driving over coloured strips, and not notice when these are actually bordered by white lines and so are cycle lanes. Thus, cyclists riding in cycle lanes elsewhere in London and the rest of the country, are put in greater danger.”
The coroner recommended a mixture of education and infrastructure improvements to help prevent future deaths.
She writes: “Despite the efforts already made, more work could usefully be undertaken to educate cyclists (and motorists) about safer riding techniques.”
Turning to the death of Philippine de Gerin-Ricard, who was crushed by a tipper truck while riding a Boris bike past Aldgate tube station, Ms Hassall writes:
“The junction of Whitechapel High Street and Commercial Street in London E1 (where Ms de Gerin-Ricard sustained her fatal injuries) remains difficult to negotiate.
“As I am sure you are aware, innovative solutions need to be considered, whether this be in terms of infrastructure or other.”
Tom Edwards of the BBC reports that transport commissioner Sir Peter Hendy said: "The primary cause of the terrible accident of Mr Dorling was that he and the lorry went through a red light.
"We need to make sure that road layouts are safe.
"We've altered it once and no doubt we'll alter it again. If you cycle or drive through a red light you are likely to have an accident. It's really important that all road users look out for themselves and others and conform with the law."
Brian Dorling’s family and solicitor Tom Jones called for meaningful action not words to improve cyclists’ safety. The family called painting section of busy roads blue “a typical PR gimmick but innocent cyclists are dying.” Mr Jones said it was time for “no more Boris flannel but clear answers and real action.”
Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.
Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.
Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.
The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.