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 prevent cyclists escaping if vehicles start encroaching.
Parking on cycle lanes forces cyclists into traffic.
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.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.