Nothing useful to say

Some comment on a detail from the recent inquest into the death of Venera Minakhmetova at Bow roundabout last November.

Coroner Mary Hassell

said she had “nothing useful” to say to Transport for London as the roundabout had since “been altered to such an extent that it’s very significantly safer for cyclists”.

Do I need to point out here that ‘significantly safer’ is not the same as safe enough?

It is true that the approach to the roundabout where Venera died has ‘been altered’, but only because prior to the arrival of the Superhighway Extension there was nothing in the way of cycle infrastructure at this location.

Westbound at Bow roundabout, 2012. Courtesy of Google Streetview

Westbound at Bow roundabout, 2012. Courtesy of Google Streetview. It was on this layout that Lana Tereschenko died in 2011.

But the central issue shouldn’t be whether improvements have been made, or whether the junction is a bit safer than the death trap it was before. Rather than a relative standard of safety, surely we should be looking at whether Bow roundabout meets objective criteria, good enough to ensure that the risk of further deaths, or serious injuries, at this location is as low as possible. ‘A bit better’ isn’t good enough, if what was there before was lethal.

The reported comment from the coroner may, of course, have been stripped from context, but taking it at face value, it appears that this issue has been ducked. Because the new layout at Bow roundabout is not good enough. It is a bad bodge. Effectively it amounts to nothing more than an Advanced Stop Line, with a confusing array of signals that attempt to stop people from entering it at the wrong time.

This video from @sw19cam – shot just two weeks before Venera died – shows just how confusing it can be. Because people cycling have to deal with two sets of lights simply to enter the junction, this chap appears to have interpreted the green signal to enter the ASL as a green signal to progress through the entire junction, with nearly disastrous results, as two lorries bear down on him.

Now the inquest appears to have established that the lorry that killed Venera passed through two green signals before turning left, and on that basis the ‘most likely’ explanation for the collision was that she had passed a red light to enter the ASL. Even if we accept this explanation, questions need to be asked about how easy it is end up doing this, in innocence. This picture from Charlie Lloyd shows the problem.

The red signal to stop people from entering the ASL (to the left) is drowned out by a sea of green signals which, combined with motor vehicles flowing through the junction, could all contribute to this signal being jumped inadvertently. Low-level cycle-specific signals have subsequently been added here, but the overall arrangement is still extraordinarily ambiguous.

What is desperately, desperately needed is clarity. No multiple lights just to enter an ASL, before waiting again – the ‘always stop’ junction. Instead, just one signal for cycles; one signal for left turning motor traffic; and one signal for straight ahead motor traffic.

A standard junction arrangement in the Netherlands. Absolutely clear who can go, and should stop.

A standard junction arrangement in the Netherlands (flipped). Absolutely clear who can go, and should stop.

This kind of arrangement would also allow pedestrians to cross Bow roundabout, on a green signal, at the same time that cycles and straight ahead motor traffic have a green signal. There are still no pedestrian crossings at this roundabout.

All the fiddles and bodges that have been implemented at Bow are a flawed compromise, intended to fit cycling in around the margins of motor traffic flow, rather than coherent design. It’s a great pity the inquest seems to have ignored the issue of whether it could be substantially better – good enough to eliminate future tragedies.

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15 Responses to Nothing useful to say

  1. Julian Bond says:

    Please note: She says “had since “been altered to such an extent that it’s very significantly safer for cyclists””. But it really hasn’t changed much since the collision. All the major work was done before that as the video demonstrates. The changes SINCE then consist of low level repeaters on the lights and a warning sign “CYCLISTS STOP ON RED”. That doesn’t seem to me to be a big change making the junction significantly safer. Perhaps one or other of us is confused about the sequence of updates by TFL at this junction seeing as there have been so many.

  2. Jerry Ash says:

    Great blog, as ever. Keep up the good work. I always wonder, though, whether the people who should be reading your blogs – in this case Coroner Mary Hassell, TfL, Gilligan etc – ever do get to see your thoughtful and constructive comments?

  3. rdrf says:

    I think there are two separate points here:

    1. The whole issue about what Coroners say is a subject in itself. A lot of people get excited when a Coroner suggests that a junction could have been engineered differently. But remember that they can also make victim-blaming comments (such as about helmet wearing) and otherwise not be evidence-based or helpful.

    On this subject, I strongly suggest you look at Martin Porter’s piece here http://thecyclingsilk.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/coroners-and-cyclists-do-they-mix.html . Don’t forget that there is a rash of Coroner’s courts re-the deaths of London cyclists in 2 weeks last year coming up.

    2. Re-engineering at Bow roundabout: The thing that strikes me about it is avoiding left turning motors for the majority of cyclists who go over the flyover. How is that to be addressed?

  4. Martin says:

    This post by sfichele on the roadcc site nailed it.
    I’ve spoke to the police about the procedure they used to analyse the tachograph.

    Personally I’m not convinced by the methodology.
    The tachograph gives speed/position/time information of the HGV. If you know the last location of the HGV, which they did, then you can reconstruct it’s movements.
    *However* In order to compare it to the traffic light (TL) signals you need to have a time reference between the tachograph timeline and the TL timeline. They dont have that, instead it was inferred from the stop & start movements of the HGV.
    Inferred, based on some assumptions! Assumptions that the HGV started on green, which was then used to prove he went through green. Anyone not see a problem with that? Assumptions about the traffic stop-start conditions from the tachograph. And the massive assumption that if the HGV went through on green then Verena must have gone through on Red.
    That’s is an assumption, built on a layer of other assumptions…
    “Not sure if this was mentioned in inquest but I spoke to a witness who said bus & HGV were in advanced start box when lights red”

    The above contradicts the police analysis of the tachograph. That the HGV started behind the first line on green and went through the second on green!
    HOWEVER, it is now “proved” that the cyclist went through red and has therefore completely deflected the argument away from the fact that the design of the Bow roundabout is DANGEROUS and needs fixing. Instead it will now be spun as it’s safe unless cyclists choose to jump reds…
    Nothing to see here:
    “[Bow roundabout has] been altered to such an extent that it’s very significantly safer for cyclists”.

    #BULLSHIT

    • I was at the inquest, if there had been a bus in front of HGV there would have been CCTV and the description was that there was a light vehicle and the truck behind it.

      I am annoyed with myself for not being aware of the court protocols enough to know how to intervene with clear evidence from many video recordings of the point that Venera’s family insisted was a relevant but the Police pooh-poohed. This IS basically that the cyclists are (especially at the time of day when the crash occurred) unable to set off when the advance start signals turn green. The Police argued and Coroner Hassell accepted without challenge that if there had been STATIONARY traffic then the vehicles would also have been unable to move off and the truck driver would not have been able run over Venera. They totally ignored the possibility that it was MOVING traffic that prevented the cyclist from gaining the advantage of an advanced start. I have at least 2 examples where the cyclists are held back from moving on the green light by at least 3 seconds, in one case the green light is clearly visible through the windows of THE BUS which completely cuts off the ability to start from the lights.

      Please help to collate a library of this to reinforce the examples I have found so far, and establish, a typical range of timings for red light running vehicles delaying the advance start of the cyclists. .

      Additionally I note that in this video a 35cwt Luton panel van almost (and only because he ran the red light) ended up in the cycle ‘box’ and turning left, so that he would effectively cut-off any cyclists setting off when the advance signals went to green, and just as with the circulating traffic running the red lights, holding back the cyclists’ from crossing the slip road and possibly forcing them to turn with the vehicle before correcting course to get across and back on the track of CS2, leaving the cyclist(s) then exposed to any following vehicle turning left. If the vehicle cutting up the cyclist(s) is a van of any size (ie 1Ton and over), it will effectively hide the cyclist(s) on the left side of that vehicle from view for the driver of any following vehicle who will be on the right hand side in the driving position by virtue of the left curvature of the carriageway, a cyclist, cut-up by a vehicle starting from the advance stop line or overtaking a cyclist making a delayed start, with that driver having started from the from set-back stop line. The effect of a faster accelerating light vehicle which the Police and driver evidence placed between the truck and the set-back stop line could easily be to deliver this sequence with a large gap opened up between the loaded truck with its much slower rate of acceleration. Having been cut up and slowed Venera then ‘appears for a matter of seconds within the restricted vision from the truck driving position looking down and across to the ‘left of left’ into an area which is not covered by the Class 6 mirror and being forward the biggest masked/unseen area in the front nearside quadrant is not even covered by the Class 5 mirror looking directly down by the front wheels.

      Here are 3 clips showing various aspects of the possible sequence of events

      Clip 1 : Imagine what the situation would have been if the 35cwt box van had not run through (both) the red lights and finished up alongside the cyclists at the stop line. It would have effectively masked any cyclist from view to the driver of any vehicle at the set-backstop line through both the driving position and the added masking provide by the left curving carriageway. Starting away the van would have forced priority and held back the cyclists, or (as slightly noticeable in the ‘bus’ video and the second video below) the cyclists) would be forced to turn with the vehicle cutting across their path and then swing back to return to the CS2 alignment. With a vehicle of any size above a 1 Ton panel van or minibus the cyclist on the nearside would only be visible to the driver of a following vehicle, after that vehicle has gone past the cyclist(s), and the cyclist(s) may well then turn to cross behind the vehicle which has cut them off.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n_j_V9S1btk (interesting debate on whether cyclist missed the second red light or deliberate move to keep rolling – not how his path swings left slightly to give a perceived additional time before the circulating traffic can get close to hitting him)

      Clip 2 : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4OaWAo_rGg4 (Cyclist uses main traffic lane to avoid the nuisance of stop start on CS2 – cut up by car using offside lane)

      Clip 3 : A second example, where fortunately most parties were alert to the hazard posed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8CXg2Juz44 Note that the motor traffic held back at the set-back stop line is already passing the cyclists barely 4 seconds after they have got the advance green light, and are not even across the slip road junction

      If anyone spots better examples of this give me a tweet @BCCletts.

      The other detail at the Inquest which I believe lead to this blindness by the Police and the Coroner to the moving traffic issue was that the traffic signal sequence was explained solely by reference to the Westbound approach to the roundabout, with no mention of the way this interfaces with the traffic signals controlling the circulating traffic These signals and their aspects during the cycling of the signals at this junction were not shown, or mentioned.

      Discussing the whole picture with the Police afterwards, they confirmed that the Westbound carriageway on the flyover had on their advice been reduced to a single lane due to issue with motor traffic merging back in on the West side, and for the amount of traffic using the Eastbound carriageway that too could be reduced to a single lane. This affirms my observations and experiences using the flyover, on the last occasion going East at 17.30, and returning at 20.20 on Tuesday 28 January this year. I was on both crossings the ONLY moving vehicle when crossing the summit of the flyover, and going West I only saw another cyclist going up the flyover ahead of me – not one of the motor vehicles, which were still present in sufficient number to have a queue reaching back to the start of the flyover ramp. TfL counts before the delivery of the first mess of CS2 indicated that 60% of cyclists rode over the flyover, having a couple of breakfasts at the Three Mills Cafe I took the opportunity to count the bikes, as has Diamond Geezer and our figures suggest nearer to 70% of cyclists are riding over the flyover.

      To put the detail very bluntly up to 70% of cyclists can see that riding over a near deserted flyover directly, without stopping, where there is practically no possibility of being left hooked has no hazard (in normal operation) of any motor vehicle on the flyover. Those who are less confident, for much of the time, ride up the nearside to the foot of the flyover ramps and walk across through the queuing traffic. At quieter times there is an area either kerbed or with painted cross hatching peak times to cross to before remounting and riding over, and repeating the process on the other side.

      By comparison with 80-90% of the motor traffic moving on the East-West axis going to or from the A12 via the Bow roundabout the queuing traffic pictures on Google and Bing aerial views affirms this. On the roundabout it becomes obvious that 100% of the vehicles WILL drive right through the route that 100% of the cyclists using CS2 will be using and the ONLY means of managing that risk is a reliance on both drivers and cyclists fully complying with the traffic signals, which very clearly they fail to do. It will I predict, only be a matter of time before we have yet another death at Bow with this seriously flawed system. Those who opted to send the cyclists this way against both the obvious elimination of the hazard of 6 conflicting traffic movements, and the action of cyclists themselves in using the safest, and fastest route between Stratford and Bow High Streets, should be reflecting on how 3 deaths in barely 2 years, and at least one life changing close call might be measured for a potentially culpably stupid decision.

  5. rdrf says:

    Note my comments about the need to be wary of Coroners.

    Today’s comments came again from Ms. Hassall http://road.cc/content/news/116184-cyclist-killed-whitechapel-november-had-almost-twice-driving-blood-alcohol-limit . Despite issues about the highway layout and the cyclist having consumed alcohol, yes, we get the Coroner asking about whether a helmet would have helped. Luckily, in this case the pathologist batted that away – but normally we would end up with it all being down to helmet wearing.

  6. What has changed since Cameron told us that getting on a bike shouldnt be taking your life in your hands?
    http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/public/cyclesafety/article3328193.ece
    Nothing is going to change until the law changes to protect vulnerable road users. Gov.UK can throw as much money at infrastructure and training but whilst motorists can kill and injure with very lenient convictions it will stay the same.
    A personal reminder for me, I keep thinking of 2012 when we where in NL for just over a month cycling. When I got off the ferry at Harwich within 20 minutes I was very nearly taken out by an overtaking van driver. So one month away and no incidents at all, 20 minutes in the UK ….. yea its not scientific but reinforces to me how bad the problem in in the UK.

    • Dan B says:

      It isn’t an either-or, although infrastructure improvements reduce the chances of a KSI happening in the first place. I’d rather not receive life-changing injuries in the first place than know that the driver will go to prison and never drive again while I receive 24 hour care.

      • Its unlikely that there is really going to be meaningful infrastructure in the UK. Perhaps London will be able to offer something in xx years, but the rest of the country?
        In that scenario a change in the law is vital.

        • fonant says:

          On the contrary, we’re seeing (at last!) some real action on designing better infrastructure for UK roads. Only infrastructure can keep cyclists out of the way of the real dangers generated by motor traffic.

          Laws only make things slightly easier for the injured party when a person on a bicycle has been run over or hit by a motor vehicle. They do nothing for safety, as every driver is a good driver and has no intention of colliding with cyclists, this happens “by accident”. They only have any use after a crash.

  7. One highway authority plz says:

    We need a cycle lane over the flyover with proper road markings. If one had been built, as many cyclists had suggested at the time, Venera would probably still be with us, as she would not have been tempted to go round that lethal roundabout.

    I am really worried about the changes to the Bow junction area, now that TfL have introduced their stupid and pointless segregated cycle lane. Heading west on my bike, I want to take the flyover like most cyclists seem to do. It is my most direct route into town, three cyclists have died on the roundabout and it is not safe for cyclists, despite all the tinkering. This means I have to take the exit near Sugar House Lane and take my life into my own hands to try to beat relentless, left-turning vehicles. When I get onto the flyover I breathe a sigh of relief. Not dead yet, though I have had some close shaves. Before they built the segregated lane I did this route every day for many years and, risky though it was, I never felt the dread I do now.

    Heading east over the flyover, you have to pray that there isn’t a lorry belting along to your left as you try to find the little space to turn into the cycle lane a couple of seconds after you leave the flyover.

    • Dan B says:

      Removing both the flyover and the roundabout would be a better solution. That way you can create a pretty simple crossroads with segregated cycle lanes on all arms and a simultaneous green phase for bikes on the junction. You can have pedestrian crossings too, and properly integrate the canal paths into the junction too. Much simpler, much safer, much more pleasant.

      • One highway authority plz says:

        Nice one, Dan B. I think this would be really great and would support a campaign for it – although it would remove my only “hill climb” in the whole of my route to work ;-((

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