Blackfriars Bridge takes its toll

... history :: media reports :: what went wrong :: north to south ...

Vicki McCreery was killed by a bus at 5.35pm, Monday 10 May 2004 while using a new northbound cycle lane on Blackfriars Bridge. Most road deaths are ignored by the media but the tragic event that took place that day has received significant coverage and become an issue in the forthcoming London elections. While the shift to cycling away from private cars following the introduction of congestion charging has led to much better conditions (including a reduction in overall risks), many cyclists still cross the Thames in and out of the City with trepidation.

The four Thames Bridges that cross into the City are notorious blackspots for cyclists. The photos through this page take you on a tour of the worst sections of the one in the news, Blackfriars Bridge (pictures taken at the weekend so you can see the markings better). The sections of text will hopefully give you a better idea of what happened and why.

UPDATE: click here for the latest one year on


Blackfriars Bridge

Looking northbound from the south of the bridge, the cyclist in the middle is at the approximate spot where both collisions took place.

The location of the busy bus stop leads to cyclists in the central cycle lane being squeezed between buses pulling out and other traffic turning into the left lane in a 15m conflict point.

Many drivers speed at 35mph or more, encouraged by the width of the road and design to seek a quick hit of speed before waiting at another traffic light. The design of the cycle lane leaves cycles with about half a metre space between such vehicles.


history

The first Blackfriars Bridge dates from the 1760s but a new bridge was built by the Victorians and it was completed in 1869 then widened in 1907-10. Things went wrong for cyclists in 1967 when Blackfriars Underpass was built including a horrible traffic system on the north end. In 1999 some narrow cycle lanes were put on the bridge as part of the London Cycle Network: the northbound one started halfway along. A further set of signals to control traffic entering the junction from Victoria Embankment, proposed as part of works for the London Cycle Network, was never implemented as Transport for London took over as highways authority from the Corporation of London.

At about 6am on 6 February 2003 Kim Vin Thi from Southwark, aged 61, was hit by a hit and run motorcyclist while cycling along the northbound cycle lane. He died a few weeks later in hospital surrounded by his family, leaving a wife and children. In the summer of 2003, City Cyclists discovered by chance about the bus lane plans, which were being advanced by the North Central sector of Transport for London Street Management as part of the London Bus Initiative. Apparently it was too late for anything more than minor changes to the detailed design to be made as TfL viewed improvements to buses on this corridor as an urgent priority.

City Cyclists only managed to get the width of the cycle lane increased from 1.5m to 1.7m despite pointing out the danger of the central lane layout confirmed by the February collision. The new bus lanes did not however get marked in until the end of April 2004 as there had been disagreement inside TfL whether taxis should be allowed to use the northbound bus lane. It seems that contractors were only supposed to mark in a southbound lane as anorthbound one did not have a formal Traffic Order. However they marked in both but left the rest of the works for over three weeks while TfL worked out what to do.

Following the outcry over Vicki's death TfL removed the central bus lane and the extension of the cycle lane (leaving most of it there, i.e. back to the 1999 design) on Thursday 27 May without bothering to ask cyclists about what they wanted as a temporary solution. The idea that the new cycle lane was a major even the primary cause of the collision is ridiculous and ignores the fact that another cyclist was killed last year before it was marked in. City Cyclists had raised the issue of the problems facing cyclists crossing the Thames to the candidates at the Mayoral Transport Hustings on 17 May leading the Mayor to promise a full inquiry. At the end of May almost a thousand cyclists demonstrated on the bridge to remember Vicki and demand better treatment of cyclists.

City of London Police reports on the two fatalities:

... history :: media reports :: what went wrong :: north to south ...

Blackfriars Bridge

Note the start of the old cycle lane markings just visible in the new lane, the bus lane sign covered up making the central bus lane even more confusing. One car is even driving in the cycle lane.


media reports

Daily Express: Cycle lane scrapped after death
(the first story to appear: the Express overlooks the bridge)

Comment: Cycle lanes don't necessarily need to be protected physically, something that can be bad as well as good. On the continent there are also cycle lanes, though they tend to be respected, while 30km/h speed limits in many urban areas let cyclists share the road with drivers. Having cycle lanes next to or into a bus lane is not a problem, it's the particular example on Blackfriars, one of the busiest crossings of the Thames in London. In fact, central cycle streaming lanes are as much a part of Dutch best practice as separate tracks, it's just they are advised against on roads this wide and where there is a big difference between motor vehicle and cyclists' speeds.

Observer: Scandal of our deadly cycle lanes - note the links to motoring not cycling groups

Comment: This schemes is not "being promoted across the country as a model of good design": central cycle lanes do help prevent collisions between left-turning vehicles (especially lorries) and those cycling straight on but that does not mean they can work in every location. Such central lanes are only recommended in the lead up to a junction as opposed to the whole lenght of a road. Cycling is not particularly dangerous: risks to children or adults walking on our streets are similar. The main reason cycling is safer on the continent is that there are so many cyclists, drivers are more aware and respectful of them so give adequate space.

Observer: Cycle lane death: family plans to sue - the bit about suing TfL is inaccurate

BBC London Cycle lane scrapped after death

Evening Standard: Police: review cycle lanes

Comment: a review and audit of the City's cycle facilities, including cycle lanes, was in fact completed in February and has sat unopened on the Corporation of London's shelves ever since. The City of London Police have a very poor record on road safety for cycling.

Evening Standard: Bus driver jailed for cyclist's death

... history :: media reports :: what went wrong :: north to south ...

Blackfriars Bridge

The slip roads and guardrails are designed for high speeds, above the rarely enforced offical speed limit of 30mph, which give the road the feel of an urban motorway.


what went wrong

London's cycle lanes are just not wide enough

Blackfriars Bridge has the highest level of cycling recorded on the London Cycle Network. So why did the engineers refuse to have a 2m wide cycle lane, the width recommended not just in Europe but also by the official standards. See narrow cycle lanes feature.

No enforcement

There is no enforcement action (at best the occasional warning) being taken in London against drivers abusing cycle boxes ('ASLs'), cycle lanes etc. Even those driving in an advisory cycle lane could be prosecuted for due care & attention. Instead drivers have become used to ignoring cyclists and their facilities and clipping past them with inches to spare.

Institutionalised indifference to cycling

Many of the engineers in Transport for London and the boroughs do not have the skills, experience, let alone desire to make roads safe and convenient for cycling. They are driven by the concern of keeping motor traffic pumping through the streets.

At times there is institutionalised incompetence too as engineers continually get signs confused displaying a level of knowledge insufficient to pass the driving theory test. Much of Ken's recent wave of new cycle facilities are noticeably worse than those the GLC put in. Combining the worst of the old bureaucratic ethos with the attitude of neo-con big business, TfL is unable to listen to its customers, be they bus passengers, pedestrians or particularly cyclists, while spending heavily on advertising and other publicity. LCC is asking to be consulted from the start of new schemes rather than at the end.

The busiest roads in London, TfL's "red routes", are the least democratically run. Members of the GLA have very little say over Traffic Orders. As a result TfL (Buses) and TfL (PubliC Carriage Office - Taxis) make insider deals with the planners in TfL (Streets) while trying to keep motoring journalists off their backs. The Cycling Centre for Excellence in TfL has been unable to throw its very limited weight around.

Bus drivers standards/conditions

With the push to increase bus numbers, many drivers have been pressurised to start work without sufficient training or experience. The constant emphasis on meeting targets results in cutting corners in relation to driving. Some driver instructers even encourage their trainees to ignore cycle facilities to reduce journey times. It is not enough to reply that bus drivers have to spend an hour or so learning about other road users when this is failing to change the driving culture.

The manoeuvre that Vicki doing - overtaking a stopped bus - is carried out by thousands of cyclists every day. The location or indeed existence of the controversial cycle lane did not make any difference to this.

Also look at the features on issues regarding HGVs and taxis.

... history :: media reports :: what went wrong :: north to south ...

Blackfriars Bridge

Cycling up New Bridge Street to the left is hard enough as drivers push out from the Embankment slip road (where traffic signals were supposed to be put in) and cut into the narrow unprotected cycle lane round the corner. Turning up Queen Victoria Street is even worse as it requires weaving across two lanes of fast moving motor traffic.


north to south

Blackfriars Bridge

In the other direction, cyclists are endangered by drivers turning left past Blackfriars station. You regularly see commuters in suits jumping the barriers, guardrails that is not ticket barriers.

Blackfriars Bridge

Going south towards the bridge there is only space for a 1m wide cycle lane on a 14m wide road. The right turn to Embankment is particularly difficult for anyone cycling and the total lack of pedestrian facilites makes it impossible to get off and walk your bike.

Blackfriars Bridge

On the south side of the river you come across the 'showpiece' National Cycle Network route 4 leading towards the west of Wales. You are more likely to see litter dropped in it that someone bother to cycle into the middle of the road to use it and then back again where it stops. That's if you get past the post in the middle.

... history :: media reports :: what went wrong :: north to south ...
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