TfL’s pathetic denial of HGV blame

In March, a woman in her 70s who was trying to cross the road in Hackney was killed by a 22-wheeled HGV. I became interested in what TfL were doing to try to protect pedestrians from these motorised beasts, and ended up sending an FOI request about TfL’s Memorandum of Understanding (pdf) with the Freight Transport Association.

In the time it has taken TfL to respond, three people have been killed by HGVs in London (that I am aware of). In a similar incident, 73 year old Maria da Assuncao Grijo is now dead after trying to cross the road, this time in Streatham. The other two to be killed by lorries are David Poblet and Paula Jurek, who were both riding bicycles.

Girder Lorry

Amazing how they fit these vehicles on streets which are not wide enough for bike lanes

I asked TfL whether they thought a Memorandum of Understanding was an effective tool for reducing road danger, and how they were measuring the effectiveness of the memo.

Their response included the sickening sentence that,

The MOU has been effective in strengthening partnership working between the Freight Transport Association, TfL and other stakeholder groups to reduce collisions between cyclists and lorries.

The blithe, blameless language that TfL have adopted here is a stark refusal to address the issue at hand. The problem is not “collisions between cyclists and lorries”, it is that lorries drive around our streets mowing people down.

Language that tries to apportion equal responsibility is quite transparently hollow when we try to use it about people who are killed walking. The idea of “collisions between pedestrians and lorries” conjures up bright images of pedestrians gladly chest-bumping lorries hello and getting more than they bargained for, rather than the reality of 20 tonne death machines cruising around London’s streets ploughing over whoever ends up in their way.

For those readers for whom anecdote is not enough, I understand. Deaths are an emotive issue and maybe an argument which consists of [someone has been killed] so [let’s take action to prevent whatever killed them], is not necessarily persuasive if the type of death which occurs does not happen with a significant enough frequency. For example [storm causes tree to collapse on house] does not necessarily lead to the conclusion [ban trees].

I think the response to that objection is two-fold:

  1. Logically, it is clear that these are not freak accidents. If you have huge vehicles with significant blind spots driving around busy, urban environments, they will kill people.
  2. Statistically, is it is clear that these are not freak accidents. Research of cyclists deaths in London between 1992 and 2006 notes that, “There is little evidence fatality rates have fallen. Freight vehicles over 3.5 tonnes continue to present a disproportionate threat; they should be removed from urban roads and more appropriate means of delivery of essential goods found.” (Hat tip to Freewheeler).

My question to TfL was about the final point of the Memo, where they promise to identify, develop and report on suitable metrics to measure the effectiveness of the agreement. 

I will leave you here with the full text of TfL’s woeful response, and my translation of their answers interspersed in red.

Dear Sir,

Please see below our responses to the questions you have raised:

1. The staff time devoted to creating the “metrics” mentioned.

It is not possible to accurately estimate the staff time that has been dedicated to creating the metrics, as this work has been taken forward as part of the wider development and implementation of the MOU.  Staff from TfL, the FTA and representatives from groups such as the London Cycling Campaign and Sustrans, have been involved in this work over the last year.

We haven’t done anything.

2. The current progress of the metrics.

The overall metric for judging the success of the MOU will be the reduction in the number of cyclists Killed and Seriously Injured (KSI) as a result of a collision with an HGV.

We didn’t think it would be a good idea to think of new ways to show we’re not doing anything.

3. When the metrics are intended for future publication. If they are not, why not.

In June 2011, the FTA plan to publish their Cycling Strategy.  This will set out their goal for reducing cyclist KSIs and will detail the measures they will be implementing to achieve this.

We can’t publish what we don’t have. The FTA are going to publish something, though. Maybe you’ll find that sufficiently distracting?

4. The timescales of when and how frequently the effectiveness of the agreement will be measured, and whether it has been yet.

TfL publishes KSI data on an annual basis.   Three years of KSI data will be required for statistically robust conclusions to be made about the effectiveness of the agreement.  The FTA plan to report progress on implementing their Cycling Strategy on an annual basis.

We hope you’ll have forgotten about this by 2014.

5. If the effectiveness of the agreement has been measured, how effective it is considered to be.

Together with the Mayor’s Cycle Safety Action Plan,, the MOU has been effective in strengthening partnership working between the Freight Transport Association, TfL and other stakeholder groups to reduce collisions between cyclists and lorries.  Good progress has been made in implementing the actions set out in the MOU.

We’re either mendacious or simply oblivious to what is happening on London’s streets. Take your pick.

If this is not the information you are looking for, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Piss off until you irritating, sanctimonious, cycling-obsessed trouble-maker. Don’t you have organic gluten-free tofu burgers to sell to the chief hemp-weaver in your free love commune or something?

I joke because TfL’s response is a joke. What’s not is that people will continue to die on London’s streets and TfL need to respond with more than victim blaming, equivocating and self-congratulatory memos.

3 Responses to “TfL’s pathetic denial of HGV blame”

  1. The truth about London’s killer HGVs: a third of them are empty « Cycle of Futility Says:

    […] at least three pedestrians – all of them women over 70 – have been killed by HGVs in London so far this […]

  2. Freedom of Information: TfL gets nasty « Cycle of Futility Says:

    […] I have put in a lot of FOI requests to TfL, allowing me to post in detail a range of topics such as freight regulations, the street design process and Pedestrian […]

  3. climbing Frames uk Says:

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