Archive for the ‘HGVs’ Category

The truth about London’s killer HGVs: a third of them are empty

July 3, 2011

Another Londoner was killed last week after being subject to brutal, callous and unnecessary violence. Peter McGreal is the 9th cyclist  to have been fatally injured by an HGV on the capital’s streets this year. Also last week, an as yet unnamed cyclist was dragged under a tipper truck in the City.

Additionally, at least three pedestrians – all of them women over 70 – have been killed by HGVs in London so far this year.

Boris Johnson tells us that goods vehicles are the “lifeblood” of London. A few fatalities here and there are unavoidable. Right?

Who is killed?

Overwhelmingly, the people killed by HGVs are people walking and on bikes. Data split by severity of casualty from the most recent year available (2008) shows the extent to which this is the case:

London HGV KSIs 2008: Note how the fatalities fall on the left of the graph

Source: London Freight Data Report 2010 (p31).

Whatcha gonna do?

No one really likes lorries. They kill and maim dozens of people in London each year. They contribute significantly to both particulate and carbon emissions. They’re noisy and not exactly pretty: lorries don’t make our streets pleasant places to be.

But they’re just a fact of life, aren’t they? Construction, deliveries, waste management – these are all integral to the running of a city.

Much like the occasional case of gonorrhoea for the gallivanting Lothario, HGVs are just the price of doing business.

What do the numbers say?

Like our promiscuous Prince Charming, if we’re going to engage in risky activity, there are steps that can be taken to reduce the probability that someone ends up in pain.

Currently, around a third of all HGV journeys in London are made by empty vehicles (p61).

The London figure is higher than the UK average, 28% (DfT, Section 1, Table 1.12). And the UK average figure is not low at the moment – in fact, the number of empty running HGVs has gone up since 2001 (p43).

Can it get lower?

The answer is a definitive yes. In Germany, the Maut Road User charging system has resulted in empty running lorries being reduced to about 19%, while our numbers have steadily risen:

Click image for source – page 20 (pdf)

The Swiss road charging system has produced similar trends.

Are longer lorries the answer?

Roads Minister Mike Penning is currently arguing that longer lorries are the answer to our HGV woes, as they would require fewer journeys to be made. But actually, the highest empty running figures are with the heaviest vehicles: in London, 39% of goods vehicles weighing over 25 tonnes are empty (p61).

So what is the answer?

Driving empty lorries through London costs the city’s residents and visitors dearly. It needs to cost haulage companies.

Current incentives are insufficient for hauliers to efficiently use their fleets – there are massive logistics companies out desperate to get their hands (and RFID tags) on London’s lorries. But companies aren’t using them, because logistics costs money.

There are all sorts of solutions to this – increasing vehicle taxation for weight, carbon usage, emissions, or vehicles running below a certain capacity.

I won’t pretend to be able to weigh up the merits of each of these options. The point is, they make driving HGVs expensive enough that people think carefully about their journeys – apparently this is needed, because dead people doesn’t seem to be enough.

Until running empty vehicles becomes a lot more expensive, HGVs are going to continue to unnecessarily blight our cities, and to kill their inhabitants.

Reason #457 to love on-road cycle facilities

May 8, 2011

Hammersmith Road, Friday 6th May around 12.30pm. The HGV is (double) parked:

Maybe the entire lane was in the driver’s blind spot?

TfL’s pathetic denial of HGV blame

April 20, 2011

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.

Sharing the roads with behemoths

March 22, 2011

This morning, at 7.10am on the way to work, I saw what was easily the most terrifying and dangerous piece of driving I have seen all year.

I was cycling up Amersham Road, about to turn left on to Lewisham way.

As I was turning, an HGV did two things:

1. Decided to overtake me and turn left simultaneously, forcing me on to his inside as he was making a left turn. (I have no idea if he’d seen me – fortunately I was just able to accelerate away.)

2. Stopped at traffic lights less than a minute later, the HGV was directly behind me and the driver edged it forward until the front of the cab hit the back of my bike. When I turned around and shouted to him, he gestured to indicate that I should get to the side of the road.

When visiting the website of the owner of the vehicle, Norbert Dentressangle, to make a complaint, I was struck by the folowing:

These vehicles may well an efficient form of international transport. But why on earth are they polluting our cities with their oppressive presence? TfL try to tell me that the problem is my fault:

But it isn’t. Where the driver chose to overtake me, there must have been a point where I was ahead of him and he either didn’t see me or opted to undertake the manoeuvre anyway. Where he rolled into me, he could clearly see me, as his response demonstrates.

The problem is cultural. Norbert Dentressangle drivers are basically unaccountable. They’re almost certainly both employed and residing outside of the UK.  The British police are not going to pursue them for intimidating or inconsiderate driving towards cyclists and they know it. They no doubt have tight deadlines and are desperate to avoid London’s rush hour as much as possible – so why on earth should they care about me?

People have commented that my use of pictures borders on the extraneous. Here’s another one for you in the form of a Venn Diagram:

I have reported this incident to the police and complained to Norbert Dentressangle. I’m not holding my breath.

Pedestrian killed by lorry – fear not, TfL have a Memorandum of Understanding

March 16, 2011

As we know from Boris Johnson’s February 2011 Q&A, there is “simply not enough space to provide segregated cycle facilities” in London. Fortunately, however, there plenty of space in inner London for lorries to speed around our streets, killing whoever is in their path. The most recent fatality was a female pedestrian in Hackney.

Ghost Bike

Ghost bike: Brixton Brady was killed by a lorry in 2006 less than half a mile from where this death took place

Everyone knows that lorries in London are a problem. Indeed, in the Q&A session linked to above, Jenette Arnold, Assembly Member for Hackney, Islington & Waltham Forest, asked the Mayor several questions regarding what he was doing about HGV road safety.

Strangely, after being a question in the context of the death of a vulnerable road user, Mr Johnson did not seem to think that TfL’s July 2010 Memorandum of Understanding (pdf) with the Freight Transport Association (FTA) was worth a mention. I find the memo rather surprising with its talk of “equitable approaches” and other eqiuvocal, unquantifiable intentions.

If I was drafting it, I think I could boil it down to three points:

1.  HGVs are allowed to drive around densely populated areas with significant blind spots.

2. HGVs are the heaviest vehicles on the road and when they collide with people, those people are likely to die.

3. You would therefore expect HGVs to kill or seriously injure the highest number of people/km, and they do (pdf, p15).

Still, I’m sure that, “to share details of forthcoming events and announcements with a view to adding value by broader engagement,” is just as important a point for us all to understand.

From the point of view of the FTA, of course, “broader engagement” means that those of us who use the same roads as HGVs can understand how to enjoy “shared space” with >7.5 tonne vehicles. The same people whose website would no doubt have us believe this death was the elderly walker’s fault – she was obviously a “novice” pedestrian.

OK – so clearly I don’t think a weak-willed Memorandum of Understanding is an effective method of reducing the number of people killed by HGVs. The question is whether TfL do. I have put in an FOI request to TfL to find out.

Subject to the FOI Act (2000), TfL have 20 working days to respond.