London on two wheels

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A report by Transport for London early this year suggested that heavy goods vehicles, in particular those in construction, are disproportionally responsible for cyclist accidents in the capital. With ambitious plans for cycling in the coming years, the safey of London roads is, without doubt, everybody’s problem.

John cycles before 8am every day from Putney to the City where he works as an IT consultant in investment banking. He has never had an accident “because I get there early and come back when nobody else is on the road”. He is an experienced cyclist and is not scared of cars, however big they might be, but his girlfriend panics every time she gets a call from an unknown number, expecting the worst. For Matthew, who cycles three times a week from Hackney to Kings’ Cross, taxis, buses and white vans are a nighmare, but he does not fear lorries “maybe because I travel through back
roads without trucks”, he says.

These are only two stories but with around half a million cycling journeys a day on London’s roads - an increase of around 150% since 2000-, cycling is becoming a popular alternative way to travel across the city. In January 2013 London Mayor Boris Johnson appointed the city’s first cycling commissioner and in March he launched The Mayor’s Vision for Cycling in London (MVCL), a project which included plans for a “crossrail for bikes” – a fully segregated route for bicycles across the city to be completed by 2016.

But even with 8,000 Boris bikes moving around and the promising cycling budget of £400m over the next three years, I only dare to ride within the perimeter of a park. The news of accidents in London roads is more persuasive than my desire to exercise on two wheels.

Annual government statistics published on 27 June revealed that the number of people killed and seriously injured on roads in Great Britain fell by 1% in 2012, following 2011’s rise of 2%. A total of 1,754 people were killed, 8% less than in 2011, and other 23,039 people suffered serious injuries in a road crash, a decrease of 0.4% from 2011.

The marginal reduction in the number deaths and injuries caused by traffic contrasts with the increase of cycling fatalities. In 2012, 118 cyclists were killed and other 3,222 were seriously injured, an increase of 10% and 4% respectively on the previous year.

Forward-thinking cities are investing millions in their bicycle schemes. Figures collected by GIZ, a German consultancy, in 2013 found that Amsterdam is investing 25 euros per person on cycling; Copenhagen, 23; Munich, 3.8; and Berlin, 2.4. Currently London is investing 11.5 (nearly £10) per head.

The Mayor’s Vision for Cycling in London projects that the capital will double its cycling budget. “In 2015, we will be expending £145m a year on cycling, or roughly £18 per head, up to the best in Germany and almost on a par with The Netherlands,” Boris Johnson has confirmed.

But last July, a 20-year-old woman became the first cyclist to be killed while riding one of the Barclays Cycle Hire bikes since the scheme started in 2010, after a crash with a lorry. She was not included in the statistics released the month before by Transport for London: the number of cyclists killed in 2012 had fallen by 13% from 2012 levels (from 16 to 14 deaths), but during the same period, the number of cyclists seriously injured in London rose 17%
to a total of 1,054 people.

It is a poor consolation to know that our roads are 25% safer than they were 10 years ago, as it is to accept a rise in the number of accidents is an inevitable consequence of the increase of
bikes circulation.

London, we’ve got a problem

Road conditions, cyclist-driver behaviour and skills, cars’ ergonomics and the environment are just some of the factors affecting road safety. However, while lorries represent only around 5% of the traffic in London, they are accountable for around 50% of all cyclist accidents. Very often, cyclists are crushed by left-turning trucks.

Early this year, the Transport Research Laboratory, a centre for transport research, published Construction logistics and cyclist safety, a report commissioned by Transport for London, which revealed that although it is difficult to identify the industry sectors most dangerous for cyclists, “construction traffic appears likely to be over-represented in collisions with cyclists.” The report concluded that in the capital the risks are greater than they are nationally.

One of the twelve recommendations listed in the report is the extension of RIDDOR to include on-road collisions. The same recommendation was at the centre of the campaign See Me Save Me, launched in 2009, which aimed to widen RIDDOR to include road traffic incidents off construction sites. It also asked that, as part of the contractual document under CDM, the companies must install the best available technology on their trucks.

One of the first question marks that comes along when discussing road incidents is accountability. An accident on the road is perceived indistinctly as either the vehicle owner’s responsibility or the company that hired its service.

I talked to some construction companies to gather the industry’s views on the TfL report and its recommendations.

Mark Atkinson, health and safety manager at Clugston, one of the biggest construction and logistic groups operating in the UK, considers that the standards and rules applying to what happens on the road should be responsibility of the haulier, not the construction company using its services. “This problem is UK-wide, one for the UK Haulage Federation maybe, because one day a vehicle may be used on a farm and the next day is used to transport material to and from site. Therefore, we need to tackle the vehicle, not where it is delivering.”

However, he thinks that with the streamlined RIDDOR reporting requirements in force from 1 October, and the reduction in ACOPs, it is unlikely that HSE will open another consultation within the next five years.

“Maybe the answer should be that the National Access and Scaffolding Confederation or the Transport Industry Federation write its own guidance and standards for the construction industry and the regulator use the standards for enforcement.”

Andy Sneddon, health and safety director at VINCI Construction UK, points out that the safety issues highlighted by the report “illustrate the way in which legislation and HSE struggle to address risk management issues that cross enforcement authority borders, despite the fact that legislation ought to bring these issues in scope for CDM and the Management Regulations.

“The issue of cycle safety, or any vulnerable road user, drops logically out of a risk management approach. It makes little sense to throw time and money at manual handling issues that are high frequency but low in consequence, and disregard that cyclists are being killed by construction vehicles on a monthly basis in London.”

He considers that HSE’s strategy to achieve a proportionate approach to health and safety in the coming years is largely based on risk management. “If we are to ‘risk profile’ our business operations – as is encouraged in the new HSG65 – then I can’t see how to ignore these types of challenges.”

Andy acknowledges that in the past, when other cross-cutting issues have appeared, there has been a tendency to fragment the strategy to protect individual interests, rather than accepting the need for a more consistent approach. “Cycle safety is at a similar crossroad; the large procurers in construction will be tempted to look around for a variation on the scheme that suits them rather than fall behind something like Freight Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS), a voluntary certification scheme aimed at ensuring that fleet operators work lawfully and to best practice by meeting its standard.”

In July 2013 VINCI construction signed up to FORS and, from 1 October, all VINCI suppliers in London must be registered with FORS and must secure bronze accreditation by 1 January 2014. The rest of their UK operations will do the same from January 2016.

The Construction logistics and cyclist safety report also recommends that HSE should include off site safety in the construction phase plan, as a mandatory requirement under CDM. Mark agrees that CDM should identify key transport and logistics plans but notices that in many years he had only seen one client developing such a plan. “However, only two weeks ago I sat in a meeting with Onshore Compression and Terminal Integration project (OCTIP), who had spent thousands of pounds on traffic routing its vehicles into site and around its new facility. They have prepared a plan highlighting the hazards and sensitive locations on the route and a number of safe driving principles to be followed.”

Being considerate

Founded in 1997, the Considerate Constructors Scheme (CCS) is a national initiative set up by the construction industry to improve its image. Construction sites and companies registered with the scheme adopt a code of considerate practice, aimed to encourage good programmes and ideas beyond statutory requirements. Cycle safety, one of the areas of concern for CCS, it is currently geatures in the ‘Spotlight on’ section of its website.

Edward Hardy, chief executive of CCS, told me that while developing ‘Spotlight on’ they built on the work already done by TfL in promoting cycle safety for construction projects in London. “We were allowed to use this information and share it with the entire industry, not just with London-based projects, so everyone can benefit from the knowledge. Since ‘Spotlight on ’ was launched we have heard from numerous construction sites wanting  to share with the rest of the industry how they have implemented safer cycling initiatives.”

However, Edward highlighted that “the onus of cycle safety does not rest solely on the actions of construction sites and activities but also in cyclists and other road users.” He concluded that while there is still some way to go, the industry is acting. “As the construction industry engages with the cycling community, they will be able to understand each other’s challenges and work together for a safer environment.”

Pedalling into the future

The Times’s City Fit for Cycling campaign, launched by the newspaper in 2012 with the aim of making cities fit for cyclists and bringing “significant change in Britain’s transport infrastructure”, calls for lorries to be fitted with extra safety devices, such as sensors, audible turning alarms, extra mirrors and safety bars to stop cyclists being thrown under the wheels. The newspaper’s campaign has commended big construction projects such as Crossrail for setting strict criteria for all lorries working on their sites.

The shape of trucks has also been at the centre of the debate about cycling and safety. It is generally admitted that the current shoe-box shape trucks leave blind spots for the driver while the flat front can push pedestrians and cyclists underneath the wheels.

In April this year the European Commission proposed new rules to demand that manufacturers develop more aerodynamic lorries that enhance the safety of vulnerable road users, reduce fuel consumption by 7-10% and cut emissions of greenhouse gases. The proposal must still be passed by the European Parliament and the legislatures of member states before becoming law. If it goes ahead, the new curvy design will improve the field of vision of the driver, helping to save the lives of nearly 500 vulnerable road users such as pedestrians or cyclists every year across Europe. The new trucks might be seen on the roads in  2018-20. By then, London is expected to have a population of nine million.

Like all stereotypes, there is an element of truth to the notion that construction drivers show disregard for other road users and careless and unskilled cyclists ignore some essential traffic rules.

London is not, and will never be, Copenhagen – a capital of half-a-million-people where a third of all commuter journeys are made by bicycle. Neither will it be Amsterdam, a city of nearly a million inhabitants where 70% of commuter journeys are made by bike. But a world-leading, trend-setting and innovative city like London deserves to have a bigger and safer cycling life. If that ever happens, when the weather permits it, I will compel myself to start pedalling.

Construction Logistics and Cyclist Safety report recommendations

  • HSE should extend RIDDOR to include on-road collisions
  • Adherence to a nationally recognised standard on work-related road safety should be promoted
  • HSE should include off-site safety in the construction phase plan (mandatory under CDM regulations)
  • Existing channels should be utilised more effectively to raise awareness of road risk within the construction industry
  • Construction logistics plans (CLP) guidance should be updated, promoted and monitored by TfL and should be embedded into the planning application process for London-based construction projects
  • Vehicle manufacturers should work to improve vehicle and mirror design
  • A wider review of the blind spots in different construction vehicle types should be conducted
  • Principal contractors and clients should use more realistic delivery time slots
  • CLP must include the definition of safer routes to construction sites
  • Further research should be conducted to understand the effects of pay per load contracts
  • Construction vehicles should be included in Stats19 (data of road accident that resulted in personal injury)
  • Recommendation 1 and 11 need to be addressed by industry stakeholders, working with relevant bodies when necessary.

TFL’s report is available at: tinyurl.com/o8kh67m


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