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"Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?"

Friday, 28 October 2016

The death of another cyclist, this time on Lavender Hill, hits home like nothing before

A young woman cyclist has been killed near this terrible junction where Lavender Hill meets Elspeth Road: three lanes into one as drivers ignore the left and right filters and use it like a drag-race grid to be first at the next set of lights. Re-design
this junction, tame the traffic, ban the six-axle lorries, police it!
Ever 15 minutes or so on Monday, BBC Radio London's traffic news warned drivers to steer clear of the Battersea-Clapham area because of a serious accident, and that part of Lavender Hill had been closed by police for investigations.

Later that day the accident moved from traffic to mainstream news: it became clear that a cyclist had been involved in an incident with a large truck, and that the cyclist had died at the scene.

A bit later the news websites changed the word "cyclist" to "woman".

A woman had died - been killed - in an accident on Lavender Hill involving a truck leased by a company known as British Gypsum, a big supplier of plasterboard and related building products.

Early reports included quotes from a witness who'd seen the truck with a bike stuck under the front wheels, driving along, with the driver apparently not realising anything had happened, until waved down by pedestrians. According to the Evening Standard the lorry eventually pulled up about 150 yards on from the point of impact, which was close to Battersea Police Station.

So why am I writing about this horrific incident? Because I have become so aware of the danger of huge trucks being driven so fast along these roads in recent years, I have just been dreading something like this happening.

-  Because I live less than a half a mile from where this accident happened.

-  Because I am a cyclist and have cycled up and down Lavender Hill most days over the past 35 years.

-  Because I must have past the point where the 32-year old Lucia Ciccioli was killed on Monday, literally thousands of times. I passed there twice today, which is when I took these photos. 

And because on one occasion, I avoided being hit by a lorry by such a small margin that I know I will never forget that sensation of a brush with death.

It was 8 years ago, at a point just after the crossroads with Elspeth Road. In fact, within a few metres from where this poor young woman died. I was cycling west towards Clapham Junction. I pulled away from the junction, where three lanes of traffic suddenly become one. Traffic at this point is competing for position in the queues that always build up on Lavender Hill.

As I crossed the junction a big refuse truck from the company that does the bins for Wandsworth Council stormed up behind me. It wasn't merely close to me, the flange of its white painted front wheel arch touched my right arm. If I had continued on my course I would have been hit by the front wheel of that lorry.

Instead I made myself fall to the left, into a set of railings that have now, I think been removed. At the same time I rammed on the brakes, and sort of collapsed into the railings, without  any serious injury, but bruised and shaking like hell. The truck surged off into the distance, at what seemed like a speed well above the 30mph limit, and the driver clearly hadn't noticed me. I was so freaked out that I started to shout out obscenities at the top of my voice, but no cars or trucks stopped. A couple of pedestrians asked if I was OK and I realised that I was OK.

I was so lucky. A few years later I was knocled off my bike by a car in the same road, near the Queenstown Road junction, broke some bones but I survivied. I am so lucky.

No-one can really help the family and friends of this young woman, killed on her way to work at a new job on a cold south London morning. It is heart-breaking, as is every death on our hopelessly congested roads. But this one, it just got to me, and to many others, it seems.

The only thing we can try to do is to try to convert this tragedy into an energy to change things, to make such tragedies less frequent in future.

And yet, even now, after 10 years or more of efforts to make these gigantic trucks safer for other road users in heavily populated, mixed-traffic areas, these hideous incidents keep on occurring. What can we do, what can those with power do? Well, here are some ideas:
  • Look at the size of these trucks, measure their speeds.
  •  Check out the drivers' delivery schedules and  how they are paid. They have to get through dreadful traffic on congested streets in unreasonably short spaces of time. 
  • Crack down on the firms - and they are often suppliers to the construction industries - who impose these schedules and penalties.
  • Re-route heavy trucks - a vehicle this size shouldn't be on this road. And certainly not at 7.54am rush-hour time. It's absurd. What's the point of the Mayor and those powers if he never uses them?

Today (Thursday), Evening Standard journalist Rosamund Irwin writes about this tragic incident, as a fellow cyclist who also uses this street on her way to work. She's compassionate and, when it comes to trying to stop this carnage, she makes some very sensible suggestions. The Mayor Sadiq Khan's proposals to ban the most dangerous lorries from London streets is fine - but it will takes several years to implement. She wonders if this could be speeded up, perhaps by incentivising haulage companies, perhaps offering a discount on the congestion charge if they modify their trucks.

I understand her point - but it is coming form the wrong direction.  These companies are making huge profits from supplying the vast numbers of building and regeneration and transport projects in central London. We need a much tougher stance to protect the interests of all road users from these thundering, murderous vehicles. I say this as a car driver (and road-tax payer) as well as a pedestrian, cyclist and local resident, sick of the stink and the damage caused by this relentless procession of huge lorries.

What is  such a huge truck allowed on Lavender Hill anyway? Surely the parallel route along the north side of Clapham Common would allow more space and less congestion? But no, strangely, this road - the one you might think would be the logical trunk route towards the A3 at Wandsworth - is the one with traffic calming measures. Is that to do with all those grand houses and posh private schools
that line the edges of the common? There you have the space to widen a road; maybe build a bridge for pedestrians. Get these speeding monstrosities off Lavender Hill!

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