Monday, July 15, 2013

Death on Holborn

Cyclist death on Holborn

This morning a cyclist died on Holborn, just outside the tube station afer being crushed by a lorry. When I came into work late, the police still had the area on lockdown, as can be seen in the photo above.

As I rode past Cycle Surgery onto Holborn a police woman told me to look after myself.

Thanks, I will, I thought. But what are you doing to help?

I've only just started working in this area, so I'm learning the roads and my route to the new office. Last Wednesday was my first ride in. I came along Theobalds Road, and where the traffic turns left down to Holborn, I carried straight on in the bus lane, heading towards Bloomsbury Way. I waited at the lights at the crossing of Kingsway, where a fine fellow spoke to me to warn me that the police were waiting across the junction fining cyclists riding in the bus lane. This bus lane runs contra to the main flow of traffic, but is only about 200m long, and the fastest, safest way to get towards Oxford Street. I thanked the man, got off and walked across the junction.

Sure enough, the cops were waiting on Bloomsbury Way fining cyclists.


Another pedestrian pushing a bike (like me) stopped to ask why they were doing it. "It's busses only" they said. But why? we asked. "Because it's too narrow for a bus to pass cyclists safely, you have to go round."

Going round involves dropping onto Holborn and negotiating four lanes of traffic. I've done it every day since and it makes even me, an experienced cyclist nervous. Motorbikes buzz you, taxis rush red lights to get through and huge trucks obliterate the view. It's hellish.

So it was sad but unsurprising to find a cyclist was killed there this morning. Stupid road planning is to blame, as are the police for enforcing a rule that prevents cyclists using the safer bus lane along Bloomsbury Way. 

The idea that that bus lane is too narrow is hokum: A - show me any bus lane in the land that allows busses to pass cyclists with the amount of space recommended in the highway code; B - it's only 200m long, even a slow moving commuter on a Boris bike won't hold the bus up too long in such a short space.

The fact the police were targeting cyclists on this stretch only five days ago smacks of money grabbing opportunism, the real world safety of the issue be damned. If I wasn't so resigned to the fact that we are second class citizens, useful only as a cash cow to prop up dwindling tax revenues, I'd probably be furious right now. As it is, it's just another depressing day for London cyclists

41 comments:

goldenlad said...

You should copy this post to Boris, TFL and also the news ITV London Tonight. It's ludicrous that a bike can't use the bus lane when it's clearly the safer route.

Lizzie said...

I work and cycle into Holborn and was very saddened to learn of the cyclist's death this morning. It is a horrible junction to cycle across. I usually avoid it by wiggling past russell square (coming from the north) but I never realised the bus lane just parallel to high holborn which I thought was a very sensible alternative was buses only.

itinerantlondoner said...

I work in one of the buildings opposite and the police are there really regularly either warning, stopping, or fining people. It's worth noting there are 2 sets of lights in that 200m anyway so it's not like the buses ever get fast enough to need to pass cyclists, so they don't get held up. Meanwhile seeing near misses on the alternative route is a daily occurence.

Lee Cox said...

We don't all rush red lights, and we're ALL cash cows. Congestion charge is the worst of them all. Has never been fit for purpose from day one. A very sad day.

canalcook said...

I used to live nearby and used the apparently illegal route, had no idea it was even illegal. Hated going around Holborn,the traffic was way too fast and hard to manouevre.

catastro said...

well said

lastnightidrank said...

This is a great post. A sad one, but a great one.

Completely baffled that I've got through 8 years of cycling in London without knowing that there were some bus lanes that I couldn't use as a cyclist. This seems absurd on all sorts of levels, including the ones you point out.

hdog said...

I agree.. I have been shouted abuse by a bus driver for 'cycling too slowly' when using the legitimate route on the map. I feel much safer using the bus lane and avoiding the multi lane junction by Holborn Tube

cambridgearomatherapy.com said...

Totally agree. The police action is thoughtless at best and cynically taking money from cyclists at worst. I know this area, though the layout may have changed a bit since I last lived in London and traversed it regularly. If they get the numbers they did for the last protest ride all 2,000+ cyclists should use that bus lane!

Rob said...

Just like every other person using the roads, they want you to pay £ to use roads. Whether in petrol duty or insurance premium tax or public transport ticket fares. Cycling is the only "free" method of transport, there's no incentive for them to maintain infrastructure when there's no ROI

Unknown said...

It's true there are so many more options to explore and cyclists shouldn't have to die because the safer bus lane is too narrow. While I support your statements fully I have to say it's very unfair to put the police under blame.

My partner is in the police and they work like anyone else, handed jobs by management that are monitored and enforced by their line managers and colleagues. If they don't do the job they're given, they get reprimanded. Many forget the streets are 'desk jobs' for the police. They don't have the power to make the laws and they don't have the power to choose which ones to enforce without jeopardising their jobs (which supports their families) - that's under the control of higher powers.

I hate Holborn for cycling and agree it's a death trap, just like many other places. We need to put pressure on the Mayor's office and TFL like goldenlad said. They're the ones who make the laws, who design the roads and who enforce the rules.

The officer who told you to look out for yourself would no doubt want to do more but like all of us, isn't able to make a change alone. Great post though and, as always, very sad another cyclist had to die.

Hydey said...


I too had no idea it was buses only - what a ridiculous situation.

I love cycling to work in London but it gives my mum heart scares every time she hears of another fatality...

Get it off your Chest(er) said...

Well said. Until this city starts showing some proper commitment to safe cycling, these tragedies will keep happening. It is unforgivable that they won't make some difficult decisions to prevent deaths on our roads, especially given that vast number of vulnerable cyclists in 2013. HGV management, re-education, adverts on TV and radio will all help us become a city where cycling is embraced, rather than tolerated.

stephen said...

Looking at your map it seems as though I have also been breaking the rules every day I've cycled to work for the past few months! A building site completely blocks the north south cycle route, forcing cyclists onto Vernon Place/Theobolds Rd across all the traffic and then a right turn. I take an alternative route to avoid this and take the pedestrian crossing across Vernon Place onto the bus lane.
https://twitter.com/scedwar/status/356767873726820353/photo/1

So a building site blocks the bike lane, and then the police then fine cyclists taking safe alternative routes?

I'm lucky. My house and office are both on the west side of Holborn. My thoughts today are with the family of the cyclist.

Adam Hayes said...

I used to cycle this route often, and sometimes decided to take the bus route over towards Oxford Street rather than go around Holborn. I was aware of the 'no cycles' signs on the bus lane, but decided to ignore them in favour of staying relatively safer on the road.
The junction at Holborn is no place for cyclists, even experienced ones like myself. If you are travelling from that junction on towards Oxford Street then you have to re-position yourself over to the right hand side to make the next turning making it even more dangerous.

Jono said...

Great post Andy. Echoing the views I shared with a Policeman last week on Bloomsbury Way. This isn't about individual officers 'following orders' But it is about us asking the Met, what operational benefit is there in forcing vulnerable road users to take a more dangerous route? Worth noting that there is also a large electronic billboard on Proctor Street.
I think the Met will be facing those questions this week

whereistherent said...

This is an absolute shocker. Well done for bringing it to peoples attention.

alovelydrop.blogspot.com

Tussyisme said...

EXCELLENT post. Have tweeted to @MayorOfLondon, RTd already.

Meg Howarth @howarthm

safarijoe said...

I agree with the general theme of the post, it's a tragedy and that route via Holborn is unpleasant and dangerous, but think your ire is a bit misplaced

Re the police - 1) they are implementing the law, not making the decision, 2) I've been cycling that way for years (used to take the bus lane, more recently the 'correct' route) and have been stopped in the bus lane but was told to go around rather than fined, and have seen police at the front end of the bus lane on multiple occasions asking people to use the legal route, so I don't think it's money grabbing opportunism

Re the decision maker - I'm not convinced it is a safer route - every day i see cyclists trying to squeeze down gaps between bus and kerb that are just not there and then, after Southampton Row is crossed, trying to overtake the busses against oncoming traffic that is a white-line-width away -the lack of space makes me think both routes require equal care.

Overall though I agree with the sentiment, any many of the comments, that more needs to be done for cyclists in London to avoid such incidents

William Perrin said...

I live 100 metres away from this accident. TfL designed the junction, in particular the relatively new advance stop box. At the time the box was painted on a responsible organisation would have done a risk assessment to gauge the impact that it had on traffic flows and relative safety. We need to see that risk assessment and hold TfL to account for such poor junction design.

William Glanville said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
awhilton said...

You should check out the Camden Council cycling video, which shows cyclists cycling on to the restricted bus lane whilst on training. It sums up the stupidity of the restriction, and shows that even the local authority, where this route is, doesn't care to adhere to the rule!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5lggDSQeerE&feature=youtu.be

Andy Waterman said...

@AWhilton - that video is private

goldenlad said...

One other aspect of this junction is that out of the 4 lanes, only the 4th (right hand) lane is marked for turning right into Southampton Row. However this turn is too tight for anything truck or bus sized, so they tend to turn right from the 3rd lane and then cut up anyone in the 4. The whole junction needs revising.

Dominic Sayers said...

The new narrow lanes in Oxford Street and Cheapside have the bicycle painted in the middle of the lane. The planning theory behind these lanes seems to be that cyclists *should* use lane like any other vehicle. The lanes are not wide enough for any vehicle wider than a taxi to overtake safely.

It seems odd that police are fining cyclists for doing exactly what the planners envisage them doing on other roads.

William Glanville said...

Another dangerous aspect of this route is where the text "legitimate route" is on Andy's map. You are naturally on the left hand side of the road so if you need to choose the right fork towards Oxford St you have to cut across traffic that is rapidly accelerating after getting through the lights.

Its terribly sad but since the sun has come out I'm seeing an accident per day and I'm only on my bike for an hour. Thankfully I haven't seen anything serious myself but the potential is clearly there.

Most regular cyclists could highlight 3 or 4 of these spots from their routes to work that could be made safer (Kennington Park Road springs to mind).

gmhallett said...

OK. At the risk of being unpopular...

Firstly: Yes, the bus-only lane on Theobald's Road is not sensible. But it is clearly signposted on the junction with Procter St. If you ride in it, you are breaking the law - just as motorists and bikers who stop in advanced stop lanes or block designated cyclepaths are. It may be safer for you, but the wider effect is that the general perception of cyclists as lawless road users is reinforced - and that in turns fuels a resentment among drivers that makes them less likely to give cyclists enough space on the road.

So - by all means, try to get that particular bit of road changed to permit cycles (anyone written to the local MP?); but simply ignoring inconvenient rules doesn't solve the problem and may create additional ones.

Secondly: I go through the High Holborn/Southampton Road junction every day on my way to work. It's not a fun place, especially during peak hours - but it's not the most dangerous junction in London - if you stick rigidly to the lights, use the ASLs, keep your wits around you and don't do anything risky. The worst I've had on that junction is some pillock in a BMW doing an intimidation pass on me because he objected to my wanting to turn right into Southampton Place. I may well be lucky there, but I do my best not to rely on that luck. The High Holborn junction requires what the late Richard Ballantine called 'defensive cycling' (e.g. http://cyclinginfo.co.uk/blog/245/commuting/7-tips-for-defensive-cycling/).

I'm not even going to try and say what happened this morning on that junction, as I have no idea of the facts of the matter. It's entirely possible that the cyclist played entirely by the rules and was unlucky; it happens all too often. But when a cyclist and a motor vehicle meet, the cyclist almost always comes off worse - so, as a cyclist, the onus is on you to be aware of your surroundings and not to take any unnecessary chances.

It works for me: in 33 years of cycling, I've had precisely one accident, and that was entirely the driver's fault.

Neil said...

I don't want to be unpopular either but...

As cyclists, we're generally keen on measures that reduce the speed of motor vehicles and yet we don't like restrictions that may have an impact on us when we're on our bikes. When in London, I see far more cyclists than motorists breaking the law, and I suspect that is the perception that most motorists have of us too, and possibly why there is so much animosity shown towards us as cyclists.

Although these bus lane "crackdowns" are a bit over the top, the wider benefit is that motorists see that "justice is being done", and I suspect these measures help reduce tensions.

No matter how daft we believe this bus lane restriction to be, the sensible solution is to start your journey 60 seconds earlier and just walk the 200m.

Carrots & Curls said...

I think the bus lane at the end of Shaftesbury Avenue, going over Piccadilly Circus is also buses only - I use it to cross over and head down Piccadilly. If i didn't use it I would have to negotiate 4 lane traffic going down Haymarket, turning and then four lanes going up Lower Regent Street. Last night i cycled fairly slowly to the front, stopped at a red and the bus behind started to push forward, stopping only a few inches from my back wheel, when i turned around - he looked at me as if to say - THIS IS MY LANE, NOT YOURS. It's bullshit! Rules made by non-cyclists, non-pedestrians and non-humans!

Carrots & Curls said...

Well said gmhallet:

"But when a cyclist and a motor vehicle meet, the cyclist almost always comes off worse - so, as a cyclist, the onus is on you to be aware of your surroundings and not to take any unnecessary chances."

Gannet said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gannet said...

Well-said gmhallett and Neil. If we, as cyclists, are to get sympathy or respect off motorists, we have to abide by the rules of the road just as they do, whether we agree with them or not.

On that front, as a regular passer-by of the Bloomsbury Way bus lane both on my bike (going with the main traffic, not in the bus lane, I hasten to add) and on foot, I agree with the "no cycles" rule.

The bus lane is indeed too narrow for buses to overtake cycles, but even the most impatient bus drivers are unlikely to attempt that. However, more signficantly, it is also too narrow for cyclists to overtake buses, which they certainly do attempt, thus posing a danger to themselves and oncoming traffic - cyclists nosing out from behind a bus risk being clipped by oncoming vehicles or causing them to take evasive action. The rule is likely there for several reasons, but one is to stop cyclists from putting themselves in danger.

I completely agree that there has to be a better way than the High Holborn/Kingsway junction, but the Bloomsbury Way bus lane is not it.

Bianchista said...

Just catching up with this awful news... really sad Andy.
"Until this city starts showing some proper commitment to safe cycling, these tragedies will keep happening." - agree with get it off your chest(er) post.... tragic.

Charlie said...

I rode past the guy as they tried to bring him back to life. Dark day.

Bad Girl on Tour said...

Great post. If you get fined for putting safety first, and genuinely think it is unfair - I would suggest the following:
Tell them your name, but with a first name starting with the same letter as yours. Tell them your address, but with a different street number to yours.
So if you are Sally Jones of 34 Bike street, N145th
Be Sarah Jones of 32 Bike Street, N145th

If they ID you, show them your bank card with just your initial. The bill will go to an non-existent person at a different address to you.

Unknown said...

I sometimes cycle home that route where the cyclist died, in I did last night. As I got to the junction and waited at the lights I looked around. To my disbelief, on my right, sat fully in the Advance Stop Box was another lorry. I couldn't believe it. Was so tempted to get off and give the driver an earful but instinct got the better off me.

CycleGaz said...

The problem is this being a contraflow bus lane, for buses to pass safely they have to overtake into on coming traffic and for cyclists to pass the buses they must go into oncoming traffic.

As both roads are at least 3 lanes wide, they could be turned into two way roads the issue could be fixed immediately. Remove a lane, add some traffic calming measures to keep the speed down and it would be much safer than it is now.

My name is Nic said...

simple answer is to dismount and walk down the buslane, as a pedestrian you have a right of way on all but motorways and specific bits like tunnels.

See what the police do then...

Max Wall said...

I find this 'bus only' bus lane a pain too. It is so rare to be overtaken by a bus in London I'm not really sure why this is a problem with the bus lane width.

The Holborn junction alternative route is really busy and dangerous so I've resorted to heading north by turning off earlier at Lamb Conduit Street and then Guildford St to go through Russell Square area. A much more relaxed route.

Keith Peat said...

The real reason for this accident is that the concept of totally unprotected humans being able to mix. mingle & often compete with, large, heavy essential pieces of moving machines operated by people of varying ability is by definition totally crazy. This cyclist died because of a blind faith that the right to be in the road was a guarantee of survival. Another tragic case that not only disproves that but also begs the question if it is now necessary for our society to rethink what road use priority should be for the good of all.

Ronboxy Ahuja said...
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