Monday, 6 July 2009

Fatal junction

On Saturday I took a look at the location where Catriona Cockburn (married name Patel) was fatally hit by a left-turning lorry driver outside the Oval tube station exactly a week ago today, during the morning rush hour, 8.25 a.m.

On the face of it, this appears to have been a classic instance of a cyclist proceeding across a road junction, in a left-turning lorry driver’s blind spot. The graphic photographs show the bike frame lodged between the first and second wheels on the side furthest from the driver.

We do not know the relative positions of the lorry and the cyclist in the moments leading up to the collision, which is the key to understanding what happened. Catriona was evidently a very experienced cyclist, who was on her normal commuter route, and who routinely cycled across this junction. She was heading north-east along Clapham Road (A3). At the junction with the A202, heading across the junction in a straight line to Kennington Park Road, she was hit by a lorry turning left on to Harleyford Street. The driver was subsequently arrested on suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving. We do not know what evidence the police have which led to that arrest. The driver has been bailed to appear before police later in the year, which is when any charge or charges would be laid. That will depend on what evidence there is, and whether it meets the criteria of the Crown Prosecution Service, which is the body that decides whether or not a charge or charges should be laid.

On visiting the site I noticed one disturbing aspect. I have no idea whether or not it had any bearing on what happened.

(Below) The lorry driver turned left here. A plausible scenario (which is speculative and may of course be entirely wrong) is that both were waiting at the red light, side by side, and both moved forwards at the same time.

Of the 87 [cyclist] deaths [in London] between 1999 and May 2004, 49 involved a collision with a lorry. These were most likely to happen during the morning rush hour and at junctions and crossings. More than half involved vehicles turning left when either the cyclist or lorry - or both - was stationary at traffic lights.

Disturbingly, as can be seen in the photo below, the Advanced Stop Line is incomplete, with more than half of the first continuous white line missing. Catriona's route took her straight across this junction; the lorry driver turned left here.

The defective ASL is the result of highway patching (there appear to be four separate patches), where the contractors have not bothered to reinstate the existing markings. It means that any driver who stopped over the cycle symbol in the middle lane, would effectively obscure the existence of the ASL for a driver in the left lane, who would see no reason not to drive right up to the lights. It would not surprise me to learn that the incomplete white line means that this ASL has no legal validity. Whether or not that's true, the poor condition of this ASL at a major road junction indicates negligence on the part of the London Borough of Lambeth, which is responsible for maintaining it. Even after a fatality, they haven't bothered to reinstate the missing marking.