Friday, 20 March 2015

Stop the killing on our streets

Last autumn I stumbled on the group Stop Killing Cyclists, which thanks to enormous effort from a small group of people has been getting quite a bit of press of late. I attended a rally in London (first time ever), and was moved by the quality of the discourse, and the determination of people to persist in cycling in the busy capital, and to speak up for those who no longer can. I have long campaigned for improvements to infrastructure to make our streets safer, and here are a bunch of like minded folk.

But the carnage of both pedestrians and people on bikes continues, most especially crushed by lorries, with drivers perched so high up that they can't see those immediately around them, and often don't even know what they've hit.

Two particular shockers this week. One was an inquest into the death of a care worker cycling in Dudley, where the reporting seemed to blame her for 'racing' a lorry which from the account arrived at the junction after her, and turned left over her.

But the police decided not to prosecute the driver. The Coronors verdict “I have heard from a number of eyewitnesses who have said it appears that Mrs Rowson was trying to beat the lorry. Sadly there was a collision and she was pulled underneath the vehicle and received extensive injuries,” Mr Saddique said.

This was not some lycra clad road warrior, but a 51 year old mother. The only racing she was likely to do was in rising terror as she realised what was unfolding. The Police, Press and even coroner seem to have turned to victim blaming this poor woman.

And the second was the treatment of the family of Michael Mason, a 70 year old killed on Regent Street in London a year ago, hit from behind by a woman who claimed not to have seen him, when all the witnesses around had. It was night, with plenty of streetlights, and he had working bike lights. But the police made much of the fact that he wasn't wearing hi-vis clothes, and had no helmet.  Neither of these are mandatory, and helmets are only actually effective for minor collisions anyhow. A pantomime of whether they referred the case to the Crown Prosecution Service ensued, and the family now plan to mount a civil prosecution since the police have entirely failed this man.

But the bigger question that both these cases illustrate, is that in any other incident - whether transport related, work related, or an unexpected death, if I operate a machine and kill someone, the suspicion of guilt would fall upon me. Innocent until proven guilty yes, but properly investigated and due process undertaken. With Rail, Marine or Air Transport in particular, meticulous investigation would show and seek to learn from to eliminate any flaws in design of the vehicle or infrastructure.

This just doesn't happen on the killing fields of the highway. It is inexcusable for lorries with such enormous blind spots to be on our roads. Yet we know the many flaws with our road layouts, which over time could be reduced. Legislation for the redesign of lorries has been passed but deferred for years. Mixing traffic at different speeds and weights is avoided in Holland, and the variable quality and maintenance.

If I run down the road with a scaffold pole, clearly I am duty bound to avoid hitting anyone. If I do it with my car, or worse a big lorry, it seems is just treated by the police an accident, and especially if a cyclist, their lookout. This is outrageous. People should be accountable to be in control of motorised vehicles, and not be so readily excused for their actions or inattention.

In other news today, a number of main A roads are to be turned into mini-motorways, with slow traffic - cycles and tractors banned. Many of these A roads pass through towns, past houses, splitting communities.

The Stop the Killing alliance make 10 clear demands for change to protect those on foot and on bike. These are urgent. It is March 2015, and 14 families have lost loved ones to untimely deaths this year already.