Can London Protect Cyclists From the Danger of Trucks?

A whopping 53 percent of bicycle deaths in the city involved trucks.

Image
Reuters

The city of London has proven that it has no problem imposing fees on vehicles that enter the city’s streets and diminish the quality of life for citizens. In 2003, London implemented congestion pricing, and now charges drivers £10 (about $16) to navigate the central business district during peak times (some discounts are available).

In 2008, a Low Emission Zone was created covering the entire Greater London area, effective 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Trucks, buses, and other heavy vehicles that don’t meet certain Euro emissions standards are charged £100 or £200 per day (about $156 or $313), depending on their size. The charge is enforced by cameras that read license plates.

Now London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, has announced another potential charge for vehicles: trucks entering a proposed "Safer Lorry Zone" without guards and bars that prevent cyclists from falling underneath trucks would be subject to a £200 fee.

Some vehicles, like supermarket trucks, are already required by law to be equipped with such safety equipment, but other heavy trucks are not.

Trucks (lorries, in British English) are involved in a disproportionate number of cyclist fatalities in the U.K. capital. Fifty-three percent of cycling deaths in London between 2008 and 2012 involved trucks, although such vehicles only make up 4 percent of London traffic. Just last week, on the same day that the mayor made his announcement, another woman riding a bike was killed by a truck driver in southeast London. She was the fifth cyclist to be killed by a truck driver in London this year. Cycling safety groups have been rallying for more stringent restrictions on trucks within London as the deaths have mounted.

Back in 2009, Johnson experienced the dangers of trucks on the city’s narrow streets himself when cycling in a group with Transport for London officials scouting new bike routes. A truck driver ran into a parked car and the vehicle was dragged into the street, nearly hitting the mayor and his companions. The incident was captured by a surveillance camera. "The mayor was shocked," according to an aide.

Both Paris and Dublin have strict limits on the size of vehicles that can enter the city centers, and also on what times they can make deliveries, but the city of London doesn’t have the power to enact such a ban; a fee is the measure that the local government can put into place. 

"There’s no question that HGVs, tipper trucks and cement mixers are the really dangerous beasts of the road and if we can do something to make them safer it’s obviously right that we should," Johnson said when he announced the proposed safety zone.

Truck drivers kill cyclists on a regular basis in U.S. cities as well, but I am not aware of any initiatives to outfit vehicles with safety protections as a result.

The London Cycling Campaign, which has been lobbying for restrictions on heavy vehicles in the city’s streets, and they welcome the mayor’s announcement – although they also call for better driver training and improved cycling facilities.

"The fact is that even a lorry with the best safety equipment can be driven badly," the group cautions.

Top image: A Royal Mail truck passes the headquarters of the Guardian newspaper in Kings Place, London. Reuters

About the Author

  • Sarah Goodyear has written about cities for a variety of publications, including Grist and Streetsblog. She lives in Brooklyn.