Coroner says Cycle Superhighway 2 design was "an accident waiting to happen"

The coroner Mary Hassell into the inquest of cyclist Brian Dorling has called Superhighway 2 "an accident waiting to happen".

She's taken a strong interest in the layout and design process of this, one of the Mayor Boris Johnson's flagship cycling schemes.

It's unfortunate that Debbie Dorling, whose husband Brian was killed at Bow roundabout while cycling to work in October 2011, has had to wait two years for an inquest into the reasons for his death.

This week, Poplar Coroner's Court has been packed with family, witnesses and barristers who've come to present the facts to the coroner.

Road danger expert Charlie Lloyd from the London Cycling Campaign has been there each day to hear evidence.

Also present have been those who designed the junction where Mr Dorling died, including senior management from Transport for London and the Jacobs consultancy.

The lorry driver who ran over Mr Dorling, David Cox, has already pleaded guilty to causing death by careless driving.

In most cases of this type there would not be a full inquest after a successful prosecution, but in this instance Brian was killed at Bow roundabout on a highly controversial section of Cycle Superhighway 2, which had been criticised by the London Cycling Campaign and others.

The original design of the Superhighway at Bow junction has become the central issue of this Coroner's Inquest.

There have been calls for Transport for London to be prosecuted under the Corporate Manslaughter Act for failing to provide for the safety of all road users.

A full police investigation was carried out, and the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute Transport for London.

At the inquest, a tweet by Evening Standard journalist @RossLydall said:

"Never seen Poplar coroner's court so full of lawyers. Two-day inquest into cyclist's death will probe TfL about safety of Bow roundabout"

The Evening Standard report is here.

On the first day of the inquest, the court heard that both Brian Dorling and the lorry driven by Mr Cox crossed the stop line just after the lights had changed to red.

Mr Dorling was on the left side of the lane following the blue painted 'ghost' lane which continues around the outside of the roundabout across the mouth of the exit to the A12 going north.

The lorry, which had moved in from the outside lane was heading to make a left turn at the roundabout.

The driver could not seen Brian directly and might only have had a very short time to see him in his mirrors.

The driver failed to give way to the cyclist, turning across his path, hitting him and the bike with the front-left wheels of his lorry, causing grave injuries that led to his death.

Blue paint, 'false lanes'

The court has heard evidence about the design of the Superhighway to see if Mr Dorling might have been led to cycle on a path that put him in mortal danger.

The extensive use of areas of blue paint which looks like a cycle lane but isn't a cycle lane was criticised by Barrister Martin Porter acting for the Dorling family.  These 'false lanes' had also been queried by PC Simon Wickenden  of the Met Police Traffic Management Unit.

Not only do these lanes give cyclists the impression that they offer some protection, they can direct cyclists away from the safest position on the road.

The Cycle Superhighways Infrastructure Design Guidance explains that in narrow traffic lines cyclists should ride in the 'primary position' close to the centre of the lane. On the approach to Bow roundabout these 'false lanes' were on the left side of the left vehicle lane.

There was no space for cars or lorries to share this lane with cyclists. The cyclists were expected to somehow know this and 'take the lane' despite the position of the blue paint.

Particular criticism was made of the annular lane on the roundabout, across the mouth of the roundabout. This is where Brian was struck down by the 32 ton tipper lorry.

The use of paint without lane markings used to be called 'ghost lanes'. The first version of the Superhighway design guidance refered to 'virtual cycle lanes'. This was then amended to say only 'blue surface treatment'.

TfL give evidence

Ben Plowden, the Director for Planning in the Surface Transport Division of Transport for London gave evidence about how the Superhighway design changed away from providing dedicated crossing points for cyclists and pedestrians on all arms of the roundabout.

The inquest had already heard from Marius LeRoux head designer on the scheme for Jacobs engineers. There were already plans from other consultants planning to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety. The design that included a series of toucan, shared use, crossings was developed by Jacobs to match the Superhighway requirements.

Mr Plowden told the inquest that a decision was made in November 2010 to replace the toucan design with on carriageway surface treatment and lanes. This was as a result of traffic modelling which showed motor traffic tailbacks and congestion would spread over a wide area. This congestion would have safety implications at those other areas.

Mr Porter, acting for the Dowling family, questioned the validity of such modelling as it did not allow for change in travel behaviour or people switching away from cars to other modes. Mr Plowden said that was a highly contentious view which TfL did not accept.

London Cycling Campaign has highlighted the toucan crossing solution as a better option for Bow junction. We have noted that predictions of traffic chaos arising from reducing motor traffic capacity in favour of cycling rarely, if ever, come true.

Prevention of Future Deaths

The Coroner concluded with a narative verdict explaining the circumstances of how Brian died. She also said that she would be preparing a Prevention of Future Deaths report to be sent to all the relevant authorities pointing out problems with the design and layout of the Cycle Superhighway as implemented at Bow in 2011.