Inquest into Brian Dorling death suggests blue cycle superhighway gave “a false sense of security”
09:05 16 October 2013
A cycle superhighway was described by a coroner as a “comfort blanket” that potentially “lulled cyclists into a false sense of security” at an inquest into the death of a cyclist at Bow roundabout.
Brian Dorling, 58, died in October 2011 when he was crushed by a lorry in rush hour traffic while on his way to work at the Olympic Park.
He was crossing Bow interchange on a blue-painted cycle superhighway – a commuter cycle route introduced by London mayor Boris Johnson – when the HGV truck turned into him as it tried to exit the roundabout on the A12.
Yesterday coroner Mary Hassell at Poplar Coroner’s Court recorded a narrative conclusion and said Mr Dorling’s death was the result of three factors: that both had skipped a red light, that the lorry driver was positioned in the second lane rather than the right and that Mr Dorling did not hang back at the roundabout.
Ms Hassell asked: “Why didn’t he hang back? One of the reasons was that he was on the blue strip and was lulled into a false sense of security and thought he had priority. I raise this as a possibility.”
She said she was uncertain about the part that the blue stripe played in Mr Dorling’s death and would consider making a report about cycle superhighways after an inquest taking place today into the death of another cyclist, Philippine De Gerin-Ricard, 20, who died on another cycle superhighway in Aldgate East in July this year.
Police witnesses told the court yesterday that the 1.5 metre-wide painted strip had no legal status and could be shared by motorists and cyclists, unlike designated cycle lanes.
Speaking at the inquest PC Simon Wickenden raised his concerns about the “ambiguity” of the blue paint.
He said: “We consider the use of blue to be ambiguous as different road users will interpret it in different ways. It isn’t a road sign, it is simply a coloured surface. It highlights the potential presence of cyclists but it clearly places cyclists in a position on a roundabout where they might come into conflict and gives a false sense of security and a sense of priority when none exists at all.”
Kate Carpenter, a traffic and safety adviser for TfL, said they had debated the pros and cons of the blue paint.
“Our collective view was that drivers would be more likely to see cyclists,” she said.
Ms Hassell replied: “It could have encouraged him to go out on to the roundabout in a way he might not have done because he had that feeling of security. Maybe that means the blue is a comfort blanket when instead the cyclist should be thinking this is very dangerous.”
Ben Plowden, director of strategy and planning for surface transport at TfL, said police did not raise specific concerns about Bow roundabout.
He said cycle superhighways were not just about blue paint and were part of a comprehensive programme involving changing the layout of junctions and awareness campaigns.
He added: “The design we adopted was appropriate at that time. Clearly we have changed the junction since then.”
Since the accident, the roundabout has been modified to create segregated cycle lanes and separate signals for cyclists to get a head start before the rest of the traffic.
After the verdict, Mr Dorling’s wife Debbie said: “It should never have happened - Brian was using a designated cycle lane and he was an experienced cyclist who was extremely safety-conscious.
“It’s only after Brian’s death that TfL has seen fit to act to change the junction’s layout so that vulnerable road users such as cyclists are given priority over larger vehicles which would otherwise pose them a greater risk.
“Sadly, this will not bring back my loving husband or allow my three children to see their father again but we will take some comfort from knowing that other cyclists may yet be protected thanks to changes brought about in the wake of Brian’s death.”
The collision led to the prosecution of the truck driver David Cox, who pleaded guilty earlier this year to causing death by careless driving.
Mr Cox, 49, was given a 24-week suspended jail sentence, a 100-hour community service order, and was banned from driving for two years.