Resisting quick fixes: banning HGVs won’t make cyclists safer

Former Olympic cyclist Chris Boardman has called on Boris Johnson to consider banning lorries from some of London’s roads during peak times.

Following the death of six cyclists on London’s roads in two weeks, Mr Boardman asked the mayor to honour a “promise” he made by looking at similar schemes in operation abroad.

He said: “The longer we delay, the more lives will be lost.”

Mr Johnson told BBC London 94.9 he was not convinced by the argument.

Nine of this year’s 14 cyclist fatalities and five of last year’s 14 deaths involved a heavy goods vehicle.

In Paris, where there are restrictions on lorries, there were no cyclist fatalities last year.

It’s the reference to Paris that gives it away. I know a lot of people might not realise this, but people cycle outside London. Indeed, there are people living full, fulfilled happy lives outside London (I’m told). Banning HGVs from London’s rush hour will prevent some deaths in London but it is a quick fix that would have only a small effect over the long run. I think Boris’s objections are entirely cynical but he might be on to something.

The whole country’s road infrastructure is inappropriate for cyclists. Junctions are designed to force cyclists into the most dangerous position possible, squeezed in next to the traffic waiting at the lights. Bike lanes double as parking spaces. A “solution” to bike deaths that only deals with deaths that occur at a small but significant number of junctions is one part of the country is no solution at all.

Having HGVs enter London after 10 involves them being on other streets during rush hour. Rush hour immediately follows prime delivery slots for HGVs. If the lorries aren’t in London they’ll be elsewhere. These lorries won’t sit idle, they’ll just bother cyclists elsewhere who are less used to HGVs and who lack the safety in numbers London’s cyclists enjoy. Banning HGVs in London might sound like a sensible policy but its a sticking plaster on a huge wound.

Banning HGVs  will give the illusion of safety and, probably, fewer people in London will die. But more people outside London will die and cyclists across the country will have to put up with worse infrastructure because the problem of (high visibility, cosmopolitan) cyclists being killed will have been fixed. It’s an excuse that will delay upgrades to infrastructure and will only move around the carnage like the squeezing of a balloon.