Gary Mason, killed by poor design?

In January 2011, former pro boxer Gary Mason was killed at the junction of Sandy Lane South and Woodcote Road in South London. He was either riding or walking with his bike when he was hit by a van cutting the corner of the junction. (Map here, I recommend you have a look around on Street View to appreciate the awfulness of this junction.)

Sandy Lane South in 2008 on Google Street View, showing dangerous junction design

Who the hell is responsible for this mess?

I would like to ask those responsible for this junction: What the hell is this? Your shitty designs contributed to the death of an innocent man. I don’t know whose fault this is – was the designer in a rush, or were there cost restrictions from above which meant that a lick of paint was the only option? Or were they just following orders – is this what the DfT manual demands? Or is it a legacy design from decades ago, when road standards and traffic levels were lower? Either way, it’s time for those in charge to either sort this out or get a new job, because this won’t do.

With all those design rules and official guidance, with decades of experience and data collected, is this really the best junction design? This seems typical of poor UK road design. There’s tons of space here for a safe junction design, yet here we have this failure instead. Rather than design a safe junction for everyone – cars, vans, people on foot, people on bikes, people with prams, disabled people – we cover a large area with tarmac, slap on some white paint, and hope for the best.

(Furthermore, on a related but separate point, rather than implement residential zones which prevent rat-running and make our streets pleasant for children to play, it seems the UK standard is for all streets to be through-roads to relieve the strain on the main routes. It seems insane to me that any residential streets are used by motor vehicles just passing through. Good road design would make this impossible, or at the very least, slow and undesirable. So, is this junction needed at all? There is another road a little further north called Woodcote Green which provides access to the streets to the east.)

While the driver of the van that hit Mason can’t be excused, poor driving will always occur. How many of us can claim to have 100%,  360º concentration on our driving 100% of the time? The roads should be designed to mitigate mistakes and reduce conflict. UK road design leaves little margin for error, and does little to protect those not encased in the metal shell of a motor vehicle. The real guilty party is successive UK governments who have encouraged us to be dependent on cars and shoddily designed our living space around them moving around as fast as possible, to the detriment of all else.

Maybe the DfT would say that the junction design here follows best practice, that they’ve scientifically worked out the safest way to design a junction, or that mistakes will happen so try not to worry about it too much. Well, if this is the result then something has clearly gone very wrong somewhere.

How the hell did this junction get approved? It’s not as if some passing council worker just decided to get out the Dulux and make it up as he went along. It required a whole slew of people to mess this up. This junction was designed by a technical planner who probably went to university to study this sort of thing. It was approved by his boss at the council’s roads department. It was signed off by the road markings committee.* It was installed by a road painting crew who must wonder why those designing and approving the paint plans get paid so much.


The UK is covered in crap designs like this, and it’s not good enough. I hope to be covering many more half-arsed designs as this blog progresses.

UPDATE: I’ve had a fiddle with the photo, and if you’ll excuse the amateurish editing, here’s one design which massively improves the safety at this junction. There’s other options, of course, and I haven’t even looked into cycle paths or pedestrian crossings here, but if the junction had been laid out like this in January 2011, then the van that killed Gary Mason wouldn’t have been able to make the corner-cutting manoeuvre that caused the accident.

Sandy Lane South junction, reworked as two standard junctions for improved safety

Seems obvious to me, but then this might slow someone’s journey by about ten seconds, so it’s obviously no good.

Simply by widening the path, making this into two standard junctions instead of the crazy hotch-potch of markings which are there currently, would make this junction much safer.

* I don’t know the exact procedures that road designs go through before they reach the paint crew, but these things must be designed and approved in a department of more than one person, surely?



Update, 26th October 2012:

Two things:

1. The van driver cut the corner at a speed high enough to kill Gary Mason (who may not have actually been on the bike but may have been pushing it – either way it’s thought that he was either stationary or walking with the bike) and yet the incident was described as a “cycling accident” or “cycle crash” in most news reports. He was hit by a van breaking the rules at a criminally badly designed junction, the bike was pretty irrelevant! It could just as easily be described as a “racial incident” as a “cycling incident”.

2. Eighteen months later, the deadly junction where Gary Mason was killed has still not been re-designed. Is this professional negligence? Corporate manslaughter? Is there really nothing the authorities can do to improve this junction? It sickens me that nothing has changed here. This was an “accident waiting to happen” and while the junction remains this way, it’s waiting to happen again.



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6 responses to “Gary Mason, killed by poor design?

  1. Pingback: The government is also guilty | The Alternative Department for Transport

  2. Alex W

    Sorry for the late reply – just stumbled across it.

    Now that I think about it, I’ve seen (and tried carefully to cross) lots of crazy, poorly designed junctions like this (e.g. where the 2 or 3 streets all end on one junction at a busy road) since moving to Birmingham, and there may be some in Hampshire and Shropshire (where my parents live) I’ve forgotten – or suppressed. 😉

    I’d forgotten that a council or highways official at some point must have designed and painted these monstrosities, I’d just seen them as natural like fields or woods (though – of course – those are man-made as well). The same way when trying to cross a busy road I almost forget those fast moving hazards that almost kill me sometimes are controlled by people 😉

    That reminds me, I should write to the City Council again about the only Birmingham dual-carriageway middle ring road numbered junction (Bordesley Circus A4540) not to have either a signal-controlled crossing or pedestrian underpass. (The nearest crossing points where you don’t have to leg it across the road or – as I once did – block one lane when cars stop in a queue and force yourself across the other by refusing to budge til they let you cross – are half-a-mile in either direction) Why choose not to put it on one junction out of dozens?

    I can understand a lazy, cheapskate council deliberately and maliciously not putting crossing facilities on a ring road at all, but someone must have chosen not to put one here whilst putting OK (still problematic – e.g. only being on one side, busy uncontrolled side road crosses etc. – but OK and safer than this – even the sometimes intimidating, urine-soaked underpasses) facilities on the others. The mind boggles. I emailed a few years ago, and they just claimed it was built to the standards of the times (the 1980s – one of the last junctions to be built – whilst those built before are safer) and that they were planning the signalise the roundabout (which even without a dedicated pedestrian phase would at least be an improvement for pedestrians and cyclists). That hasn’t happened yet.

  3. Pingback: Gary Mason death junction: Sutton council shrug their shoulders | The Alternative Department for Transport

  4. Absolutely terrible design and should never have been passed IMO

  5. It seems they finally redesigned it. Looking at the latest street view imagery they’ve added a curb extension similar to the one you drew in your redesign, but not nearly as wide:
    It’s still not perpendicular, so it’s still possible to take the corner at speed like the van driver did, but at least speeds will be reduced somewhat for vehicles entering the side-road. Only took them 2 years!

    • Thanks for that! At first I was pleased to see that the junction has been modified, but then dismayed as I saw the modest nature of the changes. As you say, even with the new footway extension and the new central island, it’s still easier to cut the corner.

      If the junction had been arranged this way in January 2011, Gary Mason would still have been hit, as turning vehicles can still take a relaxed line across the junction.

      I wonder what Sutton’s reasons for making these changes are? After Mason’s death they claimed that a police report and a road engineer’s report both gave the junction a clean bill of health, insisting that the layout played no part in the collision. So why change it now? Why waste money altering a junction which, according to them, is perfectly safe?

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