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.)
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.
SOMEBODY WAS PAID ACTUAL MONEY TO DESIGN THIS JUNCTION!
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.
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:
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.