Gary Mason death junction: Sutton council shrug their shoulders

Just over one year ago, my first ever post on this blog was about the death of Gary Mason, who was hit by a van at a poorly-designed junction in January 2011. Sutton Borough Council, the local authority responsible for this deadly design, have decided that their roads aren’t in any way responsible for this tragic incident, and there’s no need to change the junction. I disagree.

Let’s recap.

It was early on a dark winter morning when Mason was struck by a van driven by Piero Zanelli, who was travelling north along Woodcote Road and turning right into Sandy Lane South.

It isn’t known whether Mason was on his bike turning right at the junction (i.e. about to turn north along Woodcote Road), or if he was crossing on foot while pushing his bike.

The junction at the location of the accident is dreadfully designed. In the image below we can see my rough diagram of what happened.

A photograph of the junction where boxer Gary Mason was killed. A green line shows the path which vehicles turning right should take, but the junction's poor design allows drivers to cut the corner, which is shown in red.

Drivers turning right should follow the green line, but it’s easier to cut the corner along the red line. Approximate location of Gary Mason shown. (Photo: Google Maps)

We can see the path which vehicle drivers should follow in green. But as the whole junction is one huge swathe of tarmac with only paint for guidance, there is nothing to stop a driver from following the desire line and cutting the corner. (Why is the striped area not a raised island?)

Here is another view, from above:

An aerial photo showing the dangerous nature of the junction of Sandy Lane South and Woodcote Road.

The same junction, but from above. Green line is legal path, red line is common short cut. Yellow star shows approximate location of collision. (Photo: Bing Maps)

So what is Sutton council’s response to the death of a human being, for which their road layout is clearly responsible? Surely any idiot can see that this design is dangerous?

“The Metropolitan Traffic Police and the Council’s traffic engineer carried out a joint inspection of the site soon after the accident and have assessed the site in relation to the accident you have mentioned in your email. I can confirm that no highway related factors have been identified by the inspection as being a contributory factor in relation to the said accident.”

That’s right. London’s finest have looked at this and somehow decided that there’s nothing which can be done to make this junction safer. (And people wonder why traffic engineers are so often lambasted on blogs like these? I know they’re not all bad, but honestly, I’d love to meet the traffic engineer who decided that this junction is just tickety-boo.)

This FoI response makes me so fucking angry. Here’s a highway authority ignoring a man’s death on their roads, for reasons I can only hazard a guess at. Are they not human? Don’t they have loved ones? Can they not empathise with Mason’s family? Do they never cross a dangerous road on foot?

Danger in the design

While I can’t excuse Zanelli’s driving, I can’t honestly condemn him either. People take their cues from their environment. We’ll never get 100% of people to follow all the rules all the time. To err is human, and so is taking a short cut. If following the desire line is “common at the junction“, then surely it’s easier to change the junction than the entire population. A simple raised island would do the job.

I’d be amazed if many drivers turning from Woodcote Road into Sandy Lane South follow the painted markings (unless there are cars turning right from Sandy Lane onto Woodcote Road, which would prevent the short cut manoeuvre). I expect that the red line is followed thousands of times a day, by a significant proportion of drivers. (Zanelli even admitted cutting the corner “eight times out of ten” if he thought the road was clear. Yet despite this clear admission of failure to follow driving rules, he was not prosecuted.)

Road design should be clear and explicit to prevent dangerous manoeuvres. The road design here is vague and permissive, with nothing to prevent people from taking a dangerous short cut.

Wider perspective

There’s a wider traffic engineering issue here too. Where was Zanelli going? If he had business on Sandy Lane or the streets around it then fair enough, but I suspect that most drivers turning right here are using the residential street as a short cut and a rat run, to avoid the junction of Woodcote Road and Stafford Road. Why do we allow what should be quiet, living streets to be used as main through-routes for thousands of motor vehicles?

Zoom out and you’ll see that Woodmansterne Lane and Sandy Lane can be used to avoid two junctions and knock half a mile off the route through the area. Why are these minor roads available to people who are merely passing through? What’s the point of those orange and green roads if not to carry the through-traffic? Why are Sutton council fiddling around the edges of the dangerous Woodmansterne Lane/Woodcote Green junction, rather than closing them to through-traffic altogether?

In conclusion: Nothing.

This incident has all the ingredients of the UK’s failed road safety mixed together. Dangerous junctions, excessive speed, rat running, poor planning, and the failure of the justice system after the event.

It seems that the official word is that Gary Mason’s death is just one of those things, nobody’s fault, nothing to be learned, nothing to be changed. Chalk it up to chance.

The only lesson seems to be that everyone should just drive everywhere all the time – in short, the UK’s roads policy since the 1950s.

Nothing to see here. Just fill your tank up and move along.



Update: Thanks to Charles Martin for his comment which reveals that Sutton are finally considering some changes to both this junction and the one further north (only two and a half years, impressive!). They’re far milder than I’d like (these minor roads remain open to through traffic, and there’s awful-for-cycling road narrowing) but they’re a small improvement on the current situation at least. Take a look for yourself (PDF).


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43 responses to “Gary Mason death junction: Sutton council shrug their shoulders

  1. I cannot help but wonder if the denial of any issues or fault with the road design is to avoid any chance of a negligence claim. Possibly a very cynical view.

    The other view is that the engineers etc fervently believe that all that paint does make drivers follow the correct lines, although I find it had to believe anyone could be that naive

  2. Paul

    Just to play Devil’s advocate here: The problem is not the junction design, it has been ‘designed’ to provide a safe crossing, it is the way people ‘can’ drive through the junction that causes the danger. I can see what you are saying but frankly it is impossible to protect people from their own stupidity all the time. Or indeed others from the stupidity of others. Had the driver followed the road markings the accident may not have happened. Are you suggesting that every junction should have a raised median with bollards and all roads a central reservation to force good driving practices? I’m sure the councils would love to spend yet more of our taxes.

    • Yes, I’m saying that roads transport money should be spent on making our streets safer (they’ll only spend it on widening the M25 again or something, otherwise).

      Roads should be designed for clarity and not vagueness. If we must be coldly financial about it, a raised island costs less than the police, ambulance, inquest, and so on which follow a traffic death.

      • Quite right. Roads should be easy to understand, forgiving of inevitable human error and safe for *all* road users.

        When incidents like this occur they should be the reason for a close look to be given and proposals to be made to prevent a repeat.

        That Sutton council prefers to say it’s OK when a death has occured is IMO negligent. We do tours etc. etc….

    • Jitensha Oni

      I’m not sure where the “every” and “all” are coming from. Sure, ADfT mentions some wider implications and yes many roads need making safer, but he’s mainly discussing a specific junction that someone died on, and to me the junction looks very odd – particularly from this angle: , not to mention being an obviously flawed design. The lines bounding the hatched area are not continuous so a driver is quite within their rights to drive over them. But then again it’s not as odd as

      where they seem to have dispensed with the hatched paint triangle entirely but still double up on the lanes. But if those are acceptable, why did they bother putting bollards and larger structures here

      or here (the junction is complicated, it’s worth having a look around the whole lot).

      And my heart bleeds over any councils pleading poverty. Surrey CC are still putting in road improvements with alacrity, and have recently announced a major road resurfacing project. Why not Sutton?

      • There’s some weird tarmac-and-paint creations there, that’s for sure! I like the junction mouth which is so wide they’ve created a double-junction. These look like residential streets to me, why on earth isn’t there more footpath, less road-space?

        That last one is a real piece of work! What on earth is going on? If that is only one-way entry into Sutton Hospital, why is the driveway junction so wide? It can only be entered by cars coming from one direction!

      • Some of those markings are really odd – they haven’t even followed through and joined up the white paint to make it hang together. It actually looks like they intend for people to cut the corner – maybe that’s why they don’t believe there’s anything wrong with the current junction.

    • Mark Reilly

      Not ALL junctions, but the one shown isn’t a standard layout. I would have thought in this case a raised island and bollard would be a good thing..

    • Surely you’re suggesting we should design roads without any reference to how people actually drive or real life in general. Now that would be ridiculous because in that case I do not think we would need road markings at all.

      You call it devil’s advocate, I call it something else.

  3. The junction was never designed from day one. It evolved from the old farm track it once was or some such provenance. Over the years it got tamacked and then paint went down and perhaps the current painted layout went in without much thought. Now, road safety money has been given to reduce casualties in general rather than prevent them. If we had a national road safety plan any more with a road death investigation branch like on the railways, then layouts like this would be singled out as a higher risk nationally and money used to sort them out. There are thousands like them across the UK, but whenever a junction is very wide, people cut them because they quite literally cannot be bothered to drive properly. It makes me frustrated that casualty reduction funding is difficult to use for prevention as one cannot prove prevention. When local councils come back with a response such as the one you have had, I bet those on the sharp end would love to give you the full story as you have just had the politically acceptable answer…

    • The “they’re not all bad” caveat was meant for you, by the way! It’s interesting that a junction like this could just evolve without any thought ever having gone into it. Suddenly a lot of dreadful junctions make more sense historically.

      It’s a real shame if engineers are being pushed politically from doing their job. (How does that square with doing the right thing by the profession? Are there certain things which an engineer would refuse to sign off even in the face of pressure from politicos?)

      I wonder if there is some hidden truth behind what happened regarding this junction after Mason’s death. Perhaps I should set up a “transport leaks” email address for frustrated transport insiders!

  4. The trouble is that because the way things are set up in terms of casualty-reduction, we (engineers) have to play the funding game, the same as everyone else, and target funds where there is a history of getting hurt. So, in your example, if this is an isolated incident (no matter how devastating) junctions with a higher casualty-rate will be prioritised for treatment. So, a response to a crash may well be that there is nothing wrong with the physical layout – it was very poor driving, the fact that the layout makes it easier for people to drive poorly is the elephant in the room.

    I get a handful of requests for layout changes a month and unless already on our funded programme, they get turned down, even if they are worthy – what it needs is leadership from say TfL to do some London-wide analysis and pick out the kind of junction which is an issue and tell the boroughs they need to look at those similar to undertake preventative works.

    Of course, Boris got rid of the London Accident Analysis Unit (LAAU) in a staff restructure. LAAU was very respected and were able to do pan-London work and publish reports.

    I digress. I do sometimes end up having to do speed surveys or a technical report on an issue because of political pressure on the big boss, even if the issue is not on the programme. The outcome might be that there is a speeding problem or some engineering we could do to deal with the perceived (subjective safety?) issue. I then get asked what I am going to do about it and I will say nothing unless I am given funding – so it works both ways.

    Oh, and I forgot bypasses often create these horrible junctions – again, no real thought given to the layout, just a simply bolt on;

    Of course, here is another junction on the other end of the bypassed areas, they had to put in traffic signals – I remember this before the signals, it was another of this evolved locations!

  5. Don

    I’d be prepared to bet that there have been a number of car vs. car collisions at this same junction, where cars turning right legally have been side-swiped by chancers cutting the corner. That would give the lie to this not being an unsafe junction.

    • dottie

      ermm, “cars turing right legally” would not have the right of way, so should wait until there’s a gap. the “chancers” would have right of way.

      • I think he means, cars in their own turn right lane, right where the cyclist was when he got hit by an oncoming vehicle cutting the corner. You don’t have right of way when you’re driving in the lane meant for the oncoming traffic.

  6. Gaz

    I know that junction well, I cycle and drive around it regularly and you’re right, people do cut the corner regularly like the red line you suggested.

    I’ve had similar experiences with croydon council, I broke my clavicle after a collision on Mitchem Road and I told the council that this road was dangerous and it was only a matter of time before someone would be seriously injured or killed. Unfortunately around a year later and a cyclist was killed. Myself, other cyclists and the local LCC branch got in touch with the council, we even proposed new design plans to make it safer. What did they do? Nothing!

    It’s wasn’t the first time warnings where ignored and I doubt it would be the last.

  7. Ron

    Thank you for posting this. The response of the engineer made me feel sick to be honest. And before your resident that’s-just-the-way-it-is “Ranty Highwayman” tells me I don’t know what it’s like being a local authority highways engineer – I do. You can always choose to have some professional integrity and many engineers do. At the very least you can objectively acknowledge possible contributing factors and put forward options for politicians to decide on. I’ve reported to committees about sites where the relatives of people killed were in the public gallery – you have to be an appalling individual to mislead or lie in that situation.

    OF COURSE the road layout was a contributory factor. If it had been designed differently it would not have been possible to make higher-speed turns in or out.

    But one sad possibility is that the engineer either didn’t think it was worthwhile, or didn’t have the courage to, put forward a scheme that caused some local inconvenience. Eg to convert the hatching to a physical refuge would make it impossible to turn out of that little road on the right, so perhaps it would have to be shut, probably that would mean a bad-tempered meeting with residents and being told off by the local councillor …. ooh let’s not bother.

    The last vestige of hope in this sort of situation is that the residents themselves have respect for the deceased, do the engineer’s job for him and lobby for a scheme that works even if it’s not entirely convenient for them.

    • I was merely explaining some of the issues facing LA engineers who operate on tiny budgets and often with little chief officer or political leadership.

      For the record, I do provide forceful advice in committee and technical reports and unfortunately I have to be forceful (but not rude) in giving advice at committee. As it happens I have just had a committee decision overturned in favour of what I had advised all along.

      However, even with a situation as described here, unless the location is on the programme, it will not get looked at -that is the stark reality in the regime of cuts.

  8. The latest plans for this disgraceful junction, part of the Woodcote Green Area Traffic Management and Junction Improvement Scheme, are now in the public domain at The “Second dispatch” document includes drawings on pages 11 and 15, and speed and volume data on page 22 (although it has been pointed out to me that some of the numbers for traffic flow given on the diagram don’t add up). A public consultation is expected in the summer, two and a half years after Gary’s untimely demise.

    The proposed junction improvement options, although an “improvement” on the current situation, are clearly not good enough. It is quite unbelievable, for example, that Sandy Lane South, on the east side of Woodcote Green, has been open to through-traffic for so long. And it’s quite amazing that there are no options to consider closing it, even now.

    When you see things like this you may be forgiven for forgetting that this is the London borough that is proud to declare the achievements of its “Smarter Travel Sutton” initiative. At the end of April I wrote an open letter to all Sutton councillors, on behalf of Sutton Living Streets, with the title Get Sutton Cycling (available from Although we have yet to receive a definitive response, one positive outcome has been an invitation from Tom Brake MP (whose constituency includes Woodcote Green) to a meeting to discuss walking and cycling in the borough. The concerns raised in relation to this poorly-designed junction will certainly be included on the agenda.

    • Any traffic scheme which suggests introducing a “pedestrian deterrent” should be handed back to the traffic engineer in charge along with his/her notice. This is a terrible junction they want to replace with a bad junction and it’s depressing how poor these options are. Traffic narrowing to squeeze cyclists and not even using the extra space to put in a cycle lane. They also have those ‘speed cushions’ which push drivers to swerve closer to cyclists in order to straddle the cushion. I do not this this new design would avoid there being another death at this junction.

  9. james cockayne

    Living in Sutton and using my bike on a daily basis I find the standard of driving in Sutton the WORST I’ve experienced and ive cycled all over the country & in Europe !!! No respect for 2 wheels at all its a very dangerous place to cycle , clearly the junction is bad but the driver who killed Gary Mason was definitely at fault you see people on a daily basis so lazy and arrogant will do anything to cut corners or junctions ! Shame on you Sutton council .

    • I’ve found that once you get to the outer London boroughs the roads seem to be a modern equivalent on the wild west too. I’ve had people literally try to run me off the road when I was trying to stay in lane to go straight on near Morden (whilst beeping furiously).

      However the outer London boroughs, where there is more space for cycle lanes *should* be really good for cycling. A missed opportunity.

  10. I would feel like chucking a couple of agallons of white paint out of the van window if i were going that way, as a Gary Mason protest.

  11. The worst thing is, it looks like there is a ton of space and this should never have been built in the first place.

    The dashed lines on the road coming south pretty much lines up with the desire line too, that’s ridiculous and it almost looks like they were going to let people go straight but half changed their mind.

    It’s really sad for the guy’s family that there isn’t even a realisation that this is a problem.

    It seems incredible that the police concluded there is no issue with the junction when a guy is mown down in his own lane, buy a van coming directly at him, taking a rat run which is regularly taken where road markings are generally ignored. But the police wonder why people do not have confidence in them.

  12. Jon Bromwich

    This is deeply depressing – the attitude of the local highway engineers, local councilors and the police is an absolute denial of responsibility on their part. Is it possible to sue the council for their failure to provide a safe road system in exactly the same way that you can sue the council if you trip up on a badly maintained pavement?

    • The obvious answer at that junction is a raised kerb area at the centre, (known as a refuge.)enough for a cyclist to rest his foot on in the event of having to wait. The size of the kerbed area would be a matter for the highways dept. As a Cyclist I would be inclined to get off and find a walking way round a busy junction like that but probably not at 0700 of the morning.

  13. This really is atrociously bad road design and absolutely appalling that even after a fatality (or perhaps *especially* after a fatality) the relevant authorities refuse to take responsibility for it.

  14. GareThugHowell

    Road planning decisions can take some time especially after budget has been decided for the year. They do actually have 3/4/5 year plans for doing such tasks and they will not be diverted by something as trivial as the death of one man……. highways dept. is like that. It may be well worth phoning/e-mailing, if you feel strongly about it, (we all do) to find out if it has been put on the agenda of small design developments at any time in the next five years. It’s possible that it has, or would be if you present a petitiion to the councillor for the vicinity. Local government democracy DOES work, and you may like to take the responsibility to ensure that it is working, by becoming involved with the district/county councillor. To whom does the road belong,county or district?

  15. Mike Chalkley

    Was an insurance company at all involved in paying out compenastion? If so, wouldn’t they be the people to give this information to?

  16. Thanks for the blog.
    I know that junction well from many years ago when I used to cycle to work from Sutton to Purley. You’re right, it’s badly designed.
    The most frustrating thing is that even if Sutton Council improves the design, I bet they’ll still allow the road to be used as a short cut/rat run.
    It’s a national problem with local authorities, I suspect, being too scared of the motorists’ backlash.
    Far more residential streets should be turned into access only if they’re used as rat runs.

  17. PeterN

    Sutton Council have now started work on the junction, extending the kerb on the south side of Sandy Lane South to prevent motorists cutting the corner. There are also plans to put a mini-roundabout at the junction of Woodcote Green and Woodcote Road and the junction at the bottom of the green has been slightly modified too. Time will tell if any of the changes are successful


    Peter N – a local resident.

    • Hi Peter, thanks for letting me know. Sounds like it’s better, but still not good enough. Mini-roundabouts are generally awful for everyone! Good to hear about the kerb on Sandy Lane South though. If you happen to be in the area with a camera, a few snaps would be appreciated!


  18. PeterN

    I can’t work out how to post photographs but I have some – let me know if I can email them somewhere.Sutton Council have come up with the roundabout plan in reaction to local residents campaigning to be able to turn right out of their roads more easily. We’ll know soon enough what the effects are because the roundabout work starts in a few weeks time at the end of the current school term. There has already been an accident at the new Sandy Lane South junction after the contractors left the old white road markings pointing straight towards a new lampost. This has now been corrected.

  19. Did no-one notice that the centre lane narrows to a width of only four feet ?
    (Green arrow in photos above)
    It would be physically impossible for a car to use it as intended !

  20. Pingback: Sutton Cycle Forum September 2016 | Get Sutton Cycling

  21. PAS

    A very sad scenario indeed. I’m not in defence of the car driver for one minute, but that really is not a sensible place to cross. Could the cyclist not have noted how busy the junction gets, and chosen to cross a ‘standard’ section of the road instead I notice also (from the aerial view) that there is a massive shadow across the road caused by a tall tree in someone’s garden. Dependent on the time of day, that could well have been a contributing factor. Don’t tell me – the Council has a Preservation Order on that?!

    • Mark Williams

      You claim not to be defending the motorist, but you certainly appear to be blaming the victim. What a pity that he isn't here to defend himself! As this sort of junction is everywhere in the UK and I ride through them often, how am I supposed to ‘note how busy the junction gets’, especially the first (and possibly only) time I use any given one—and how far out of my way do you expect me to go to find a ‘“standard” section’, assuming we can both agree what these subjective terms mean?

      The time of day was ‘dark winter morning’, if that helps with your shadowy [non-?] excuse-making.

      • Thanks for your reply Mark, you reminded me that I also wanted to respond!

        PAS – the marked area on the road would have suggested to Gary Mason that he was waiting in the correct location for any traffic on the main road to clear before pulling out. In other words, he was using the infrastructure as exactly expected. Absolutely no blame can be placed on Gary Mason here.

        Imagine you were in a train station, and needed to go to the toilet. So you see a door with a sign showing usual symbol for the public conveniences. So you walk up to it, push open the door and as you walk through you fall into a 10 metre deep pit. Is it your fault that you fell in to the pit? You followed the signage, and ended up dead or injured.

        Could you not have noted how deep the pit was, and chosen to use a ‘standard’ toilet instead?

        • Mark Williams

          PAS is PZ? Either way, I could make some rather more obstreperous refinements to your analogy. Plus some unflattering comparisons between rail and highway investigations, as alluded to by Ranty above!

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