Thursday, 16 June 2011

Longer lorries in cities concerns

The Cambridge Cycling Campaign (with which this blog is not affiliated, by the way) has raised concerns over government plans to permit lorries as long as 15.5m in length to use city streets, including the already crowded roads of Cambridge, replacing the current limit of 13.5m. Articulated vehicles of any length swing out into the road when negotiating bends and corners, with the amount increased greatly for every metre of total length. In addition, drivers of long vehicles have numerous blind spots and may clip kerbs when turning - a factor that accounts for more than a few deaths among cyclists who get trapped between the lorry and the kerb, sometimes falling under the rear wheels before they can either hop up the kerb or leap out of the way and abandon their bike to a grisly end. Elderly cyclists are particularly at risk.

This is bad enough in modern towns and cities, but in a place like Cambridge where large parts were laid out during Medieval times - Medieval town planners being somewhat negligent in not predicting the future development of huge lorries - it's so dangerous as to approach lunacy. With a number of large stores in the City Centre (Sainsbury, Marks and Spencer, Next and the various Bland Arcade "attractions"), there's every chance that the area will become even more dangerous for cyclists than it already is. Add to this the standard of cycling and awareness demonstrated by some cyclists around town and it'll only be a matter of time before the first messy death.

The plan's aim is to reduce the total number of vehicles required to visit a store each week - 2m added to a lorry's total length allows a lot more cargo to be put onboard. That's admirable, because lorries create an enormous amount of pollution - however, big lorries are completely unsuitable for city use for all of the reasons given above. One solution would be the establishment of a system similar to the park and ride buses in which lorries above a certain length (or, ideally, any length) would be required to stop at an out-of-town depot and their cargo be offloaded into smaller electric vans and lorries which could then ferry it to destinations in the city. It'd be expensive to set up but would only need to run between set times covering busy periods - perhaps 8am to 7pm -and once in place costs could be largely offset by charging those companies relying upon the system to pay towards it. You want to trade in our vibrant, profitable city? Well, you'll have to help us keep it a pleasant place. It'd create jobs, too.

When an articulated lorry negotiates a tight turn, the cab and trailer can swing out into traffic posing a potentially lethal hazard for cyclists.
In the meantime, what should a cyclist do to keep himself or herself safe around juggernauts? The best option by far is maintain as great distance between you and it as it's possible to do - just because you can see it doesn't mean the driver can see you (and assume there's a reasonable chance he or she isn't paying much attention anyway), and he or she might not be aware that when the trailer rounds the corner the back wheels are going to roll up onto the kerb. If you find yourself behind a lorry and have any reason to believe it's going to turn (they don't always indicate!), hang back and wait until the driver's intentions are clear. You'll probably get a faceful of diesel fumes, but it's better than a faceful of tyre with 50 tons resting on it. If you find yourself waiting at traffic lights before a lefthand corner with a lorry behind you, sit upright so the driver can see you and, if necessary, edge forward because they can't always see anything right in front of the cab. Jump the lights slightly if need be (and if it's safe to do so) so you can be round the corner before the lorry even gets going and remain in the middle of the lane so they can't push you into the gutter. Once there's more room, move to the kerbside and let it pass. If it's a righthand corner, the same applies - jump the lights if it's safe, don't be afraid to take the middle of the lane  and make sure the driver sees you. Or, once again, hang back and keep out of the way.

Alternatively, it might clip the corner to avoid swinging out - so you don't want to be down that side either.

When you're waiting to turn right at a crossroad, a lorry driver behind you who wishes to turn left may try to squeeze past you as the lights change - this is when you need to watch out for the trailer swinging out into your space. Keep right, crossing the central line if there's no oncoming traffic and if safe to do so jump the lights. Just hope there isn't a bored copper lurking a few cars back in the queue!

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