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Cyclist killed after hitting bollard meant to stop motorists driving across bridge on popular Devon trail

Blues musician Julian Piper sustained fatal head and spinal injuries in crash on Exe Estuary trail

A coroner’s inquest has heard how a cyclist died from injuries he sustained when he crashed into a bollard on a popular cycling trail in Devon.

The bollard, installed at the bottom of a steep slope on a cycling and walking bridge over a railway line on the Exe Estuary trail after an elderly couple drove onto it by mistake in 2014, has since been removed by Devon County Council.

Julian Piper, aged 72 and a father of three, was taken by air ambulance to the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital after the crash on 13 September last year but died the following day from head and spinal injuries, reports Devon Live.

Mr Piper, a blues musician who had played with Buddy Guy and Robert Cray and regularly gigged in Devon with his band Junkyard Angels, was fit and well when he played in Brixham the night before the crash, his wife Catherine said in a statement.

She said that on the day of the crash it had been a “beautiful, sunny warm afternoon” and her husband decided to ride from Powderham Church to Turf Locks, a route he would often follow.

“He always cycled and in the 36 years I’ve known him I’ve never known him fall off his bike,” she said.

Another cyclist who had stopped to look at the view across the estuary heard Mr Piper’s crash and went to see what had happened.

In a statement, he said: “I did not hear anyone scream or cry out,” adding that Mr Piper “had a gash to his head and was not moving or talking.”

Mr Piper’s daughter Lucy said in a statement that she had visited the location after her father’s death and noticed that the bollards on either side of the railway bridge had been removed.

“I noted the visibility of the bollard he hit, and it was not visible immediately due to the angle and curvature of the path and being only a short distance from where it was visible,” she said.

Devon County Council confirmed to the coroner that the bridge, which is on an extension to the original Exe Estuary trail, had been opened to cyclists and walkers in November 2014.

> Exe Estuary trail open for cyclists and walkers

Bollards were erected after an elderly couple strayed onto the bridge the following month, and a safety audit was carried out.

The audit report said: “The bridge was not designed to carry vehicles and the concern was it could collapse over the railway line and the incident could happen again with much more severe consequences.”

The council also confirmed that in September 2015 another cyclist had hit the same bollard as Mr Piper, but it was decided not to remove it due to the risk of motorists accessing the bridge.

A further report after Mr Piper’s death found evidence of having been struck, and said of the one involved in the fatal crash: “Forward visibility was good, but shadows from the bridge made it difficult to see.”

The report added that because chicane gates had been put in place nearby, the bollards could be removed.

Coroner Philip Spinney recorded a conclusion of accidental death, saying: “Mr Piper fell from his bike. It is not clear from the evidence whether he stuck the metal railings or bollard, or both.”

He added: “Julian suffered unsurvivable injuries after falling from a bike on a railway bridge.”

Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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32 comments

Avatar
Sam Piper | 3 years ago
24 likes

Hello there,

I am on the son of the deceased and would like to add comment here given you have run the story (which I think is important to be shared as widely as possible so thank you). Just a few quick points though - I'm not here to waffle on.

1. It is thought the Injuries sustained by my Father would not have been prevented by wearing a helmet. Medical professionals have said as much - it was ultimately the fall. (Dad did actually usually wear a helmet whilst cycling on the road however on this particular piece of cycle path he did not)

2. Even if you knew where the bollard was, it would still have been easy to make a slight mis-calculation and come off. I am astounded the council have only received one official previous report as when I went to look for myself it was covered in scuff marks and dents. I can only guess what happened to those people wasn't as severe as that to my Dad. There is already another report contained within the comments below that wasn't included in the Inquest. I am sure more stories will follow. 

3. My Father did not ever travel at any serious speed - actually I would describe as 'poddling along'. He enjoyed the simple pleasure the exercise can bring and did not race around or anything close to it. It goes to prove one can fall at any speed or indeed from any height and if unlucky enough can sustain serious injuries. 

I have included a picture of the bollard from the same time of day on the Northern side of the bridge where the accident occured. I would not say this picture portrays the steep descent as well as visiting the site does but it does show the bridge cast in some amount of shadow which some of the other picture do not. This bollard was also rock solid and not the bendy type which you find on some cycle trails. Why any bollards are required on any cycle trails baffles me. 

Many thanks - stay safe.

Sam 

 

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AlsoSomniloquism replied to Sam Piper | 3 years ago
19 likes

Hi Sam.

Thanks for taking time to post the details above. My comiserations on your father's untimely end but I'm sure you all still smile and celebrate what he managed to do in his lifetime. 

I also would like to offer my apologies for any upset that might have been caused on here. As with all walks of life, people have disagreements and unfortunately a lot of recent arguments made on previous posts were stupidly (and I take ownership on transferring some) brought into this discussion when the main fact really is someone has died and left loved ones we should be respecting. 

All the best

Adam. 

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Sam Piper replied to AlsoSomniloquism | 3 years ago
1 like

Thanks Adam - just the way with modern ways of communication. I understand that.

Cheers,

Sam

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LetsBePartOfThe... | 3 years ago
4 likes

This is yet another very sad report.

Were there bollards before cars. Or is this another example of car-duty infrastructure being imposed upon everyone - irrespective of consequences to more vulnerable people. 

To my mind, bollards should be used at edges of spaces - for example in a line at a kerbside to protect pedestrians from cars leaving the carriageway

Why use bollards in-lane at all - anywhere.  A narrowed pinch-point access would stop vehicles proceeding  without presenting a hazard to non-motorised traffic.

Pedestrians may need protection from cyclists in certain places - but immovable-object bollards are not a suitable method. 

If bollards are installed, why put them at thresholds - where one's attention is divided looking in various directions. Put them some way in where they are the only focus

If bollards are required, why not put a plastic wand or similar sacrificial one as the first one

Give people latitude to make a human error without it resulting in injury or death.

 

 

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barbarus | 3 years ago
4 likes

RIP Julian. A lovely bloke by all accounts and a great musician. Condolences to the family.

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NZ Vegan Rider | 3 years ago
0 likes

Was he wearing a helmet?

If so would he have had the "gash to his head" that possibly killed him?

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AlsoSomniloquism replied to NZ Vegan Rider | 3 years ago
6 likes

It is not reported so and I suspect it isn't really a place to have a Helmet Row. However cause of death was confirmed as spinal cord injury caused by cervical spine fracture.

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eburtthebike replied to NZ Vegan Rider | 3 years ago
9 likes

NZ Vegan Rider wrote:

Was he wearing a helmet?

If so would he have had the "gash to his head" that possibly killed him?

The guy's dead.  Stop with the helmet might have saved his life crap.  Don't you zealots ever give up or get a sense of proportion?

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NZ Vegan Rider replied to eburtthebike | 3 years ago
0 likes

How about you "Stop". I get that he's dead and it's very sad.

I asked the question. The blow to the head could've killed him and a helmet could've saved his life. They're what if's and imho good questions to ask.

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JF69 replied to NZ Vegan Rider | 3 years ago
3 likes

NZ Vegan Rider wrote:

How about you "Stop". I get that he's dead and it's very sad.

I asked the question. The blow to the head could've killed him and a helmet could've saved his life. They're what if's and imho good questions to ask.

Saved his life? You have no way of knowing that. How about you stop with your stupid meanderings.
Not only it's grossly insensitive, you should know very well that a cycling helmet offers little to no protection at all even in the slightest of falls, despite protestations from people showing broken helmets (proving their helmet failed, & that they were no better off than if without it).

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Hirsute replied to JF69 | 3 years ago
1 like

Even more stupid when the cause of death was given some time before that post was made.

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jimbo2112 | 3 years ago
12 likes

My 83 year old father hit the same bollard in the July 2019 and was very badly injured. Could easily have been killed as well. He reported his accident to the council and was ignored. The post remained until a poor man was killed. A truly shocking lack of action. Why wait until someone is killed before reacting?

The post should never have been there. My Dad crashed into it as the slats in the bridge above had the sun behind them and as he was out early it was strobing his eyes.

Incredibly poor safety design that had been fixed with the chicane up where the path joins the road. That was the solution that was always needed and put in after the post that killed the poor man, and almost my Dad.

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Sam Piper replied to jimbo2112 | 3 years ago
3 likes

jimbo2112 wrote:

My 83 year old father hit the same bollard in the July 2019 and was very badly injured. Could easily have been killed as well. He reported his accident to the council and was ignored. The post remained until a poor man was killed. A truly shocking lack of action. Why wait until someone is killed before reacting?

The post should never have been there. My Dad crashed into it as the slats in the bridge above had the sun behind them and as he was out early it was strobing his eyes.

Incredibly poor safety design that had been fixed with the chicane up where the path joins the road. That was the solution that was always needed and put in after the post that killed the poor man, and almost my Dad.

Sorry to hear this Jimbo2112. The chicane gates i believe had been in situ for a while before. If you would like to drop me a line at sampiper87 [at] gmail.com I can give you more dates etc with regards to this. Ultimately the bollards had been redundant/obselete for a long time

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jimbo2112 replied to Sam Piper | 3 years ago
4 likes

Hi Sam,

Sorry that you have had to read through all these messages. I have just emailed you. Many thanks for your thoughts, my Dad is back on the bike now although a lot more cautious.

Regards

Matt

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Hirsute | 3 years ago
1 like

This is a very odd layout near Peterborough Tesco extra that takes you over the dual carriagway by means of a raised, circling bridge

https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@52.5439088,-0.2759296,43m/data=!3m1!1e3

You should just be able to see the outline of staggered railings every 20m or so. It is an official cycle route, though I'm not sure how it got approved.

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cambiker71 replied to Hirsute | 3 years ago
0 likes

I guess you mean the orton to Hampton bridge, the map wont load for me, if so then there's not a lot wrong with that unless you mean the various lumps and holes on the circle, its easy enough to ride over, been that way many times, and the stairs keep most pedestrians off the cycleway bit too as a bonus?

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AlsoSomniloquism replied to cambiker71 | 3 years ago
2 likes

I'm assuming it is this and it does look bad as those railings seem damm close together for infrastructure designed to be ridden along. And to top it off a small black bollard just there, for no reason.

I suspect the council added that first for the same reason to stop cars driving over the bridge. They then added the barriers to maybe make it difficult for motorbikes to use or because cyclists would be too fast so wanted to slow them down. Obviously the council decided tandems or hand cycles don't need to use officially designated cycle routes. 

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brooksby replied to AlsoSomniloquism | 3 years ago
4 likes

AlsoSomniloquism wrote:

...They then added the barriers to maybe make it difficult for motorbikes to use or because cyclists would be too fast so wanted to slow them down. Obviously the council decided tandems or hand cycles don't need to use officially designated cycle routes. 

I've never really understood that.

I totally get that councils don't want (people riding) motorbikes using cycle paths, but the only way of completely shutting motorbikes/scooters out of a route is to make it practically inaccessible to bicycles too.

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AlsoSomniloquism replied to brooksby | 3 years ago
1 like

Google search list of the multiple barriers in operation an examples on how it stops normal people.

I particularly hate the ones where it narrows at the top. Awful to walk through when carrying items and most assume it will be easy to carry a bike through in some way where Electric bikes are bloody heavy etc. 

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Sam Piper replied to AlsoSomniloquism | 3 years ago
1 like

That is not the bridge or the bollard. Thanks 

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Hirsute replied to Sam Piper | 3 years ago
0 likes

It is the one in Peterborough that I mentioned.

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Hirsute replied to cambiker71 | 3 years ago
0 likes

try again

I have used it twice and didn't think much of it.

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jollygoodvelo | 3 years ago
7 likes

Sympathies to the family of course.  I've been over that bridge myself and thought that the previous bollard was a bit sketchy - though no more sketchy than similar obstructions to many other cycle routes.

It's worth mentioning that before the bridge was constructed about ten years ago, this was a level crossing, on a curved section of twin track main line where the line speed was 90mph (iirc).  Visibility crossing it 'north' (towards Exeter) was always a bit hairy.  Found this interesting document: minutes of a meeting to discuss the planning for the improvements to the cycle path between Turf and Powderham.  https://democracy.devon.gov.uk/Data/Development%20Management%20Committee...

Quote:

Furthermore, the ES [environmental statement] states that the use of a bridge to cross the railway represents a significant improvement to public safety over the existing arrangement of the level crossing. At present, the level crossing has no automatic control for pedestrians crossing, relying on an individual’s judgement to determine when it is safe to cross. This is dangerous on a busy line, especially for large groups, people with children and less ambulant users. On the Site Visit, Members were able to witness for themselves the speed of the trains and the inherent dangers.

Hopefully lessons will be learned about the best ways to ensure cycle paths are used only by suitable vehicles but overall the bridge has been a valuable development.

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Giles Pargiter replied to jollygoodvelo | 3 years ago
0 likes

Interesting. Were any pedestrians/cyclists ever killed on the level crossing?

Trouble I find is these lovely cycle routes which are supposedly to link villages and for commuting by active travel, according to sustrans mandate, then meander around some cicuitous often scenic route away from motor traffic. Very nice when one is in the mood. However when one wants to get somewhere a major virtue of a bike is that it has a good pace, especially down hill. So these routes are often useless for that purpose due to allsorts of miscellaneous hazards and obstructions all designed to take away the advantage of a bike. The existence of the route is then used as an excuse to not build adjacent roads with diligent consideration for cyclists and frequently cause motorists anger because you are on them.

That bollard is by no means the first to kill a cyclist on a cycle route, so why was it even used in the first place?

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jimbo2112 replied to Giles Pargiter | 3 years ago
6 likes

It helps to know the place. The bridge is excellent and links a great walking and cycling route. Very direct into Exeter.

The bollard was a reaction to when a car drove up there... which beggars belief. Rather than restrict access to the path further up, away from the bridge, this killer bollard was put in place. Access was later restricted away from the bridge but the bollard was left in place until it killed someone. It almost killed my 83 year old Dad as well, but as he survived, his complain was ignored.

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AlsoSomniloquism replied to jimbo2112 | 3 years ago
1 like

I suspect access to the railway gate next to the bridge was the reason. However Signs stating Dead End or the final fix of the chicane gate still seemed better options at the start and should have been in place once the first incident was reported to them. The Streetview showing the  Chicane was May2019 and looks like it has been in place for a few months minimum with the weathering. 

Any idea when that Chicane was fitted Jimbo or Jolly?

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60kg lean keen ... | 3 years ago
9 likes

So sad for someone to lose their life in such a way, thoughts go out to family at this time. This article is right next to another that is called “road safety differently”. How many times have we read on road cc as regards poor infra and driver attitude when for example we don't use the provided cycle path, it is a common theme. This is an endemic problem by our councils and road planners who just do not understand or have any motivation to make stuff that is safe and usable, often they seem to be given a lump of cash and  so just paint some lines, put up a sign, tick the box all done! I long for this to change but when and will it change? It makes me mad to die or put your life on the line for just riding a bike, something I like doing a lot, This is just another “one to many”!

 

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eburtthebike | 3 years ago
9 likes

Very sad, and another example of extremely poor design.  Supposed to keep cyclists safe, but it killed.

Was a safety audit done?  Putting bollards at the bottom of a steep slope is an obvious risk, and it would have been criminal incompetence not to ensure that they were highly visible to approaching cyclists, but as mr_pickles2 says, they were grey.  Any bollards on a cycle route are a hazard, but the danger caused by these was clear and unmistakable.

Anyone coming across something like this should report it to the local authority, pointing out that it is extremely hazardous, using Fill-that-hole or whatever, so that they cannot deny they were informed.

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AlsoSomniloquism replied to eburtthebike | 3 years ago
10 likes

From the article, a Safety Audit carried out on the provision of how do we stop a car driving up the bridge and not how do we stop a car getting to the bridge it seems. If you see the link I did on Pickles post, what they have done now would have been more then adequate at the time. Also they did that  barrier after installing the bollards yet never thought to remove them until someone died, even though they were 'warned' five years earlier by another cyclist hitting them and reporting it. 

 

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Roadie021856 replied to eburtthebike | 9 months ago
0 likes

This is incredibly sad. 

The bollard looks misplaced.   Could it have been painted a bright yellow with  reflective paint?  It is surprising that more haven't been killed and injuried.

 

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