Sunday, 22 September 2013

Cycling in Barnet - The Mayors vision for cycling and Barnet

Over the last couple of days, the Barnet Eye has been investigating the role of cycling as a means of transport in the London Borough of Barnet. Over the years, I've done a fair amount of cycling around Barnet (although not much in recent years). One of my studio customers works for Boris on cycling policy and is generally quite complimentary about his attitude to cycling in London. I think she is probably spot on that he's been far and away the best ambassador for cycling in London for a very long time. Recently I was working regularly near Ludgate Circus and it is fair to say that there has been an explosion in the number of people using bikes to get around. The Boris bike initiative has certainly added impetus to this. Of all the London Boroughs, the impression I get is that Barnet has been the most resistant and at times positively hostile to cycling.

It is worth looking at the document if you are interested in the subject.

It is telling that there is plenty of mention of the East - West cycle highway, however not a single mention of the North-South route. One suspects that this is a legacy of times gone by when Barnet had a completely car obsessed approach to transport. It seems there may be some green shoots of recognition that cycling has the potential to help us deal with our transport problems.

I decided to analyse some of my most regular cycle journeys in Barnet.

1. My house in Mill Hill to my Finchley Catholic High School. I used to do this regularly in my last two years at the school. I tried a variety of routes, but the quickest (and hardest) was via the Ridgway and Partingdale Lane. At the time, Partingdale Lane could be dangerous as the traffic calming measures were not in place. Cars would speed around blind bends at well in excess fo the 30 Mph limit. In the morning the hack up Wills Grove was physically tiring, but as I enjoyed building my fitness, I used to enjoy it, although as Wills Grove has an appalling road surface, this was not always fun. The traffic calming has presumably made this route slightly safer. Rating as a good method 5/5 - excellent route for cycling. Safe, no trunk routes.

2. My House to Orange Hill Senior High School, Abbots Road, Burnt Oak. This was a five minute hop and an ideal route for a cycle to school. The school closed and now forms part of Mill Hill County High. Although no further, there is not a reasonable road route to the school (as you have to dice with Mill Hill Circus or Apex Corner). I would use the pedestrian crossings and urge my children to.  Rating as a good method 5/5 (assuming you cross via pedestrian crossings).

3. My house to De Havailland Road Burnt Oak. I used to work in De Havilland Road, Burnt Oak. This is a very reasonable cycle to work, taking 5-10 mins. Sadly the firm I worked for then have long gone. 5/5

4. My house to Temple Fortune. I spent three months cycling to a painting and decorating job in Temple Fortune, for Chief Abiola, the former president of Nigeria (deposed and assassinated). I initially started riding via the A1/North Circular. After the fourth time I nearly died, I took a backroute via Barnet Copthall. Sadly there was no way to avoid Henlys Corner. This was a complete nightmare- Rating 0/5 - scary.

5. My house to Aldgate. I worked in Aldgate for several years. I decided to try the route by bike. This is a hack straight down the A1 and then the ring road. I did it once and vowed that I would never be so stupid again. 0/5 - scary.

Now of course everyone has a different journey, and so we all could do this. Cycling is good for short hops around Barnet, but as soon as you collide with a TFL trunk route on a bike, you are dealing with a bit of a monster. When I was a teenager, I cycled everywhere. I never wore a helmet, and usually wore black clothes. In short I was an idiot. Luckily for me I was fit, astute and able to anticipate other road users extremely well. I learned to never trust lorries and never let them overtake me at speed, as they invariably cut in on you. If they did, I would slam on the brakes and let them pass. Even so on several occasions, they nearly killed me. Lorry drivers claim that cyclists slow them down and get in there way. In my case this was a deliberate ploy to make sure they clocked me. On at least 2-3 occasions, I believe they deliberately drove dangerously close to me as they were irritated by being slowed down.

I am not anti cycling, but as I've pointed out in my previous blogs, in Barnet we are a long way from having a safe cycle network. In his vision Boris explodes some myths about the safety of cycling. I believe that this is because many cyclists simply avoid dangerous road junctions. I suspect that many fatalities are inexperienced cyclists or ones caught out by unfamiliarity with the road design and layout. I would develop strategies for dealing with dangerous junctions, which generally worked. The times these broke down was when motorists did not act in a sane and rational manner.

Boris needs to consider the North/South axis. When I was doing my cycle to Aldgate, a friend of mine (Kate Nash's Dad ) was regularly cycling from Harrow to Aldgate. He did much of the journey on canal footpaths. Sadly this wasn't an option from Mill Hill. I believe there is much infrastructure we could re-use. There are several disused rail lines in Barnet and surrounding areas which could be converted into cycleways. There is also space besides several rail lines which could be made into cycleways with a bit of investment. I believe it would be relatively easy to have a safe route from Mill Hill to Brent Cross using land besides the Thameslink line. Of course this would cost money, but huge amounts are spent on cars and roads. If we got more people onto bikes, then this would reduce congestion and make everyones life better. As bikes are reasonably light, I'd be interested in using space above rail lines for "skyways" for bikes. There are many routes where this would work extremely well. I'd like to see a similar approach for the junctions such as Henlys corner etc. If we could get cycle traffic off the roads at dangerous junctions, it would make a massive difference to the safety of all concerned.

Anyway, have a look at the Boris vision. All politicians hope to leave a positive legacy. It would be good if the one Boris leaves is a cleaner, greener, safer London where people are fitter because they have put the car keys away and jumped on a bike where there is a sensible and safe route. What is encouraging in the Boris plan is that there is hard cash to recognise his vision. Lets put a bit of pressure on the local politicians to ensure Barnet gets its bit of the pie.

1 comment:

Jim said...

Very good article but one disagreement: a surprisingly high proportion of the cyclists killed have been quite experienced London cyclists. Statistically the biggest danger is large lorries, especially at junctions. The fatalities are disproportionately female. Some speculation has been that women ride less assertively than men, or are more lawful, which puts them into greater conflict with these vehicles. Quite a lot of the time cycling in London we have a horrible situation where there is a choice between acting lawfully and acting in the safest way.

Taking it closer to home, Riverside Walk is a good example of Barnet being unnecessarily unwelcoming to cyclists. It is the perfect way to cycle between Mill Hill and Woodside Park (then onto Whetstone and High Barnet), other than the No Cycling signs.

The lack of facilities in London don't attract 'normal' cyclists. Imagine living in Barnet and wanting to visit The British Museum with a 10 year old by cycle. In lots of European cities this would be a perfectly normal thing to do. Here hardly anybody would do this. In London we have mostly fit, confident young men (me) cycling and everybody else too scared to use the roads because of poor road design. Try turning right onto North Finchley high road for example and see how intimidating it is to use our roads. Young men (and some women) aren't too phased by this, but they wouldn't want to see their children or non-cyclists friends have do the same survival maneuvers.

The majority of car journeys in outer London are only a few miles. Just imagine how much healthier, happier and richer we would be if we did 80% of our short journeys by bike. For people of normal health there is no need to use a car to go 3 miles to the tube.

I don't think we need to look at flashy, innovative road design. Just move away from the idea that roads are designed for cars and everything else is an afterthought. Then copy the good design from Copenhagen, Amsterdam or Berlin. They've already solved the problem of how to move a dense population short distances quickly, efficiently and cheaply.

Ultimately to get cycling to the level of other cities we're going to have to reduce the space available for private cars. This has always been unpopular at first. Even in Amsterdam it was unpopular for a long time. Then people got it and now it is extremely popular.

For example, a lot of our roads serve as free car parts for residents. On streets where cycle paths have been put in in Camden this free parking has been lost. This is of course unpopular - any time a government takes anything subsidised away it is unpopular.

Car ownership per household in London is about 50%. That figure is artificially high because of houses of multiple occupancy where perhaps one resident out of six owns a car. In Barnet and other outer-London boroughs it is of course higher, in central London lower.