Friday, 20 September 2013

Cycling in Barnet - Time for a fresh approach

Barnet Councillors discuss cycle safety in Barnet
One of the themes this blog has investigated regularly are transport issues in the London Borough of Barnet. In recent weeks, we have received complaints that we have neglected the issue or cycling. On reflection this is true. One of my studio customers works for TFL and has responsibility for cycling. We briefly discussed the matter this week. I gave serious consideration to the issue as a result and have come to the conclusion that cycling in Barnet at present has as much relevence to the question of  transport in Barnet as heritage steam railways have to the issue of transport in the UK. In other words, there are a few enthusiasts who love it, there a very small number of people who find it useful and practical and most of us are glad it exists but see it as a totally impractical form of transport and a solution to nothing.

In making these comments, I am specifically talking about cycling in Barnet. In central London and certain other London Boroughs, TFL and the local authorities are putting significant effort into making cycling an integral part of the transport solution. In Barnet, I believe that only someone with a death wish would seek to use cycling as anything other than a pleasant recreational activity on sleepy backroads or perhaps useful for trips to the pub or the office if it is round the corner.

The major obstacle is the plethora of trunk roads in the Borough and the complete lack of accomodation for cyclists on these trunk roads. If I want to drive to Brent Cross from my house, I would drive down my road, turn right onto Mill Hill Broadway, take the third right at Mill Hill Circus Roundabout onto the A1. At Fiveways corner, I would have to turn right onto the A41, and continue down to Brent Cross. The junctions at Mill Hill Roundabout and Fiveways corner would both require a significant degree of courage and fitness to attempt on a bicycle. I didn't always feel like this. I didn't have a driving license until I was 27, I used to cycle everywhere. During the course of this, I was forced off the road at least a couple of dozen times by juggernauts who would overtake and then cut in. On several occasions, I was convinced this was deliberate, on one occasion, I chased a Lorry for 1/2 a mile, caught up with him at the A1 intersection with Hendon Lane, when he was caught at the traffic lights. I then stood in front of the Lorry and when the driver got out, we had an altercation. His response was that I was an idiot and bikes shouldn't be on A roads. The police then came along and sided with the Lorry driver, threatening to arrest me for "holding up the traffic and causing an affray". The policeman in question commented to the driver of the Lorry that "They (cyclist) are complete c**ts". This was the police response to a Lorry overtaking me and then nearly running me over.

This had a fundamental effect on my attitude to cycling. I realised that the lives of cyclists on our roads are worthless. If I had been killed on that day, I doubt the Lorry would even have known, he would have been on his way. Since then, I took to avoiding A roads. What this meant was that every journey was twice as long and half as quick. I used to have a lightweight carbon fibre racing bike. I have always been fit and able to cycle a fair distance at a good pace. I used to thoroughly enjoy the experience. I have cycled all around London and all around Hertfordshire. There are plenty of nice recreational cycle routes around Barnet, if you want a pleasant ride on a Sunday afternoon. This is however a totally different thing to seeing cycling as a strategic solution to transport problems.

I would love to see cycling have a significant role in the Barnet transport solution. I would love to see cycling adopted as the preferred transport method of choice for the majority of our schoolchildren. This would be great for their health and it would be great for the environment. We'd see less cars and less congengestion. Sadly Barnet Council and TFL take no account of the needs of cyclists. Furthermore the attitude of national government is scandalous. The biggest threat to any cyclist on our roads are juggernaut lorries. The solution to this issue is simple and it is one for national government. All lorries should be fitted with cameras and sensors to detect cyclists and display alarms if a Lorry is in proximity to a cycle. Lorries should have a black box that records all journeys and any Lorry driver that kills or injures a cyclist should be automatically charged with manslaughter. Unless a cyclist is killed due to a catastrophic mistake or failure of equipment, the presumption should always be one of driver negligence. Any driver shown to be negligent should lose their HGV license. We would hear squeals from the haulage industry, but we would see a dramatic drop in deaths. What is more important.

The Government should also pass legislation to ensure that every major road junction in the country on routes where cyclists are allowed should be redesigned to be cycle friendly. In Mill Hill (my manor), this would mean Apex Corner, Mill Hill Circus and Fiveways corner. I would also like to see a dedicated cycle lane on these routes. Apex Corner is a particular problem. This junction is a nightmare and is on the route of many children who attend Mill Hill County High School. It is the responsibility of TFL to manage these junctions and the A1/A41 roads. These should be made cycle friendly. Another road that should be sorted out is the North Circular, which has many junctions in Barnet that are highly dangerous.

At the Barnet Council level, we have virtually no provision for cyclists. Barnet has a historical record of antagonism to cyclists. There are many routes in the Borough which are great rides. I'd like to see Barnet publish a cycle friendly road map and take action to ensure that these routes are safe and pleasant to ride.

The last thing I think we should consider is the use of technology to improve the safety of cyclists. We urge all cyclists to wear high visibility clothing and helmets. This puts the emphasis of the cyclist to be responsible for their own safety, however the main threat is not the cyclist, but cars, vans and lorries. I believe all cyclists should be compelled to fit an electronic warning beacon and all motor vehicles should have alarm sensors fitted to alert them to the proximity of a cyclist. These devices would alert the driver to the proximity of any cyclist less that 30 ft from their car, whilst the vehicle is moving. This would remove the argument that "I didn't see them, I didn't know they were there". If it was required by law to fit such devices, then the cost would be approx £25 per car, less than half the cost of filling the tank.

If this was brought in, then Great Britain would have the safest roads in the country and people like me would again see the bike as a credible way of getting around Barnet and London.


Morris Hickey said...

What a thought - the Fat Controller (aka Stinker) on a bicycle! Would almost certainly make for target practice for many motorists.

Anonymous said...

I like your thinking Roger.

Not sure how you would guarantee power to the cyclists electronic warning device (dynamo?), but if it could be done, perhaps the cyclists and other road users would benefit if the cyclist also had the annoying seat belt type alarm fitted. For example; when they are riding too far away from the kerb, riding two abreast on a narrow road, turning into traffic without warning, going through red lights, riding on pavements, riding without lights, riding on the wrong side of the road, to pull over when they holding up say 5 or more vehicles, or just completely ignoring the highway code, or any other code for that matter.

To confirm this device gets fitted and works, an MOT type inspection would be needed, and of course it would also be sensible to ensure cyclists are insured, plus display something to confirm same, a tax disc say. Then the cyclists can properly contribute to roads that motorists currently pay for. Hopefully they could also benefit from undertaking some sort of proficiency test, mixed with some physics explaining how light, colour and visibility are somehow intrinsically linked.

I live in the country and everyday I have the pleasure of sitting in a queue behind one or more cyclists. I have no idea how much time or money this costs me or others, or indeed the real cost to the environment. But added up, I'm sure it's considerable, as indeed are those parents who needlessly drive their children to and from school.

One thing is for sure, our roads are not designed for cyclists and regardless of how proficient or educated either the cyclist or the motorist is, there is too much traffic and it's only going to get worse.

Like you I used to ride. Now it's just too dangerous, unless of course you are auditioning for a certain Michael Winner type franchise film, which if you pass, I'm guessing (like the man himself) it's too late anyway!