An open letter to the leader of Barnet Council on Covid-19 and Streetspace

Last week, a report in the local Times on the discussion within the Council for a post-Covid recovery included a claim by the Leader that the Borough is ”pro-cycling”.  Unfortunately, the facts on the ground do not bear this out.   [Councillors discuss Barnet’s recovery plan from Covid-19, 19th June]   

On the same day it was revealed that cash-strapped Barnet had failed to receive any of the first tranche of £80m funding from TFL for schemes to improve cycling and walking. 

This money has been set aside for Local Authorities to provide space for pedestrians to safely return to our high streets and allow people to travel to work and school by bike (rather than sit in constant gridlock). 

Other outer London boroughs are taking this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity but Barnet seems to believe that cycling will never be a viable form of transport. In fact, TFL data shows that Barnet has the highest potential for growth in cycling throughout London. Two-thirds of journeys in Barnet are less than 3 miles (a 15-minute ride). Nearly all residents live within a 10-minute ride of their local school, shops, or park and 40% of residents work in the borough.  Today we have written an open letter to Cllr Thomas setting out how many more would choose to cycle if the streets were not so hostile, which would make our roads quieter, the air cleaner and our town centres more appealing:

Streetspace Funding Allocation Article – Barnet Cycling Campaign response

Dear Cllr Thomas,

We are writing to you directly in response to the article in the Barnet Times about the Covid-19 recovery plan and following the publication by TFL of their first funding allocations for Streetspace.

We were disappointed to see that, so far, Barnet has not secured any of the funding that is available and hope the Council will be able to submit a successful bid in the next round so that the borough does not miss out on this much-needed budget.

From discussions with local officers we have been told that a proposal for part of the A1000 is in the works and we want to offer our support to help ensure this bid is successful. Barnet Cycling Campaign, as part of the wider London Cycling Campaign, are well placed to advise on the quality of the scheme to ensure that it stands the best chance of succeeding. With our help, we can all formulate a plan to secure both vital funds and to make sure the scheme is well-used by the community.

However, there is a bigger issue demonstrated by you, and one which shows why the Council will find it hard to get funding for its schemes.

It is clear from your comments in the article, and other correspondence with some councillors, there is a clear lack of understanding about what motivates people to cycle.

Looking at the quotes attributed to you:

You mention that cycling has ‘’barely grown’’.

We agree with this, and the root cause is council policy. It has been well proven both in other parts of London and elsewhere in the world, the one and only barrier is the availability of safe cycling routes and low-traffic neighbourhoods. Hills, weather, age and other perceived obstacles have been shown time and time again to not be so.

Need we remind you that Barnet is consistently one of the worst boroughs when it comes to KSI statistics? By not providing safe routes, the council is essentially opening a shark infested beach and saying, “we can’t remove the sharks because swimming hasn’t grown”.

You said “Not everyone wants to cycle to work, have a shower, and at the end of a hard day’s work cycle back uphill – particularly to High Barnet”

Is this an evidence-based statistic or an opinion? If the former, we would be very interested in seeing the Council’s evidence base. More critically, the same could be applied to any transport method. Not everyone wants to sit in traffic for an hour or owns a car. Not everyone wants to sit on a crowed tube, even before the pandemic. Taking this line is denying those who do wish to cycle the opportunity to do so, it is creating a closed market, denying an alternative because they don’t feel safe enough to cycle. The Council’s job is to provide the infrastructure for all to be safe, not to make judgements on how they perceive people to think.

Your comment also makes two questionable assumptions; That cycling is physically demanding and more time consuming than commuting by Tube, and that the entire topic is about commuters to the centre of town only.

Cycling to central London from Barnet is as quick as the Tube or driving, taking around an hour from High Barnet for an average person at speeds which would not break a sweat for anyone who does it regularly. Additionally, bikes are not as affected by traffic jams, breakdowns and strikes, making it a far more predictable journey than either car or public transport.

The requirement to have safe routes for cycling is far from being only for the distance commuter. Currently, there is a need to help those who commute by tube; however, we need to address getting people back to our high streets. With the need to socially distance on pavements paramount, it is a matter of time before you will have to start looking at taking out high street parking to create space or risk a second wave in Barnet. When you do this, people will need to turn to other modes for their shopping. This is good for a high street, a person doing 3-4 smaller shops by bike will spend as much per month as someone doing a single big shop by car.

We ask you if you modelled how many residents live within a 10-minute sweat-free ride of their local shops, park or school? We can tell you that you have and It’s nearly all of them. Your own Long Term Transport Strategy consultation showed that over 2/3rds of car journeys within Barnet are less than 5km and that nearly every resident is only 10-minute, sweat-free, ride from their nearest shops, school or park. 40% of Barnet residents live and work within the borough and 30% of workers come in from the adjacent boroughs.

These are the types of journeys that many residents would rather cycle. For example, here is a list of journeys from your own ward with an estimate of the time it will take the average (unfit) person, the distance and total ascent

• Hendon Town Hall: 14mins, 3.1km, 30m

• Whetstone: 24mins, 5.6km, 20m

• East Finchley: 13 mins, 3km, 10m

• Golders Green station: 14 mins, 3.5km, 30m

• Burnt Oak Library: 22min, 5.7km, 20m

• Mill Hill Broadway: 20mins, 5km, 30m

We would happily take you on a ride on any of these trips to show you both how easy this could be, and the dangers people currently face.

Contrary to the belief of the Councillors we have spoken to, this is not about getting everyone to walk & cycle but enabling those who want to. Whilst you say you a pro-cycling, and the Long Term Transport Strategy talked a lot about reducing car use and increasing walking and cycling, when presented with the opportunity to do so you push back.

You mention ‘quadrupling’ as if it is some unachievable target that would have no benefit, but have you analysed the TFL propensity for cycling data?

Barnet is the borough which has the highest potential increase, moving from 8,500 trips by bike (2005-8) to 241,200, a staggering 28-fold increase (and yet still only 37% of mechanised trips). Quadrupling should be the absolute minimum achievable for any council in your position.

• Where is the borough’s plan to get more kids cycling to school from September?

• Where is the plan to deliver low-traffic neighbourhoods?

• Where is the plan to connect local town centres with active travel?

• Where is the plan to widen pavements and reduce traffic to revitalise our high streets?

• Have you modelled the increase in traffic from continuing to do nothing?

We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to deliver those improvements within months rather than over 15 years. Without you seizing this moment, you will not deliver your Long Term Transport Strategy. As mentioned, we want to work in partnership with you. We have already submitted a wide range of proposed routes and interventions and would welcome the opportunity to sit down with you and Cllr Cohen to discuss.

You have a very simple choice to make.

You can carry on your current path, acting under assumptions and misrepresentation, heading towards a traffic heavy, polluted borough which will continue put the lives of its residents at risk daily. Alternatively, you can work with us and other groups to truly free our borough’s economy and secure a legacy as leader of a healthy, vibrant borough with a revitalised high street scene capable of fighting the next pandemic.

Yours sincerely,

Barnet Cycling Campaign

Email: campaigns@barnetlcc.org


Barnet Cycling Campaign is the local borough group of London Cycling Campaign (LCC). We represent the interests of cyclists living or working in the Borough of Barnet and aim to expand the opportunities for all to cycle safely in the borough.

The group has over 300 members in Barnet of all ages and abilities, including commuter, utility, sport and leisure cyclists. We encourage more active, healthy forms of travel and help to get people out on their bikes and riding on the roads in Barnet. We campaign to make streets in Barnet healthier, safer and an improved experience for all cyclists, walkers and public transport users.

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