Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Blood on the Tracks

Last week it was revealed that Barnet, shamefully, currently holds the record for the highest number of road deaths in London. Last year in this borough nine people lost their lives, and a staggering total of 1,520 people were injured, including 241 pedestrians.

Now who do we turn to for a response to this unwelcome news? Step forward Barnet's road czar: Councillor and Assembly Member Brian Coleman, who bears responsibility for such matters in his capacity as Cabinet Member for the Environment.

Brian is, as we know, is a firm supporter of the right of drivers to move swiftly around the streets of Broken Barnet with no obstruction, especially if driving in a car or taxi charged (at our expense) with the honour of carrying his divine being from one social function to another. Brian, no doubt, would prefer to be conveyed at top speed around the borough, in presidential style, with MetPro outriders, in his own designated traffic lane, admired by gawping residents, waving handkerchiefs and wishing him godspeed on his journey.

And Brian knows what he is talking about on the subject of safety and speed limits, of course. He is an expert, in fact, having himself lost his own licence, not so many years ago - for speeding.

Councillor Coleman is not so supportive, you may have noticed, of the rights of drivers with cars that are not moving, ie parked outside a resident's house. Because he only approves of cars moving around unimpeded, stationary cars must be fined, and firmly encouraged to get back on the road. So keen is Brian on this vital flow of traffic, in fact, pour encourager les autres, he has actually hiked all parking charges up to an exorbitant level, and removed free car parking spaces from CPZ zones, thus providing a welcome addition to the perpetual motion of vehicle movement here in Broken Barnet. A brilliant strategy, we must agree.

In 2003, Coleman was described by Richard Littlejohn in The Sun as 'a hero' for his stated determination to make Barnet a hump free zone within five years. The then Leader corrected this statement by asserting that removals would be done on a case by case basis. Since then, Coleman has continued his war against traffic calming, of course. He has done his bit in other ways, too, for the cause of traffic flow: seeing no contradication in suggesting that all roadwork temporary traffic lights should be banned from the borough and replaced at whatever cost by workers with stop and go signs, because the lights annoy drivers in a hurry, whilst sanctioning the loss of funding to lollipop attendants at our primary schools, with stop and go signs, who are protecting the lives of small children.

Richard Littlejohn has recently recanted his admiration for Brian after a tragic incident involving an obstinate One Barnet parking ticket machine outside a fish and chip shop in Finchley Central. And I wonder what Mr Littlejohn thinks of our not so heroic record breaking road death record now?

On local BBC news yesterday there was an item about Barnet's road accident figures. Local residents such as Dr Julia Hines and Dollis School headteacher Colin Dowland spoke of their concerns about traffic safety: Mr Dowland's petition in regard to his lollipop crossing attendant appears simply to have been ignored by the council, which is shameful, if predictable.

It had been expected that Brian Coleman would take part in this discussion. Strangely, he was unavailable for comment: not like our Brian to miss a media opportunity, but then perhaps his advisors have their sweaty little hands over his rentagob utterances these days.

Council spokespersons have spoken, however, and suggested, in a wincemaking headline story in the local Times group paper that it is 'inevitable' road deaths will be high in Barnet. Really? How so? Oh, because we have a lot of roads. I see. And anyway, shrugs our Tory council, those nasty big roads are the responsibility of Transport for London, and if they are dangerous, well: no good blaming Barnet, no blood on their hands, is there?

Yes, actually, I think there is.

I agree that it is inevitable that road deaths will be high in Barnet. It will be so as long as we have in power a smug, self satisfied Tory administration which puts the rights and well being of speeding drivers before the lives and safety of children and vulnerable residents.

Drivers convicted of careless driving and other offences are sometimes sent on courses where they have to watch footage showing in graphic detail the fatal consequences of such irresponsible behaviour. I think it should be a requirement of all councillors in charge of road safety to do the same.

Those who defend the removal of all traffic calming measures are usually reluctant to think about the results of injuries caused by speeding drivers. If you try to discuss this, you will be accused by the militant driving lobby of being subjective and emotive. (Just wait for the comments here: warning - Mrs Angry has her blue pencil out).

I really don't give a damn: I've had to witness two deaths from accidents caused by selfish, cowardly drivers driving in residential areas at unbelievable speeds. In both cases those responsible fled the scene, leaving their victim to die.

Take it from me, helplessly watching the life ebbing away from the eyes of someone thrown out of a car hit by a manically speeding hit and run killer is all it takes to leave you with a lifelong loathing of irresponsible driving, and I don't care if this is a subjective reaction: of course it bloody well is. This category of selfish, unscrupulous driver has to be deterred from speeding, and traffic calming does this. It is not just a matter of humps and crossings, and mini roundabouts - there are many different approaches, and yes, I would say on a case by case basis, each location requiring individual consideration.

There is barely a week goes by in this borough without a serious road accident: only yesterday there was a crash in Hendon involving no fewer than five cars. It's time our Tory councillors shook themselves out of their complacency and took urgent action to make the roads of Broken Barnet a safer place. Perhaps if they spent less time and energy devoted to One Barnet schemes for making money out of traffic management, and more devoted to the well being of the residents they are supposed to represent, we might actually start to think they are worthy of the job we pay them to do.


Jaybird said...

Great post on an important subject.

Not only has Barnet got the highest fatalities in London, and the second highest number of accidents where people were injured, if you look at a cumulative record since 2002, when the current administration took over road policy, they have the worst accident record in London.

It is true that Barnet has a lot of roads, although not the most roads of any London borough. It is also true that they have the most TfL roads of any London borough. There are 750 km of roads in Barnet, of which 30 km are trunk (TfL). The majority of accidents are on borough maintained roads.

Barnet have said that they have met their own targets on RTA reduction. Since 2002 RTAs have been reduced by 18%. However, since 2000, despite Barnet's contribution to the figures, London as a whole has managed a 40% reduction.

I hope that local councillors and MPs will work to change this terrible record, preferably by following Coalition policy, as published by Theresa Villiers department, and focus on the 3 E's - Engineering, Education and Enforcement.

Mrs Angry said...

Thanks, Jaybird, for the figures: it's most enlightening to have a statistical analysis rather than the spin sold us by our cynical Tory council.

To reduce the awful toll on our roads requires a cultural change, a new committment from the Tories to road safety rather than the obsession with revenue generating highways initiatives. I don't believe that they have the slightest interest in the subject, however.

It would be nice to think, wouldn't it, that the extra money brought in by the new parking charges might be diverted to traffic calming and other accident reduction measures. It won't be,of course.

Daniel Hope said...

And the obsession with primative, death causing 'traffic calming' (of which it does the opposite ie cause people to rush and speed to catch up wasted time) continues.

The government comes up with Education, Engineering (that means designing safer roads, better sightlines - not making them an obstacle course) and Enforcement (that means catching really dangerous drivers not persecuting people doing 0.5mph above some arbitrary 1950s limit).

So what do we hear from the hard left in Barnet in response? Tax and fine people to pay for Humps, Humps and more Humps...

I really give up...

RoadRambler said...

Mrs A, glad you are so approving of statistical analysis rather than 'spin'... but when presented with the statistics above didn't you think to ask your usual searching questions before accepting them and heaping praise on Jaybird?

Jaybird, could you please explain what you mean by "cumulative record since 2002" and exactly what measure you've used to determine "worst accident record in London". Also, did you mean "RTAs" or should that be casualties? If it is RTAs, could you please identify your source for the data.

Oh, and Mrs A, you mention the 5 vehicle crash in Hendon, is that the one which was on the A41?

Mrs Angry said...

Aha: thought that would flush a few Clarksons out of the woodwork ...Daniel Hope - you really give up? Hoorah!

Mysterious RoadRambler: glad to see you drifting over from the Times comments ... I have utmost faith in Jaybird's figures as she clearly has taken time to look beyond the vague generalities of Barnet's indifferent comments.

The five vehicle crash, RR, took place at a junction of the A41 with a side road, I believe. If it makes you feel better, Barnet can take responsibility for two and a half cars, and Tfl the other two and a half. This sort of avoidance of responsibility is what has led to Henly's Corner being allowed to continue as a venue for fatal accidents for nearly two decades.

RoadRambler said...

Mrs A, "utmost faith in Jaybird's figures", jolly good. I'll wait to see them before commenting.

My question about the A41 crash is not about who is responsible, I'd love to know what type of traffic calming you were proposing for a 3-lane dual-carriageway? You suggested it was a 'serious accident', but the HT says that there were (thankfully) no reports of any serious injuries, your comment was just a bit confusing for anyone who didn't know, I thought there might have been 2 accidents on the same day.

Henlys Corner - you want road humps there? "Avoidance of responsibility" has to be the last thing you can say about that sorry story, the bitter arguments between the council and TFL about which scheme was better are a matter of public record. The council rejected the early TFL proposals because they didn't reduce the accident problem and would have caused more congestion and rat-running. Of course the council was criticised then too, but "avoidance of responsibility" was never mentioned. IIRC, local commentators said that it was a TFL road and the council had no right to comment or object.

Mrs Angry said...

Now why is it, RR, that you motoring militants are so obsessed with road humps? Is there some dark Freudian issue there? The question of road safety and traffic management is a much wider issue, as you appear to be aware. There may be other ways of reducing speed, or there may not: the point I am trying to make is that the present administration is not interested in prioritising a need to address the issue of road safety. The One Barnet nonsense is preoccupied with milking as much cash as possible from the motorist and as far as I can see none of the income generated will be assigned to safety improvement initiatives, a policy change which the new figures strongly suggest is urgently required.

Of course I don't want 'humps' at Henly's Corner or the junction where the accident happened (& btw I think that any accident involving five vehicles is a serious one, regardless of the fact that no one was hurt).

What I want is the council to look at the figures, put aside its complacency, analyse the factors which contribute to known accident blackspots, pull their f*cking fingers out of the till and do something about it before anyone else loses their life.

RoadRambler said...

'Motoring Militant'? I might just have to put my walking boots on and stomp off in a huff. The clue is in the name.

But I agree there's a need to "analyse the factors which contribute to known accident blackspots". This is the problem. The social/media debate about road safety limits itself to arguments about speeding, name calling, generalisations, and accusations of failure. In this atmosphere the very complex factors involved in accident analysis are impossible to discuss in public as the nuances are swamped by the outcry, and any analysis that doesn't support the theories of those that 'know' is dismissed as spin. Sad but true, people who use road safety as a political football need to stop, look both ways and think carefully before proceeding. Polarising the debate even more will not save lives.

Some of the best road safety ideas are very minor and almost invisible. Better streetlights and newer road surfaces can be just as effective as 'vertical deflection features' (see, I'm not fixated on humps), though politicians generally don't like invisible improvements because they don't think they win votes, hence the bold brash traffic management schemes of the 1990's. Who cares if they don't work, the voting public will be happy that 'something has been done'. The real scandal is that nationally £M's were spent on traffic management projects that served no real purpose, money which could have been used to tackle easily preventable death through illness and poverty, or else getting older and less safe cars off the road sooner. Or maybe updating our antiquated driver/vehicle licensing system that allows unregistered/untaxed/uninsured/unlicensed drivers to use the roads freely.

Mrs Angry said...

...and where is your evidence, RR, that "£Ms" were spent on "traffic management projects that served no purpose"?

I do agree with you, however (oh dear) that we need to do more keep uninsured/unlicensed drivers off the roads: both the fatal accidents I witnessed were caused by drivers who had neither licence nor insurance.