Monthly Archive for October, 2010

Uninspiring, nebulous drivel – Barnet’s “Sustainable Community Strategy”

This evening I attended a Barnet Civic Network event at North London Business Park. It was new to me but many of those present (generally greying men) complained about the participation being dominated by the “usual suspects”.

The agenda was a consultation of the “Vision”, “Values”, and “Priorities” of Barnet’s Sustainable Community Strategy for 2010-2020. The values were okay and the priorities weren’t too bad but there was nothing inspirational. It was mostly nebulous waffle. The real problem was the dearth of any real vision. The supposed vision statement consisted of tired old phrases the simply described the status quo (good schools, low crime, etc.). I also couldn’t see anything remotely addressing the word “sustainable”.

Of course Barnet already has a 10 year sustainable community strategy, adopted in 2008. Cllr Robert Roms explained that we needed a new one now because much had changed since 2008 (new government, financial crisis, etc.) though when I asked what in the proposed strategy was actually different from 2008 the lead he was somewhat stumped for an answer! A couple of people on my table commented they had seen the same stuff 10 or 15 years ago. A quick web search now I’ve got home shows there was also a 10 year strategy agreed in 2006 which was also much the same.

Cllr Rams did seem keen to impress that he had some sort of vision, though I couldn’t quite discern what it was. He did ask me to get in touch with him to discuss further so I’ll email him and give him the benefit of the doubt for now. But this uninspiring, nebulous technocratic waffle is just another reminder of how hollow Town Halls have become.

An elected Mayor would bring focus and profile to civic leadership that would attract higher calibre politicians and also encourage them to be braver. Certainly Barnet needs a shake-up.

Why scrapping the M4 bus lane is bad for motorists

I’m no stranger to the M4 and the bottleneck around the bus lane at Junction 3, getting back into London is infuriating. The news been somewhat drowned out by benefit changes but Phil Hammond’s shamelessly populist announcement that the M4 bus lane will be scrapped is going to make things worse, not better.

The rationale for the M4 bus lane is poorly understood – and not helped by New Labour spinning it as an environmental measure when it was, and remains, primarily an important traffic management technique.

The reason there is a bottleneck on the M4 is that between junctions 3 and 2 the road reaches on elevated section, just two lanes wide on each side, and with a 40mph limit. It’s not hard to see that this would cause a bottleneck at the head of the a 70mph motorway with 3 lanes and a hard shoulder on each side. Widening the final section of the M4 is impractical/expensive/politicallly “brave” as widening an elevated motorway in London involves requisitioning and demolishing so much private property.

So the Highways Agency came up with a simple, yet ingenious measure. In order to manage the flow of traffic better they brought the narrowing of the road forward to junction 3, when much traffic is leaving the M4 anyway, and dropping the speed to 50mph (since raised to 60mph). That left them with a “spare” lane and rather than painting it with white lines (or planting trees or whatever) they decided to paint it red so that the few busses and taxis on the M4 could take advantage – and why not? Of course, the bus lane is under-utilised, if it wasn’t it wouldn’t solve the bottleneck!

Although the bus lane reduces the space available on the road it smoothes traffic flow: the well-respected Transport Research Laboratory’s research showed that despite increased traffic, peak-time journey times were actually reduced for all vehicles; off-peak times did go up slightly for cars, but all journeys were more reliable.

For more detail, including a graphical explanation on the M4 bus lane, see Chris Marshall’s explanation.

Phil Hammond’s announcement may well earn him some brownie points for seeming to oppose an “anti-motorist” measure. Yet the real anti-motorism here is this surrender of logic and evidence-based policy to shamless populism.