Saturday, 7 April 2012

Something for cyclists in Barnet

I noted in a previous post how parts of one of the few pleasant traffic-free routes for cyclists in the Borough of Barnet, the path along the Dollis Valley in Finchley, marked on earlier editions of the Transport for London Cycling Guides as open between Waverley Grove, off Hendon Lane, and Dollis Road, and on the current guides as running not so far north, up only to Hendon Avenue, had been closed to cyclists by Barnet Council, apparently at the behest of local residents.

In exploring the Brent Cyclists route to the Great Divide Ride starting point at New Southgate, I was able to confirm that at least one small good thing has happened for cycling in Barnet recently (which I had already read of in newspaper reports): the stream-side path from Hendon Lane to Hendon Avenue, through Windsor Open Space,  has been re-vamped, and given new (rustic, wooden) signage, and the signs banning cycling are gone (though I did not see any specifically encouraging cycling either).

The new path, seemingly intended for cyclists and pedestrians, alongside the Dollis Brook through Windsor Open Space
It would appear that this is now intended to be a cycle route, and it appears that this aspect of the Open Space improvement works was pressed on to the normally cycle-indifferent (to put it charitably) Barnet Council by Boris Johnson. According to the Hendon & Finchley Times,
The bulk of the money for the scheme came from a £400,000 grant from the Mayor of London, with £250,000 was also secured from Transport for London for cycle and footpath improvements.
The plan won a competition for funding from the mayor back in 2009, in which the public were asked to vote on-line. The cycle route was mentioned at that stage, when the relatively enlightened Cllr Andrew Harper was Barnet's environment chief. I am certain of that, despite the fact it is not mentioned in the newspaper articles, because I recall that cyclists on the internet were mobilised to support the plan, which is possibly why it won. It fell to a new (or back in the job again) Barnet environment chief, the notoriously anti-cycling Cllr Brian Coleman (also London Assembly Member for Camden and Barnet) to finish the job, and I can only assume that Boris must have leant on him, for, in spite of a vociferous anti-cycling lobby in the area (in reality probably only one or two bigoted people, as usual), he did so, though the quality of execution of the work, and its state of completion, remain locally controversial. So it is curious that perhaps the best bit of cycling in Barnet has been put in place, against the wishes of some of his constituents, by a man who once wrote:
I consider cycle lanes to be an unnecessary obstruction to cars, for which of course, roads were built.
But they say there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner that repenteth...

The new shared path is only half a mile long, and there is some merit in the arguments of opponents, to the extent that it is not actually wide enough for sharing. Beyond Hendon Avenue the path continues but has not been resurfaced, and is un-cycleable, so one must return to the road. The cycle path could, in principle, with sufficient investment and political will, be made to go the whole four miles or so along the stream from Totteridge in the north to Hendon in the south, or even to Brent Cross, and link in to another path, now banned to cyclists, east-west along the Mutton Brook from Hendon to East Finchley, which would give cyclists a nice route parallel to part of the North Circular Road. But such grander "Greenway" plans have never made much progress in this part of London, despite some abortive efforts by Sustrans. (Ken Livingstone is promising £10 million for Greenways should he win the election.)

There is another cycleable section of the Dollis Valley, in Totteridge, where, surprisingly, Dutch-style separate paths for cyclists and pedestrians were provided, years ago. To connect between the two off-road sections one is supposed to use a quiet "back street" route that runs to the east of the brook, between Dollis Road and Whetstone, marked as part of the London Cycle Network. Dollis Road itself, unfortunately, is a particularly nasty piece of narrow rat-run where it runs under a constricting arch of the Northern Line (Mill Hill Branch) viaduct. This has always been the problem point on this route. I have seen signage indications that an off-road route may have been provided here as well as part of this work, but I have not tested it. The on-road LCN route north of Dollis Road is not bad, as it is not a rat-run, though has a difficult crossing of Argyle Road, which is a rat-run, as it forms part of one of the few east-west routes for motor vehicles across the middle part of Barnet, along with the famous Partingdale Lane, over which Brian Coleman successfully battled environmentalists, residents, judges and cyclists to open it to through-traffic, and subsequently widened it. I have encountered several conspicuous examples of motorist aggression on this route.

At its intersection with a path called Lovers Walk, the LCN route also sports one of the most ludicrous anti-cycling barrier constructions I have ever seen. Cyclists are require to dismount and wiggle through two caged sections to get between Gordon Road and Brent Way. And what all that extra barrierage adjacent to the footpaths is for, I haven't a clue. When I first saw this, I was incredulous. I could hardly refrain from shouting out loud "Bananas! Absolutely bananas!" as I remounted and cycled away from the spot.

Candidate for Cycle Facility of the Month? Junction of the Dollis Valley route with Lovers Walk, looking towards Brent Way, Barnet.
Remember, there is no road running through here. This is just the intersection of two paths. That somebody in the council office, with a drawing board, though that all this steelwork was necessary to protect walkers using Lovers Walk from cyclists using the Dollis Valley route is quite incredible. It is probably more evidence of a local hostility to cycling. Only in a nation completely clueless about utility cycling could something so absurd exist. Barmy Barnet: I rest my case, m'Lud.


  1. David,
    Do please submit the above mysterious metal monstrosity to CFOTM, it surely must be evidence of rampant hyper-cyclophobia.

  2. How does a disabled person using a specialised bike 'dismount'?
    And where are the signs indicating where its safe to remount?

  3. I use this route everyday to/from work at Hendon and very rarely at all meet anyone at the chicane. Given the path at right angles is a lighly used footpath it would be much more logical to have the barriers the other way round.

    Dollis Road is indeed nasty. There is a short section of off road cycle path to get you from Gordon Road to the corner so you have an easier crossing, but from there to the next cycle cut through it is narrow with central islands. Car drivers do seem to see this as a personal challenge to beat the cyclist to the gap or indeed go wrong side of the bollards lest they be delayed for micro seconds. It would be very difficult to do much to sort this out other than a 20 mph speed limit, but of course Barnet will never do that.

    Meanwhile at work we have been surveyed to ask us what would encourage cycling to work. Get Barnet to spend on cycle paths I responded. So yet again Easy Barnet are out of touch with local employers!

    Oh Dear