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HARINGEY Council are winning their war against the cycling lobby

Cars in bus lane Seven Sisters Road 7AM, the morning after lockdown easing announced*

ON behalf of the minority of car-owners, Haringey Council—more clearly than ever—are now winning the war against those in the Borough arguing for measures to advance the interests of cyclists and “active travel”.

The Council Cabinet responsibilities for (a) Highways and (b) Strategic Transport are divided between two Councillors. However, between them, they are succeeding in throwing back the siren voices of human-powered travel. Not by loud words, but by quiet deeds.

BIKE LANE DELETED

Perhaps the best single example of a battle won, is the deletion last year of an established cycle path leading to a major transport hub. It was in Hale Road N17, close to the Tottenham Hale bus-, rail- and Underground interchange.

It could be viewed as provocative, but Highways officers are likely to be quietly satisfied that this smack-down to cyclists is big and unmistakeable. After performing her own thorough research, the Cabinet Member for Highways issued a statement (below) defending the deletion on the grounds of cyclists' safety, that “has to take priority” ~

Haringey is committed to … [insert nice phrase here]. Over the past two years, the council's active PR and various statements belie the quiet, low-profile facts on the ground. Let's look at the evidence:

  • 2005: the first major battle won—The Haringey Cycling Action Plan (PDF) was published in 2005. It represented an attack on the status quo by the advocates of cycling within the council, and there are a few. A 20mph speed limit was implemented years later. Apart from that measure not directly related to cycling infra, it is hard to see the fine words translated into "action" in the following 15 (fifteen) years. Does anyone remember that Action Plan? More powerful forces defeated it.

  • PR and propaganda—often this comprises untestable, unquantified, unfalsifiable propositions. Vagueness is key. For example, in the letter above there are general statements. Over "the next three to five years", there is little concrete, but there are "exciting plans". It is rare for the excitement to go beyond an early planning stage, but Haringey's commitment to nice things is endless and endlessly recycled. The formula of repeating warm-words and promises has endured for years and achieves the goal of keeping cycling advocates at bay.

  • Disinformation—if one focussed solely on council PR and ignored facts on the ground, one would suppose that the council was in the very vanguard of promoting cycling and walking. After all, was it not Haringey themselves who in 2019 hosted a London-wide conference on Active Travel and liveable neighbourhoods at their very own Alexandra Palace? The impression given is of a UK council leading in this area, whereas the facts on the ground run to the opposite conclusion. The maintenance of a pretence to the contrary is a credit to the generous funding of the big municipal public relations department. [8 September: Disinformation detected].

  • 2015—the Turnpike Lane bike stands—a tangible expression of Haringey's disdain for both cyclists and cycling is the "public art" of the bicycle stands outside an important bus and Underground station in Haringey. Due to the Councils' chronic inability to take cycling seriously or to appoint qualified, knowledgeable personnel, they first installed unsatisfactory stands in the vicinity of Wood Green Shopping City, further up the road.

    They have the shape of enormous paper-clips, commissioned and installed without thought as to their actual use. Styling, and not use, was paramount for the paper-clip stands (this was also the case for bike stands in Green Lanes—where an architect was engaged to style them).

    They were so silly that they were taken out at public expense and repurposed close to an Underground Station, where bike stands are needed for actual use. They are clustered together so tightly, that the council claim that they comprise "public art". However, the ill-provided cyclist residents still try to use them.

    How council staff must have laughed. Neither TfL nor the council have yet seen fit to correct this nonsense. The only purpose it serves is to remind cyclists of the contempt in which they are held by the Local Authority.

  • Pavement-parking—all new pavement parking—was installed last year in Northumberland Park N17. This allows cars to park partly over pedestrian pavements. It is true that some such parking was removed in the recent £1,000,000 worth of road-works along Wightman Road N4. However, the suggestions to put in a cycle lane and/or prevent the road being used as a through-route were seen off.

    In recent years, repairs to a railway bridge caused the whole of Wightman Road to be closed for four or five months and there was a slight chance of a permanent "filtering". It might have fallen prey to cyclists.

    Wightman Road is a rat run through a residential area and is Haringey's latest, best attempt at (compromised) road reform. In all the circumstances, the determination to keep cars flowing from end-to-end was in effect, a two-part victory!

  • School Streets—Haringey has conducted a stealthy battle against the spreading of this phenomenon, promoted by some parents concerned for the health and safety of their children. In order to pacify these few fresh-air fanatics, Haringey threw them a bone (or pacifier). There is but a single School Street in the Borough. It is down a cul-de-sac! How council officers must have enjoyed the fob-off token-measure! But the serious point is that any inconvenience to car users is minimised. The owners of SUVs can rest easy as nimble children can work around them.

  • Storage—the council makes available generous swathes of public land at the sides of carriageways for the semi-permanent storage of private property. This continues to be provided either for free or for a small fee. Another successful tactic has been the extended waiting times for Bike Hangars. 

    There has accumulated a long waiting list for bike storage throughout the Borough. Haringey has been more successful than other Boroughs in choking the demand; Hackney Council appears to have caved in to a wish for change, but Haringey gets it: that every new bike hangar is a small retreat and defeat that concedes ground to the enemy. Each one sacrifices a valuable car-parking space. They will continue to be dispensed as though from an eye-dropper.

  • Token measures—like a competent General, one of the clever ways that Haringey is holding the line is by conceding ground in unimportant areas, while occupying the commanding heights of transport (i.e. the principal arteries of pollution). One could cite many examples of Haringey making tiny, token gestures toward cycling infra, that ticks a box and can be offered up as progress towards the active travel mantra. There are short strips of cycle lane that are pointless and unused. Some are deceived by Haringey's polished, Potemkin Village-style devices. As in the past, there is an official Councillor Cycling Champion. That "office" is without budget, power or influence. It exists for decoration.

  • Political responsibility—Haringey has managed to ensure that no-one has formal responsibility for cycling at the elected, political level. While some 50 areas of responsibility for Cabinet Members are formally listed, Cycling is not one of them. In theory, it falls between two Cabinet Members' areas: "Highways" and "Strategic Transport". Each Cabinet Member can claim it is the responsibility of the other. Thus, it is no one's responsibility and little-to-nothing gets done.

There is not a published policy to promote car use and car-ownership, in fact, to the contrary. One of the two relevant Cabinet members has said, "I hate cars" and, "I'm famous for not liking cars". Haringey has produced any amount of notices and literature claiming to promote active travel. It’s clever, because it creates an impression of action, whereas the deeds on the ground go in the opposite direction, favouring car-use and car-owners. No other London Borough performs better at such bluff and diversion.

LOBBYING

On the face of it, semi-independent groups in Haringey battle and lobby in the interests of walking and cycling. They have been a useful lightning-rod for the non-car owner malcontents. They meet with the council and value their contacts and connections and delight in continuing dialogue and positive meetings. The privileged access these groups feel they enjoy, is played-on and played-up-to by canny officers and conservative councillors.

This humouring and fobbing-off has been deployed for a long time, although the residents' groups have not yet become complete council apologists. Haringey has a little further work to do to blunt them and to suborn those who would otherwise continue to push "active travel".

In Haringey one has to distinguish between—on one hand—the smokescreen of PR, talking, meetings, promises and warm words, and on the other hand, the physical reality on the ground, year-in and year-out.

MILESTONE

This week, Haringey erected a milestone in their war against the bicycle. The council's assertion did attract the attention of the All Party Parliamentary Committee for Cycling & Walking, but then they have little influence in our car-friendly Borough. Here is Haringey's official, written, passive-aggressive answer to a formal question from an Opposition Councillor: 

A SUBVERSIVE ARTICLE

Recently there has been published, however, a potentially dangerous essay by a serving Haringey Councillor that in the long run, could yet threaten the use and ownership of cars in our London Borough.

Haringey lives and breathes cars and the views expressed could represent a new battle-front. The article was well and elegantly written and that could become a problem. 

However, in the short-run at least, car-owners can be confident that both Cabinet Members and the Officers will know how to deal with this latest challenge: the former may publicly applaud it while the latter will ignore it and continue with their previous policies, with real effect on the ground. Business as usual.

CDC

*top photo by
Cllr. Mike Hakata

Tags: All Party Parliamentary Committee for Cycling and Walking, Anneliese Dodds, Baroness Barker, Ben Bradshaw, Daniel Zeichner, Extinction Rebellion Camden, Fabian Hamilton, Feryal Clark, Flick Drummond, Haringey Council, More…Kirsten Hearn, Layla Morgan, Lillian Greenwood, Liveable Neighbourhoods, Living Streets, Lord Berkeley, Lord Russell of Liverpool, Lord Young of Cookham, Lord Young of Norwood Green, Matt Western, Meg Hillier, Mike Hakata, Rachael Maskell, Ruth Cadbury, Seema Chandwani, Virginia Crosbie, XR Camden

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Replies to This Discussion

There's a problem with basing an argument upon the fact that car ownership in Haringey is low (much less then 50%) and they consequently enjoy too much council attention. It's this - cycle ownership and use is infinitesimally lower still, and therefore, deserves no attention.

Which is presumably not what you intend to argue.

In fact there is a mode of travel common across the borough that approaches 100% and seemingly has few fanatical proponents. Walking. I propose that the interests of drivers and cyclists should be secondary, and the interests of those on foot take precedence in the design of all streets.

Crouch End does now have a temporarily widened pavement outside the Post Office.

I think this is Highways (Cllr Chandwani) rather than Strategic Transport (Cllr Hearn) and easily undone.

 

Oh. I'll go and have a look.

Plastic, then paint, then screwing things down (orcas?), then pouring tarmac...  we'll have our wider pavements before the lobsters know they're boiled.

Easily undone indeed. My guess is 10 minutes to install and nine minutes to undo.

The Haringey Council Cabinet Member for Highways has today said school streets (with similar barriers) are the responsibility of the Cabinet Member for Strategic Transport (i.e. it is not her responsibility.

You could be forgiven for thinking this stuff is no one's responsibility.

As Hackney Council forges ahead with clear policies in the field of active travel, Haringey drives around in circles.

I wonder if this meeting presages a change in the Haringey attitude? Or is "Thank you it was very productive" the standard brush off.

“VERY PRODUCTIVE”

It is unlikely the attitude has changed and the meeting is consistent with the description at the top.

Expect more statements along the lines of:

Working with the community, Haringey Council is committed
to Active Travel and improving cycling infrastructure.

In view of the attention of the Parliamentary Committee (above), there may be a redoubling of the PR/propaganda effort and further meetings.

The word productive is being misused.

The production from the meeting that was described as very productive are the statements. i.e. the statements, available for PR, that the meetings were "very productive".

It is important to appreciate that the warm words (of being very productive) was the goal of the meeting.

That goal was achieved. To grasp this is to understand how the council works.

The dialogue is no more than a holding tactic; the only thing that matters is action. One cannot rule out action later in the decade.

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