Brian Coleman’s record on road safety

Brian Coleman, a Conservative member of the London Assembly and Barnet councillor, is known for three things: his huge taxi bills claimed on expenses, his frequent controversial outbursts (such as here, here and here) and his dislike of road humps and other road safety measures. The first two get most of the attention, but how does his approach to road safety stack up?

First up: Partingdale Lane, where I’ll let Wikipedia do the talking as its piece (at the time of writing) has the detailed, sourced story:

Coleman takes great pride in his campaign to re-open Partingdale Lane, a narrow country road with no pavement, between Mill Hill and Woodside Park in London. The lane was closed by Barnet’s previous Labour council for safety reasons, not least that residents of nearby Woodside Park had been using the road as a high speed rat-run.

The road was reopened in December 2002, before being closed again two months later following a High Court judgement.

Following a £250,000 safety improvement project (including a pavement, traffic islands, 20mph flashing speed-limit signs and width restrictions) the road was reopened in September 2007. Coleman accused residents of staging one of the two car accidents reported in the weeks following the reopening of Partingdale Lane [my emphasis]. A third collision in Partingdale Lane in May 2008 brought further criticism of Coleman.

A Lib Dem councillor commented that “Brian Coleman is like a child with a favourite toy. He just wouldn’t let this go and his colleagues let him do it to make up for the fact that they’ll never make him leader of the council”. Coleman, cabinet member for community safety, said he was too busy to comment.

November 2008 saw a fourth crash in Partingdale Lane when a speeding car forced a parked vehicle into a ditch.

In other words: he insisted on opening the road, had to think again after the courts ruled against the policy (with the judge directly criticising Brian Coleman’s behaviour), then saw £250,000 spent on safety measures, even after all that the road sees regular accidents though Brian Coleman claimed that residents had faked a car accident. Oooh, conspiracy. And a big bill. Keeping the road closed would not only have avoided accidents, it would have saved £250,000 on the road works, and it would have saved the extra money spent on the court case, consultations and so on.

All in all, not very impressive. But that’s just one road.

When the Conservatives took control of Barnet Council in 2002, their flagship policy – very much led by Brian Coleman – was to remove large numbers of road humps, traffic islands and other traffic calming and safety measures.

What do the figures show us on road safety?  Here are the figures for the total number of casualties (i.e. deaths and injuries) each year in Barnet, along with the figures for the total number across all of outer London, sourced from the official records:

Year Barnet % change Outer London % change
2003 1,658 -10.4% 22,121 -7.7%
2004 1,570 -5.3% 20,135 -9.0%
2005 1,356 -13.6% 18,616 -7.5%
2006 1,347 -0.7% 17,392 -6.6%
2007 1,392 3.3% 16,381 -5.8%
Overall -16.0% -25.9%

Those first year figures look striking. But the policy wasn’t a one-off just for 2003, and you can’t judge the safety impact of a policy just on its immediate effect. (Would you be happy with a safety policy that halved injuries in year one, but then doubled them in each subsequent year for example? Of course not.)

And the longer term impact is less than impressive. Whilst across outer London (i.e. across comparable London boroughs), the figures have fallen by just over a quarter in the last five years, in Barnet the fall is much less.

Indeed, if Barnet’s total casualty figures had changed in line with the outer London average each year over those last five years, the total number of casualties would have been 229 less. That’s a gap that is likely to grow as, had Barnet been matching the average performance across comparable boroughs, the 2007 figure would have been lower than it actually achieved.

Barnet Liberal Democrats have been calling for a rethinking on road safety in the borough: “These figures [the latest annual numbers] make grim reading, and the council must investigate why this is the case” (source: Barnet Liberal Democrats).

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