Lionel Barnard, West Sussex County Council Cabinet member for Highways & Transport
I wrote recently about the plight of the villagers of Cowfold. West Sussex County Council is proposing to axe the number 86 bus through the village, which would leave the children of the village with no way to get to school, except by being ferried by motor vehicles.
These children, and other residents, could, of course, use a bicycle to get to school, or to nearby towns. But this is Britain in 2011, and attempting to travel a distance of a few miles on a major road is seen as a dangerous and reckless act by most sane-minded citizens, and also by councillors responsible for transport.
Yes, councillors responsible for transport, like councillor Lionel Barnard, the deputy leader of West Sussex County Council, and the Cabinet member for Highways & Transport.
Cllr Barnard bravely (it has to be said) attended a public meeting at Cowfold Village Hall on Wednesday 8th June, organized by the many residents of the village who are understandably upset at staring down the barrel of total car-dependency.
A village parent, Anita Casey, had the following questions for Cllr Barnard.
Where parents cannot take their children to school for good reason, where they cannot get time off work or because of financial reasons, will you accept that some of these children will have no choice but to cycle to school? Are you happy for young cyclists to cycle on the main A272? Is it a safe road for young cyclists to be on? And what is the risk to your political reputation for putting children’s lives at risk because you have removed their safe and preferred option, the 86 bus?
Here is Cllr Barnard’s response –
Nobody wants to put lives at risk. That’s certainly something we would not do. We’ve found an answer that we are looking at very, very closely with Heritage [a private bus company] to get children to school. Where there’s a viable bus service, the bus operators will pick that up and run with it.
I had to read it twice, but it’s there in black and white. Cllr Barnard does not want to put children’s lives at risk by leaving them with the frankly insane option of cycling on his county’s roads.
He is going to keep them safe, of course, but not by ameliorating the conditions of the road for its most vulnerable users – rather, by arranging for a private hire company to ferry them by bus (at a cost to their parents) to their schools.
What I find remarkable is that this kind of attitude is completely unremarkable. West Sussex County Council’s member for Transport openly states that children simply cannot cycle short distances to school without putting themselves at serious risk of death, and nobody bats an eyelid.
No amount of Cyclecraft is ever going to make these roads attractive for children to cycle on, in theory or in practice. But that’s all there is for cyclists in Sussex, in the form of Bikeability. And on top of that, we have the cabinet member with responsibility for transport agreeing with Cowfold residents that cycling to school is an unthinkable option.
Is it any wonder that levels of cycling in this county are flatlining?