Emergency cycle lanes on London’s Kensington High Street will be removed this week, with the Tory-controlled council claiming that the scheme is “not working” – although the decision seems to be one that is based on feelings rather than hard data.
The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC), which even before the COVID-19 pandemic strongly resisted any attempts by Transport for London (TfL) for segregated cycle lanes to be routed along its streets, introduced the lanes on either side of the road, marked off from the main carriageway by plastic wands, in September.
They run, with some gaps, from near Olympia at the western end of the High Street to just past the Royal Albert Hall in the east, from where riders can enter Hyde Park and continue along Cycleway 3.
But confirming their removal this weekend, councillor Johnny Thalassites, RBKC’s lead member for transport, said: “The cycle lane was a trial scheme to help those hopping on bikes during lockdowns and encourage shoppers to the High Street. Businesses and residents have told us loud and clear that they believe the experiment has not worked. We are listening.
“By removing the temporary lanes as lockdown lifts, we hope to help get the High Street moving again and give our local economy the best possible chance of a good December.”
News of their impending removal – the works will take place over five nights from Wednesday 2 December – has been described as a “backwards step” by nearby Fox Primary School, which is calling on West Londoners to show their support for the cycle lanes by riding along them (alone or with others as permitted by current restrictions) from 8am tomorrow.
Attention West Londoners!! One of the local primary schools impacted by @RBKC deciding to scrap the brand new and only safe cycle lane through K&C on Kensington High St wants you to know about this. Tuesday 8am #savethelane pic.twitter.com/voAzQEXW97
— citymobility (@citycyclists) November 29, 2020
Imperial College, whose main site lies close to the Royal Albert Hall and which also has a campus at White City, said that the cycle lanes were being used as a safe route by staff and students travelling between the two locations.
Opposition to the lanes has intensified over the past week, with local MP Felicity Buchan and fellow Conservative Tony Devenish, Member of the London Assembly for the area, writing to the council calling for the lanes to be removed.
They claimed that “it is apparent to most people who use the High Street to travel, whether on a bike or other form of transport, that Kensington High Street is not an appropriate location for a cycle lane, either for cyclists or all other road users.”
Meanwhile, last weekend, the actor Nigel Havers complained they were “causing gridlock every day” in a column for the Mail on Sunday – the newspaper’s offices, coincidentally, are just off Kensington High Street.
CCTV footage from Transport for London (TfL), however, portrays a very different picture – here’s the “havoc” on Kensington High Street at around half past nine this morning, and cyclist numbers on the road have doubled since the lanes were installed.
— always last (@lastnotlost) November 30, 2020
Removal of the cycle lanes does seem to be more of a knee-jerk reaction to calls for them to be scrapped than anything backed up by data, however, with figures from TfL showing that people walking, cycling and using public transport to get to local shops spend the most there – 40 per cent more each month than car drivers.
And as Hackney councillor Jon Bourke, who has faced vocal opposition and even received death threats over his championing of cycle lanes and low traffic neighbourhoods in his borough, in RKBC less than half of households have access to a car.
At the 2011 Census, well over half of all households in Kensington and Chelsea (56 per cent) did not have access to a car or van. This was the ninth highest percentage nationally and had increased by 5.6 per cent since 2001.
This is a decision of, for, and by the few. pic.twitter.com/WFJFmgtvZm
— Cllr Jon Burke (@jonburkeUK) November 29, 2020
A petition cited by RBKC as demonstrating local residents’ opposition to the cycle lane turns out, on closer analysis, to have been signed by people living elsewhere in the UK as well as further afield, for example Egypt, Nigeria and the United States.
Meanwhile, here’s the reaction of one local cyclist about having safe space to ride with her children – space that will be taking away in the coming days.
Why is @RBKC making it harder for people to get around & travel through their borough during a pandemic?
— betterstreets4kc (@betterstreetskc) November 29, 2020
In June last year, RBKC withdrew its support for a planned segregated cycleway running from Holland Park Avenue to Notting Hill Gate and which would have formed part of a longer route from Acton to close to where Cycleway 3 begins at Lancaster Gate.
The temporary cycle lane on Kensington High Street itself surprised many active travel campaigners when it was unveiled, not least because the planned Cycleway 9 from Brentford will stop at Olympia on RBKC’s western boundary rather than continuing along the road, due to the council’s opposition to segregated cycle lanes on major routes.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.