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Kensington and Chelsea cycle lanes to be ripped out this week

Kensington and Chelsea council caves in to opponents of schemes on key London roads

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.

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.

> ‘Scenes of utter havoc’: Nigel Havers rants about cycle lanes ‘causing gridlock every day’ in front of empty 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.

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.

> More shoppers, more shops: TfL stats show benefits of designing streets around cyclists and pedestrians

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.

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.

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 joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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Rocky | 3 years ago

I've cycled down Kensington High St for the past 9 years most working days as part of my commute (although not as regularly as usual recently during lockdown).  It is a pretty dangerous road to cycle down at the best of times and the temporary cycle lane certainly makes it much easier and safer to negotiate on the bike.  In terms of the cycle lane causing gridlock every day - that is rubbish.  It was often completely jammed up at rush hour morning and evening before the cycle lane was put in and you would have to thread your way through a thousand stationary cars.  But in my recent experience (at rush hours) the traffic has been pretty light and free flowing since the cycle lane was put in.  Whether that lighter traffic is partly down to less people commuting into town due to covid or Hammersmith Bridge being shut I don't know.  But it seems premature to get rid of it based on the claimed evidence and what I've seen with my own eyes through regular use.

eburtthebike replied to Rocky | 3 years ago
Rocky wrote:

In terms of the cycle lane causing gridlock every day - that is rubbish.  It was often completely jammed up at rush hour morning and evening before the cycle lane was put in and you would have to thread your way through a thousand stationary cars.  But in my recent experience (at rush hours) the traffic has been pretty light and free flowing since the cycle lane was put in. 

A very good point, and doubtless the council will have the evidence of traffic flow data to support their contention that the congestion has been worse since the cycle lane was put in.  If not, the decision is flawed and can be challenged.  I would advise local cyclists to challenge it immediately, demand that it be postponed until the challenge has been decided and the council has produced the evidence.  Get a good lawyer.

brooksby | 3 years ago

Well, Nigel Havers will be happy.

Mungecrundle replied to brooksby | 3 years ago

Presumably he will not be happy if the traffic congestion that the cycle lanes were not causing does return. I would imagine that a single serious collision involving a now unprotected cyclist is going to cause far more disruption than a whole month of cycle lane presence.

brooksby replied to Mungecrundle | 3 years ago

But it's the cycle lanes causing all the congestion, so obviously there will be empty roads all around K&C now and he will never ever have to so much as see a stationary motor vehicle...

lio replied to brooksby | 3 years ago

Here let me correct that for you:

Well, convicted drink driver Nigel Havers will be happy.
He'll probably say as much himself in his next slurry rant in the Daily Mail.

@Mungecrundle he won't care if the congestion gets worse or not, he just has a grudge against cyclists.  He even put cyclists into "Room 101" when he was on that show years ago.

Jenova20 replied to brooksby | 3 years ago
1 like
brooksby wrote:

Well, Nigel Havers will be happy.

He needs lots of road space as he struggles to stay within the lines after a few drinks.

alexb | 3 years ago

It's not as if the Borough doesn't already have form for making bad decisions that kill people is it?

StuInNorway | 3 years ago

The "survey" used to argue removal of the lane appears to have "locals" from Argyll in Scotland, Nigeria, Egypt, Brighton, and other far flung corners of Chelsea and Kensington...  I never realised the queues reached as far as Africa !

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