Wood Lane – Notting Hill Gate scheme: our view

TfL has a current consultation to massively improve walking and cycling conditions in four linked neighbourhoods stretching from Wood Lane, through Shepherd's Bush, along Holland Park Avenue and ending beyond Notting Hill Gate at the Westminster border. We think the scheme is excellent, and it includes continuous safe cycle tracks along it's length. So please support it: you can read our brief take on it and how to respond to the consultation here and see our full response here.

Despite it being a really good scheme, there have been many concerns raised from some residents, some businesses and some local politicians. It is absolutely important that the Mayor, his team and TfL take these concerns seriously and listen to them. But it’s also very important that they move forward on the basis of evidence and policy, not hyperbole, hearsay and myth – which do seem to be at play with some of the issues raised, and in the tone and tenor of many emails we’ve been sent and tweets we’ve seen.

It’s also important that residents, businesses and politicians listen to the evidence – politics doesn’t go well when we don’t listen to each other, and when decisions are made on whom shouts loudest, rather than the actual evidence available.

Of course, the reality is only a relatively small proportion of residents, and businesses in the area are putting forward these concerns – over and over this is the case. It is important to understand the issues raised, but it is also a failing of the current system that many voices are often missed in this dialogue – the scheme passes many educational institutions and it is interesting that the voices of the young, the students and pupils, are largely silent in the debate thus far.

Change is difficult and often scary – and it is an understandable human reaction to fear it. But in a growing city, rocked by climate, inactivity, congestion, collision and pollution crises, it is no longer acceptable to make decisions based on fear of change. And it is no longer acceptable to delay needed change, based on evidence, because of fear. Or are our very real and well-evidenced fears of the climate crisis, of air quality, of a struggling NHS, really outweighed by fears based on very little evidence (or often no evidence at all)?

The concerns raised, and our view:

Below we cover in detail how and why the scheme will not increase road danger, but rather reduce it; why the felling of trees associated with the scheme, while far from ideal, is worth it; why the scheme will not create gridlock, increase pollution or delay emergency services (rather, in the latter, the opposite); why fears of displaced traffic into residential streets should not derail the scheme (but might mean further mitigation is needed after monitoring); why shops along the route are likely to thrive rather than suffer and how impacts to buses will be minor and can be best addressed.

Road danger will increase

The picture above is the Crashmap results for the last five years of collision data available for the route the scheme passes along, just for serious injuries and fatalities. The roads covered by the scheme are manifestly hostile and dangerous. In the last five years, over 150 injuries have been recorded between Shepherd’s Bush roundabout and the scheme end alone. Serious and fatal injuries come approximately one every three months on that stretch of Holland Park Avenue alone.

That’s an unacceptable toll by any standard – and anyone who raises safety concerns about the scheme, particularly anyone suggesting things are fine as they are, needs to think long and hard about how to square their opposition to the scheme with the data.

Several people have raised the issue of faster cyclists, of a gradient, of behaviour of cyclists at lights, but again, across London the data tells a very clear picture – while poor cyclist behaviour is common, it is no more common than poor driver behaviour, and poor pedestrian behaviour. But far more importantly, the overwhelming and disproportionate majority of road danger – of collisions, of injuries, of fatalities – is caused by poor driver behaviour (see the studies from Transport Research Laboratory, summarised here and work by the West Midland Police Road Harm Reduction Team among others).

This scheme is set to reduce road danger dramatically – that is clear from any clear-eyed assessment of the plans. It is likely to result in slower, calmer driving, less motor traffic-dominated environments, improved pedestrian crossings and far far safer cycling.

Similar schemes across London, and internationally, again, demonstrably don’t result in increased danger, but the opposite. And again it is worrying that many residents and politicians seem keener to make claims than use evidence and data to assess the issues.

Trees are being felled for the scheme

Two mature trees and several other large trees, as well as some smaller and indeed struggling trees in the central reservation are proposed to be felled. That is far from ideal. But we have to weigh up the pros and cons of a scheme that is set to dramatically boost walking and cycling rates, enable many more people to walk and cycle in the area and will overall increase tree planting versus those mature trees lost.

It’s important to understand that many schemes that affect our roads across London involve the loss of trees. It does appear that many of those raising trees as a primary concern now weren’t raising concerns about other highways changes in the area and beyond before. And the question must then be asked – is this about trees? Or is cycling just less important than trees to some people (while HS2 is far more important, for instance)? We believe that each scheme needs to minimise tree loss, but that the amount of tree loss here is far outweighed by the potential good the scheme will do over time.

The scheme will cause gridlock

Simply put, there is no evidence it will. Indeed, TfL’s modelling shows the impact on buses and private motor vehicles is very small for schemes of this type.

On top of that, we are a growing city, with congestion increasing, where the Mayor’s Transport Strategy aims to nearly halve the proportion of private motor vehicles compared to other modes by 2041. If that is a serious aim, we need to stop opposing schemes that evidentially are likely to enable people to shift away from private motor cars because one junction gets a bit worse.

Similarly, claims the scheme will worsen air pollution don't seem to be based in any evidence or data. The same claims are routinely made about the East-West Cycle Superhighway CS3 and indeed the Tavistock Place scheme, however air quality appears to have improved along these corridors, not worsened.

Some have also raised the issue of traffic “displacement”. It does not appear that TfL believes much of this will happen. But if it does, that does not mean the scheme should be cancelled. The answer to ratrun/through motor traffic on residential streets is not solved by simply doing nothing as motor traffic congestion increases and apps such as Google Maps and Waze increasingly encourage drivers to avoid lights and congested main roads. The answer is to build what we call “low traffic neighbourhoods” (see more here). We would support residents, TfL and Kensington & Chelsea council working together on this where needed or wanted.

The scheme can be rerouted

The scheme is directly along the alignment of two of TfL’s Strategic Cycling Analysis top 25 highest potential for cycling routes in London. These are routes where TfL has used data to identify corridors where many current motor traffic journeys could and should easily be cycled. Any other route would have to be designed to fulfil this potential, to be high-quality and attractive for people who currently drive but might cycle here and would need to pass through key destinations along this potential route.

LCC is always open to conversations about route alignments – and is in this case. But those routes we’ve seen thus far suggested are really not in any way viable – either they don’t fulfil this key desire line and its potential, or they avoid key destinations and amenities, which are really important to fulfil the potential of the route, or they do not enable a complete route without significant diversion and loss of coherence (in other words, we have copious data and evidence to demonstrate expecting people to wiggle all round the houses doesn’t work in enabling large numbers of new people to cycle) or are far too far away from this potential corridor. You can see TfL’s SCA maps in zoomable format here.

Other commenters have suggested other approaches - even a one-way reversible cycle track - that appear primarily aimed at retaining motor traffic lanes on Holland Park Avenue. We have yet to see credible scheme diagrams or explanations. Cycle schemes and highways changes require complex modelling and careful design around junctions etc. There are good design and engineering reasons why TfL propose the schemes they do. Of course, reversible one-way schemes also would not enable the broader range of cycling and the shorter journeys, and out of peak journeys, that TfL's Strategic Cycling Analysis identifies as switchable from car journeys.

There is also another issue that must be addressed – whenever a major new cycle scheme comes forward, particularly involving cycle tracks on main roads, it’s always the "wrong alignment" or the "wrong approach". We can’t have a sensible conversation about cycling schemes if every resident assumes they have more cycle infrastructure expertise than TfL engineers and all the other cycle infrastructure planners and experts involved in this process. And while overall and general support for more cycling schemes in London has repeatedly shown to be huge (repeated surveys show an overwhelming majoprity of Londoners support cycling), when it comes to the main road at the end of your street, many residents, it would appear, suddenly get cold feet.

The scheme will delay emergency services

This is incredibly unlikely, and again there is no evidence to make this claim at all. Other schemes haven’t seen delays to emergency services increase. And indeed the main stated delays to emergency services generally, across London are poorly parked cars, motor traffic congestion, cars not moving out of the way. Existing Cycleway schemes in London regularly see emergency services vehicles using the cycle tracks to avoid congestion.

Shops will suffer

Again there is very little evidence this will come to pass, and the likelihood is trade will improve instead. Over and over across London, on just about every scheme going, traders vastly overestimate the importance of delivery spots directly outside their shopfronts, overestimate by an even greater factor the amount of money drivers spend in their shops, and underestimate the positive impact of changes to the streets their shops are on with these types of schemes. See TfL’s case studies for more information.

In Waltham Forest’s mini-Holland schemes, vacancy rates for shops have gone down markedly, despite dire predictions of the “death” of the shopping high street, and footfall is up dramatically. Similar results can be seen across London, the UK and internationally – as can similar fears voiced prior to changes.

That said, again, it is clear some businesses will need to adjust practices and some will need delivery, loading bays etc. It is important that businesses have an honest and open dialogue with TfL about their needs and that TfL listens. But that conversation doesn’t begin with doom-mongering.

The scheme will affect buses

Bus journey times aren’t set to be dramatically impacted by the scheme, and the moving of some bus stops is not in itself a reason to cancel a scheme – all bus stop movements should be carefully considered and balanced against the improvements the scheme makes by TfL, listening to residents.