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Don’t rip out K&C cycle track says LCC

London Cycling Campaign | 30th November 2020

Click here to take action now, urgently UPDATE 3 December: Well, it's been an interesting few days. So, briefly, Better Streets K&C announced their intention to launch a judicial review against the decision by Kensington & Chelsea Council; the Mayor, Sadiq Khan, attacked the decision on LBC and hinted he was considering taking over K&C's roads (which would need sign-off by the government); the Kensington & Chelsea Chamber of Trade & Commerce joined the Kensington Business Forum in rowing back - they still oppose the temporary scheme, but now do want a "safe and permanent" one; the K&C councillors in the thick of it appeared to get their sums very wrong and suggested most people oppose the scheme when most people, including residents, appear to support the scheme (on emails sent to the borough - and let's not forget, none of this was a formal consultation!); last night XR and Stop Killing Cyclists stopped contractors who were attempting to begin to remove the scheme; tonight at 730 there will be a protest outside Kensington & Chelsea Town Hall.

London Cycling Campaign urges Kensington & Chelsea to look at the evidence, stop listening to a small number of anti-cycling voices and keep the massively successful cycle tracks on Kensington High Street.

Kensington & Chelsea council is set to act against the interest of Londoners and its own residents and businesses, as well as its own policies, and at a huge financial and reputational cost, rip out its recently and partially installed Kensington High Street wand-protected cycle track scheme. This, despite evidence that it is a huge success.

Click here to take action now, urgently

The case for

The Walking & Cycling Commissioner, Will Norman has already revealed figures showing cycle use doubled almost immediately after the scheme went in. According to The Standard it is now being used by 4,000 people a day, tripling usage prior to the scheme. And the scheme was due to begin its second phase of building, with junction changes, to further improve Kensington High Street.

The road has long held a horrific safety record not just for those cycling, but also those walking, and action was long overdue – it has been site to well over 130 fatal and serious collisions in the last 20 years. It is an act cynical and callous politics on the part of Kensington & Chelsea to not only deliberately endanger the many new and existing people cycling there, but also to fail to provide alternatives to motor vehicle use in a respiratory pandemic. And this is despite the scheme not demonstrably adding to congestion on the street, according to Better Streets for K&C’s own analysis.

The council seems content to avoid any genuine public consultation, ignore what reliable evidence there is and listen solely to the richest and loudest of voices – including it would appear, the proprietor of the Daily Mail, Lord Rothermere, whose journey has apparently been slightly disrupted by roadworks that happened at the same time as the scheme was going in.

Once again Kensington & Chelsea council appears to shamefully be ignoring ordinary, less resourced residents who need to use bikes to get around in favour of those with money, power and chauffeurs. And ludicrously, this time, K&C not only appears to be ignoring the evidence, but also many many public bodies supporting the scheme.

Not only has the local hospital called for more such schemes, but Imperial College and now the Royal Albert Hall have directly supported the Kensington High Street scheme, as well as several schools in the area, – one of which is promoting the idea that children, keyworkers and parents as well as anyone else supportive should ride along the tracks Tuesday, 8am!


Did the scheme work?

We know not only did the scheme work in terms of hugely increasing cycling numbers, but the evidence is it was likely to work in terms of reducing road danger along this previously horrifically dangerous street – which since 2000 has seen over 130 serious or fatal injuries – and particularly this number would have come down if TfL had been allowed by Kensington & Chelsea to begin and complete its junction works.

Better Streets Kensington & Chelsea have also looked at the congestion and motor traffic volumes on the street since the scheme went in. Their conclusion is motor traffic volumes have remained broadly similar to prior to the scheme, with travel times through the area unimpacted also (except for two weeks when heavy roadworks were occurring also).

There has been much talk of K&C doing “Quietways” on its residential streets instead. Except, there are no parallel residential routes that are viable – with any such route adding hugely to the distance travelled and turns made. On top of that, we know that Kensington High Street, just like Holland Park Avenue before it, is where most people choose to cycle already – it is the “desire line”. And, of course, we know K&C and Devenish etc have zero track record of supporting or delivering high quality routes of any kind. This is yet another smokescreen to cover for callous inaction.

Why is K&C acting now?

So if the scheme worked, why is the council leadership taking this wilfully self-sabotaging action? (And according to The Standard, facing the cost of installing then ripping out the scheme, and repaying £300,000 to TfL too!)

The official line from the cabinet transport lead, Councillor Johnny Thalassites is “more than two months after installing temporary ‘wands’ on the road – it is clear that large majorities of local businesses and residents do not think the experiment has worked”.

His letter announcing the council’s decision lists opposition from Kensington Business Forum and Kensington & Chelsea Chamber of Trade and Commerce, Action Disability K&C, and MP Felicity Buchan and London Assembly Member Tony Devenish. Much of the letter focuses on a supposed need to ensure businesses have a prosperous Christmas trading period on the street.

Cllr Thalassites’ action appears to have been primarily triggered by lobbying from long-term cycling opponent London Assembly Member Tony Devenish. Devenish’s letter with Buchan states the scheme “needed a fair period of operation to prove itself” (it hasn’t had that “fair period” yet).

The letter said 96% of Buchan’s inbox on the matter opposed the scheme, and the following Residents’ Associations were against: VRARA, KSRA, ESSA, ECSRA, KCRA, Melbury Court, Kensington Residents’ Group, and The Kensington Society. The letter mentions a petition against the scheme over 3,000 signatures, a survey by Kensington Business Forum, where the “vast majority of the local businesses are against”, and a survey by Tony Devenish which found 80% opposed.

Tom Frost, Chair of Kensington Business Forum, said the scheme “has not helped our High Street businesses attract customers at a vital time for them.” And Michael Stone, Chairman of Kensington & Chelsea Chamber of Trade & Commerce, said it was “detrimental to business on Kensington High Street and beyond.”

The business argument: bogus

The scheme installation began two months ago. The first phase of construction – with a “wand” protected cycle track along much of the street – is only just complete. And a second phase of junction improvements is yet to begin. Two weeks of the phase 1 construction time also saw several unrelated roadworks on Kensington High Street also – new developments and utilities works.

On top of this, a second UK lockdown has seen most businesses on the street shuttered for most of the scheme’s life. The idea the scheme has proven to be detrimental to business in the middle of a lockdown seems utterly bogus and unproven. There’s no way any of the few businesses on Kensington High Street or in the area can attribute a drop in takings to the scheme, particularly given the evidence showing it hasn’t impacted congestion or motor traffic volumes, and parking has been retained on side streets for visitors etc.

We will be following up with both the Chamber of Trade & Commerce and Business Forum as to how they have reached the conclusions they appear to have, and exactly which businesses on Kensington High Street agree the cycle tracks should be removed, and what evidence they based their decisions on.

Did residents oppose the scheme?

If the business argument is bogus, the argument residents’ opposed the scheme is doubly so. AM Devenish has a long and documented history for opposing just about every cycling scheme of worth. His statement that he “has always been strongly in favour of encouraging active travel” is not borne out by any of his public record on such schemes, nor his on-street campaigning during the second lockdown to get residents to oppose the scheme.

His survey was designed to solely attract opposition. Similarly, it is unsurprising residents angry at change wrote to Buchan, who has opposed cycle tracks elsewhere in the borough before, while residents in favour didn’t. What we know is that in the last few days since the Better Streets K&C group asked for supportive emails to be sent to them and the council, they have received hundreds.

Indeed, The Guardian has now revealed that RBKC made its decision on the strength of 322 emails sent to the information address listed on the site for the scheme that were negative, versus 122 that were positive. Hardly a massive majority or heavy attack on the tracks, and all prior to any actual form of consultation. Against that we can stack the thousands using the tracks daily, and the hundreds of emails within days the council has received in the last few days alone. It's likely that the ratio for support to opposition at the council's address is reversed already.

We also know that the petition of thousands referenced by these politicians as evidence of opposition appears to primarily be from individuals who live far outside Kensington & Chelsea. The person who set up the petition, in flagrant disregard of GDPR rules has recently tweeted pages from it showing signatories from the US, India, Venezuela and Nigeria!

What would be the right and democratic way to gauge resident opinion? Not by putting in a partial scheme then pulling it out weeks later, while quoting opposition by a slew of tiny residents’ associations that are rarely representative of actual residents, and not with a bogus petition attracting opponents of cycle tracks globally, but by a consultation after a bedding in period. A consultation, which it’s likely K&C knew would actually show significant levels of support for the tracks from its own residents. Yet chose to pre-empt, undemocratically.

What next?

We’ll leave it to Devenish and Buchan to have the last word. They suggest: “anything that is done to promote active travel must be safe, fair and balanced for all road users, including the elderly, children and disabled.”

We would argue that continuing to ignore ordinary residents, and their health, wellbeing and safety ignores the elderly, children and disabled. It ignores the real risks to their lives that Kensington High Street has represented for decades in terms of road danger, pollution, and inactivity.

It also is hardly fair, balanced or sane to prioritise parking spaces used by a very few customers for businesses (and available on side streets anyway) over footfall and walking and cycling, when all the evidence backs the importance of the latter for retail.

Ripping out the cycle tracks on Kensington High Street is a huge reputational risk for Kensington & Chelsea council, based it would appear on nothing more than the toxic whispers of well-resourced stakeholders, and certainly taking no account of the evidence, policy or the duty of care of the council. If K&C doesn’t reconsider, woe betide it.

Click here to take action now, urgently