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Kensington High Street: bring back the tracks

London Cycling Campaign | 9th December 2020

The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea removed its Kensington High Street cycle track scheme last weekend, despite strong opposition to the move from all quarters, and using what is an increasingly flimsy basis for its decision.

We believe the council has taken a deeply retrogressive step in removing the cycle track. We urge it to reconsider the full range of evidence and case for the scheme, and reinstate it rapidly. We also believe the council, in the manner in which it has acted not just on this scheme, but other recent schemes, such as TfL’s Holland Park Avenue proposals, is actively and deliberately undermining progress on the Mayor of London’s transport strategy, its own climate emergency declaration and acting directly against its duties to protect its own residents as well as Londoners in general.

As such, we urge the Mayor and TfL, as well as government, to take all actions available to ensure the tracks are reinstated and progress is made in the borough, with or without support from councillors.

We also urge London’s business community, politicians and residents to actively support schemes such as Kensington High Street that provided protected, comfortable cycling routes for thousands of new people cycling, including children. It’s vital we don’t allow our fear of change to cloud our assessment of evidence and impact on the need to get more people swapping cars for bikes to help deal with our climate crisis and London’s issues with pollution, congestion, road danger, inactivity and pollution.

The council's case

The case the council has made to remove the cycle track appears to rest on the following reasons. With each reason, it is also clear that the council evidence basis for removal is beyond weak. Indeed, it is clear the council has specifically sought out evidence to back its decision, rather than used evidence to inform it:

  1. Residents supposedly oppose the scheme – while some residents’ associations clearly do oppose the scheme, the picture is not in any way indicative of widespread opposition. Some politicians locally who opposed the scheme had specifically asked residents to write in on the scheme. Despite this, and prior to both London Cycling Campaign and Better Streets 4 KC beginning to actively seek responses from residents in support of the scheme, responses to the scheme to Kensington & Chelsea’s email inbox were 58% in favour, with those identifying specifically as residents over 30% in favour. Since the actions, Better Streets K&C suggest it is highly likely resident respondent numbers are majority in support. Either way, this is hardly a scheme that is generally opposed by residents, despite local politicians attempting to whip up opposition specifically.
  2. Businesses supposedly oppose the scheme – the local Chamber of Trade & Commerce does oppose the scheme, and it would appear the Business Forum did initially too (although at least two board members appear to have disowned the opposition, and the Chair later clarifed the stance of the organisation as neutral). However, from work by the Better Streets Kensington & Chelsea group contacting shop managers on Kensington High Street itself, it is increasingly clear that businesses were not widely consulted by their representative bodies, and that many were supportive of the scheme (one has said their custom increased due to the tracks), while others were shut throughout most of the scheme’s life. Similarly, the group has contacted many large employers in the area and employees of other large employers have independently come forward to confirm widespread support for the scheme outside of the retail stores directly on the street. While The Daily Mail has run numerous condemnatory pieces on the tracks, one employee of the group has come forward publicly to say that hundreds of employees cycle and were supportive of the tracks. Indeed, in the past, the Mail group has asked publicly for cycle tracks.
  3. The primary concern raised appears to be increased congestion. The scheme was in for less than 2 months, when most such schemes are expected to take over six months to bed in, and significant roadworks were carried out during at least two weeks of the scheme’s operation. Despite this, the borough’s own data shows the scheme hasn’t caused additional congestion to Kensington High Street. The data also shows the scheme had resulted in a huge rise in cycling journeys: “over 3,000 bikes a day on most days”.
  4. Much of the business concern beyond congestion appears to be centred on lost revenue from lack of parking. Since removal of the scheme it has been perfectly clear that parking on Kensington High Street is not heavily used by shoppers, nor has more car parking on the street radically improved retail footfall etc.
  5. Throughout the decision making process from the council, no effort at all appears to have been made to consider the case and evidence for the scheme (such as the horrific collision record of the street prior to the scheme, cycling volumes, air quality etc.), nor is there any effort to consider the needs and benefits to anyone bar business stakeholders, residents and, it would appear, the owner of the Mail group. The scheme represents an absolutely key link for cycling for much of west London – but concerns of anyone bar some residents associations and business forums are ignored, and have even been arguably derided by the politicians involved.
  6. Much of the decision making here has been done in secret and without transparency. For instance, a meeting of “residents association and business group representatives” with the council on 12 November, is cited as a reason for the scheme being removed. Yet representatives of active travel organisations in the borough, or those supportive, weren’t invited. And at that presentation, the council revealed its own figures showing congestion wasn’t being impacted – yet the representatives weren’t apparently swayed. Similarly, it appears that the decision to remove the tracks was taken as an “emergency meeting” just two hours before the planned council meeting on them, it would appear to avoid scrutiny from committee.
  7. None of the evidence weighed up to decide on the merits of the scheme included any data on the very real issues the scheme sought to alleviate, including road danger to those walking and cycling; pollution levels, the health outcomes for residents of the borough or the strategic nature of the street in London’s cycling network.

For more background on the tracks and the lead-up to their removal, see our previous blog here.