Climate change campaigner Leo Murray believes removing Kensington High Street’s £700,000 pop-up cycleway could end up in court.
“I’m pretty confident there will be a legal fight,” Murray said on November 28 when it was confirmed that the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) would be removing the emergency COVID-19 cycleway installed by Transport for London at the end of September.
The cycleway—protected with plastic wands on some stretches of the iconic Notting Hill high street—will be removed over five days when the U.K.’s national lockdown ends on December 2.
“The Mayor [of London]] could also use his powers to take over [RBKC’s] roads, preventing the cycleway being removed,” suggested Murray, co-founder of the Possible charity, which encourages practical solutions to the climate crisis.
The removal of the cycleway is “devastating,” said TV presenter Jeremy Vine.
“At a stroke, the cycle lane transformed one of the most dangerous high streets in the whole of London into a relatively safe one,” said the BBC program host who uses the cycleway twice a day on his commutes through central London from his home to BBC studios.
“There are four to six lanes for cars,” he added.
“I guarantee they’ll soon be jammed, as they have been for decades.”
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In a letter to residents, RBKC’s lead member for transport Cllr Johnny Thalassites, said: “We had hoped that a scheme might help local businesses attract shoppers to the high street, and residents would regard as useful an east-west path. Alas, it is clear that large majorities of local businesses and residents do not think the experiment has worked.”
Chair of Kensington Business Forum Tom Frost said: “Unfortunately [the cycleway] has not helped our High Street businesses attract customers at a vital time for them.”
Michael Stone, chair of Kensington and Chelsea Chamber of Commerce, added: “The cycle lane in its current form is detrimental to business on Kensington High Street.”
“We used to relish our brisk morning walks down Kensington High Street where we have lived on and off for the past 40 years,” reminisced actor Nigel Havers writing in the Daily Mail on November 21.
“But that all changed almost overnight after my local council–without any notice–installed these dreaded new cycle lanes which have caused havoc across the country.”
(Havers—who was convicted of drink driving in the 1990s—also claimed that cyclists “do not obey the laws of the road.”)
Local headteacher Emma Madden pointed out that she and her staff—as well as parents and children—were regular users of the doomed cycleway.
“I and my colleagues are really upset and really angry at the prospect that this route is to be taken away, given that we are key workers. We’ve been going to school throughout the two lockdowns trying to keep the kids safe, keep the community safe, keep ourselves safe. The safe route has been essential for us.”
Taking away the route will be a “backward step,” she said, adding that news of its removal was “mind boggling.”
Madden is head at Fox primary school, just off Kensington High Street, and, thanks to the pop-up cycleway, she has been riding to work for the first time in over 20 years.
“I always would have liked to have cycled, but was previously too fearful. The cycle route built my confidence, and it was the same for many of my friends and colleagues. Twenty have also started cycling to work [because of the route].”
Cycling is the “ethical choice,” she said, “for climate change reasons and reducing air pollution, and, of course, health.”
In an open letter to the council, Fox primary school’s executive head Paul Cotter said:
“As a school, our principal priority is the children. Put simply, well-considered cycling infrastructure provides more safe transport options for more children. Encouraging families away from vehicular transport with a safe alternative will ease congestion on the roads surrounding schools.”
He added: “By providing a range of environmentally friendly travel options, we can empower the next generation to drastically reduce our collective impact on the current climate crisis.
“We discuss these topics extensively in school and the children are well equipped with the right attitude. This is vital since the impact of air pollution on young people is especially significant. Prior to the new cycle lane, there were effectively no safe cycling routes for our school community, which was a major deterrent to families choosing to travel in this way.”
The cycleway was paid for by Transport for London out of emergency active travel funds released by the central government in May to reduce demand on public transport.
“I very much wanted the cycle lane on Kensington High Street to work, but unfortunately it just hasn’t,” claimed Felicity Buchan, Kensington’s Conservative MP.
“It hasn’t worked for pedestrians; it hasn’t worked for the elderly; it hasn’t worked for the disabled. So very reluctantly, I am asking the council to take out the cycle lane on Kensington High Street.”
Along with London Assembly member Tony Devenish, Buchan issued a joint statement that said “TfL has always placed RBKC under immense pressure to implement a cycleway scheme, and have threatened to take over Borough roads. It is now clear that TfL severely miscalculated the impact of such schemes, which require careful analysis.
“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 believe that this scheme needs to be removed swiftly as soon as we exit lockdown, to allow businesses along the High Street a period of unimpeded business, in the run-up to Christmas, and following the very real difficulties they have faced during the coronavirus restrictions.”
TfL monitoring shows that the cycleway is currently used by more than 3,000 cyclists a day, twice the number that used Kensington High Street in the same period two years ago.
When RBKC floated the idea for the scheme in the summer, Cllr Thalassites said: “The instruction from government has been very clear that we need to make meaningful changes to our roads in order to achieve this.”
Clearly, this does not square with the decision to remove the wands.
“People just find change difficult,” concluded headteacher Madden, “they are uncomfortable with what they don’t know.”
Source: Forbes – Business