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Kensington cycle tracks: council to re-consider removal

London Cycling Campaign | 4th January 2021

Update 12 March 2021: Council publishes report ahead of decision on cycle tracks

Kensington & Chelsea council officers have published a report ahead of their 17 March meeting to ‘revisit’ their removal of the protected cycle tracks from High Street Kensington. It sets out four options: 1) reinstate the cycle tracks as they were; 2) partially reinstate them, without creating a continuous route; 3) do not reinstate them but start ‘considering’ an alternative scheme for the long term in the summer; and 4) do nothing.

We are deeply concerned that anything less than reinstalling the cycle tracks is being considered a valid option for this dangerous road, while people using it continue to risk serious injury and worse. We're also concerned that the report’s tone comes across as biased against the cycle tracks, giving more weight to objections. It downplays the impressive coalition of more than 70 supporter organisations pulled together by Better Streets for Kensington & Chelsea by not naming 48 of them, including the Imperial NHS Trust, the Royal College of Music and RBKC Youth Council. It also wrongly lists as objectors organisations like the Kensington Society who had declared themselves neutral.

Despite this, the report’s contents and appendices – including strong data from Transport for London – still makes the case that for the health and safety of 1000s of Londoners, there is absolutely no lawful reason not to reinstate this crucial protected cycle route. All eyes are now on the council to make the right decision on 17 March. 

 

Update 8 January 2021: Council to re-consider removal of cycle track on 17 March

In a press release dated 8th January, Kensington and Chelsea council leader Elizabeth Campbell says she has has asked the council to look again at the decision to remove temporary cycle lanes on Kensington High St. She says she has asked officers to provide an up-to-date report on the tracks.

LCC thanks all its supporters and every one else to wrote to Kensington Council about the very poor decision  to remove the temporary tracks which provided an essential link between the key cycle routes in Hyde Park (from the Tower of London, Parliament and Barking)  to the temporary routes in Hammersmith. We trust that the evidence cited below will be considered by the council and its officers.

 

Update 11 January 2021: However, following the press release, a new letter was uploaded to the council site apparently in response to BetterStreets4KC's "pre-action protocol letter", which states the council is reconsidering in order to ensure "any claim for judicial review is now rendered academic". The council will not carry out further consultation, nor does it recognise any duty to do so (it has yet to carry out any formal public consultation on the scheme going in or coming out). So this could well all be to bolster the council's legal case against a potential legal action on their decision making process, or lack thereof.

Indeed, given the apparent extreme urgency and haste to remove the track in the first place, the ongoing lockdown and pandemic, and the clear safety case for the scheme, plus the lack of supposed benefits the removal would bring, the council's inability to reassess its informal, unminuted decision to remove the tracks without months of reports and deliberation now seems increasingly suspect too.

Kensington cycle tracks: council to re-consider removal 

The case made by the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea against its own cycle tracks on Kensington High Street looks more and more flimsy, less and less sane, with every day that passes.

The latest news comes from traffic counts taken from traffic-cams on the road using Google machine learning algorithms by the #BikeIsBest national campaign, and a series of Freedom of Information requests by Institute of Cancer Research scientist Steve Pettitt. ICR has two sites relatively near to Kensington High Street.

The story so far

RBKC council declared its intention to rip out cycle tracks it had used TfL funding to install on Kensington High Street, despite copious evidence the tracks were working well and using a very flimsy basis to do so in late November, which triggered widespread condemnation of the borough, potential legal action and XR protests. Almost immediately after the tracks came out, RBKC’s decision-making process and reasoning for removal came under fire.

A group of local activists (including some local LCC members), Better Streets for K&C, have been putting time and energy into picking apart the flimsy case made by the council to rip out the cycle tracks. Following legal advice, they have written a "pre-action protocol letter" to launch a Judicial Review of the decision with help from the Environmental Law Foundation.

What do the traffic counts show us?

According to The Guardian’s coverage

  • Since the tracks were removed, the space they took up has been blocked by parked cars up to 80% of the time (as visible on this hilarious and infuriating twitter feed). During the Christmas week the space was blocked nearly 64% of the time, but daytime 29 December, the space was blocked nearly 82% of the time, with some vehicles left on double yellows even for over 10 hours. Even during tier 2 from 14-18 December, the space was blocked over half the time.
  • As a result of the few cars constantly parked, congestion worsened after the scheme came out, despite London going into higher tiers. While the scheme was in, the average motor vehicle journey along the street was 5 minutes, 48 seconds; after its removal, this rose to nearly 6.5 minutes. Fears that the track was causing congestion was cited as one of the key reasons why the track was removed by the council at the time. Yet since its removal there appears to have been very little to no attempt to enforce illegal and inconsiderate parking that has led to worse congestion.
  • No “criteria or metrics” to assess the cycle track scheme were “developed” to assess the scheme prior to its removal.

What do the new FOIs reveal?

According to Steve Pettit and Forbes coverage of the FOIs…

  • There was no meeting among councillors and/or officers to make the decision to remove the cycle tracks – and no minutes of any meetings therefore.
  • That no public consultation took place to ascertain what residents, road users, indeed anyone, actually thought of the cycle tracks. There was no formal opportunity for anyone to raise issues or concerns. Just an email address that was circulated to residents’ associations etc. by those campaigning largely against the tracks.
  • The council did hold a meeting with some stakeholders regarding the tracks on 12 November, but notably didn’t invite any of those voices they knew would likely be positive about the cycle tracks. Better Streets for K&C, who had been consulted on the decision to put the lanes in, were kept in the dark about this meeting. And by 17 November emails show the council effectively disowning the scheme – suggesting that if they hadn’t done it, RBKC may “have lost control of roads”, saying the council was looking at the option to “modify or abandon” the scheme and even going so far as to tell one stakeholder “If you had a position, and do oppose the scheme, then we will take that very seriously indeed.”
  • A council comms officer went so far as to edit the words of the Kensington Business Forum’s chair for the press release on the removal to ensure the words “reference the removal of the lane directly”.
  • As TfL and RBKC counts already show, the cycle tracks were very well used. Cycle flows accounted for nearly a quarter of all vehicle journeys along the corridor in October.