Kensington & Chelsea Council’s leadership team is set to consider four options for future dedicated cycling infrastructure on Kensington High Street following its early removal of temporary cycle lanes installed last year.
A report by officers for next week’s meeting of the team recommends considering either reinstalling segregated road space to allow “further monitoring” of it, installing it on some parts of the original route, commissioning research into “alternative schemes in the longer term” or continuing without any temporary lanes.
The Kensington High Street cycle lanes became a cause célèbre among cycling activists and their media supporters after the council (RBKC) decided to remove them late last year only a few weeks after they were implemented following complaints by local business groups that they were damaging trade. Removal was also backed by a local disability group.
The decision prompted demonstrations by climate change protesters and reports that Boris Johnson’s transport adviser and erstwhile media supporter Andrew Gilligan, an enthusiastic bicycle-rider, personally phoned the council to urge it to change its mind, even suggesting that the Prime Minister himself might ride down the lane of the Conservative-run borough to demonstrate his enthusiasm for it.
The original scheme’s first phase was opened in October last year, but a decision to close it was taken on 2 December and the lane was removed by the middle of the month. A planned second phase had been paused in November. RBKC said in January it would be revisiting its decision to remove the cycle lane provision on the street.
The officer report says government national guidance “made very clear that it expected to see major changes to roads that would support social distancing and an increase in walking and cycling” in the pandemic and that street management measures to that effect “should be taken as swiftly as possible”.
The completion of the scheme coincided with the onset of Covid-19’s second wave, the report says: “Plainly and with hindsight the scheme was not implemented in a timely manner in respect of the waves of the pandemic.” It also notes that the government’s position provided no time for any formal consultation about the lane and that attitudes to it are “mixed, with very strong views held by some residents and organisations”.
The report cities TfL reporting “an average of 26,000 bus passengers a day travelling along the High Street before the Covid-19 pandemic”. A summary of various counts of bicycle numbers on the street says the average daily number grew from 2,384 in October to 2,897 in November, then fell back a little to 2,825 in December and further to 2,235 in January, by which time the special infrastructure had gone. The summary notes that weather conditions are likely to have affected the amount of cycling that took place throughout the full period.
Removal of the Kensington High Street scheme has been strongly opposed by Transport for London, which promoted the rapid introduction of temporary cycling infrastructure as part of its Streetspace programme, designed to foster active travel and aid social distancing during the pandemic.
The officer report says the council has received “several letters” from TfL warning that it might not fund the scheme costs and advising that it was “considering the exercise of powers to require the scheme’s reinstatement at the council’s cost”. Earlier this month, TfL published findings of a telephone survey of RBKC residents it had commissioned accompanied by a call from Sadiq Khan to reinstate protected cycle lanes.
In January, the High Court ruled that the Streetspace scheme was “seriously flawed” and should not be allowed to stay in place. TfL has said it intends to appeal.
The officer report to the RBKC leadership team can be read in full here.
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