While thousands of people continue to risk their lives daily travelling by bike on High Street Kensington, there’s been no change since the protected cycle lanes were removed well over 2 years ago. Here’s the latest on our campaign to make this important road safe.
Judicial review of High Street Kensington decision
As Better Streets for Kensington & Chelsea, we challenged their removal as unlawful in a judicial review process. After over two years of legal work, the case was heard in the High Court and we were not successful. This was obviously disappointing, especially given the case was lost over points of public administrative law, not the fact that safe cycle infrastructure is urgently needed on this dangerous road. Here is our statement about the judicial review. In our eyes it was a hollow victory for Kensington & Chelsea Council, but more importantly it doesn’t change the urgent need for a safe cycle route now 2 ½ years after the protected cycle lanes were removed.
Centre for London recommends protected cycle lanes
Meanwhile, a long-promised study was commissioned by RBKC Council to provide an independent view of the best road design for High Street Kensington. The ‘traffic patterns study’ was delivered in the form of a report by the Centre for London in the summer of 2022, and published in October. For 90% of the street’s length, the report recommended protected cycle lanes separated from general traffic (whether “bi-directional”, that is with one bigger lane for bike traffic in both directions, such as on the Embankment between Westminster and the City, or “with-flow”, that is a lane on each side of the road between the pedestrian pavement and lanes for motor traffic. There are many examples of each, in line with the Department for Travel’s (DfT’s) design standards).
For the remaining 10% of High Street Ken – the “pinch point” just East of Kensington Church Street – the report recommended either protected bike lanes or other measures such as a “bus gate” that would eliminate most motor traffic and mean that protected lanes would not be needed on this stretch. This is because government guidance is very clear that with high motor traffic volumes like on High St Ken there must be protected bike lanes, so the only alternative is to reduce motor traffic through measures such as only allowing buses through.
Rather than act on the conclusions of the report (most obviously by starting a normal consultation process for the design of the lanes), RBKC tried to delay matters further.
The report had been put together with a large group of local resident groups and stakeholders. RBKC still opted to present the findings to a “Citizens Panel”. In practice this meant a misleading email questionnaire was sent out, with just 321 responses. Far more local people were in fact represented in the Centre for London study process itself.
Also in an attempt to delay any action, the panel views were then presented to the Environment Select Committee – which does actually decide what happens to the roads. All in all, another 9 months were spent getting the views of less people than they already had, and presenting it to a committee that they know isn’t the one with powers to act on the matter.
The Citizens Panel survey
While RBKC council claimed to be consulting residents (via their Citizens Panel) on the Centre for London proposals, they added alternative options that were not recommended – painted cycle lanes and bus lanes. The Citizens Panel respondents were also not representative of RBKC residents and High Street Kensington street users. For example, only 3 respondents were aged under 24 and no one was under 18; over half the respondents were over 60; 84% were white; most had access to a car (while most residents in RBKC don’t).
The report on the Citizen’s Panel response concluded that painted cycle lanes and bus lanes were popular while protected cycle lanes were not. This was not an accurate summary of the responses in our opinion. And Centre for London’s Strategic Development Director, Rob Whitehead said, “The panel survey results look mis-used in an attempt to show that painted line bike lanes are favoured. Yet some of [RKBC council’s] own numbers don’t support this. On safety the combined score of the protected options are favoured by 42% of respondents vs only 14% for painted lanes.”
Our statement at the Environment Select Committee
In April 2023, the council’s Environment Select Committee met to discuss the outcome of the Citizen’s Panel survey. Better Streets for Kensington & Chelsea, London Cycling Campaign and Centre for London were all present to make statements at the meeting. BS4KC member Rachel – an NHS worker who has to face High Street Kensington on her way to work by bike every day – read out a statement for the group. Read it here.
Our main point was that there is a serious lack of urgency to make High Street Kensington safe, nearly 2 and a half years after the protected cycle lanes were removed. Yet support from residents is there, as shown even in the unrepresentative sample gathered by the Citizens Panel. Twenty local schools, the Youth Council, the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, other NHS trusts, the Royal Albert Hall, Imperial College London and business like Waitrose are all supportive of protected cycle lanes being introduced. Now we need action.
Committee chair Cllr Tom Bennett echoed the need for urgency after hearing our statement. Cllr Cem Kemahli agreed that ‘safety is paramount’. He said he was ‘heartened’ by the support shown for cycle lanes in the Citizens Panel report and that there are plans being worked on.
So what’s next?
We are pleased to say that members of Better Streets and LCC will be meeting RBKC cabinet members at the end of May to discuss active travel in the borough, and High Street Kensington will be top of the agenda. We will continue to call on the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea to commit to installing protected cycle lanes along High Street Kensington and provide a clear defined timeline for their installation.
What can you do?
- If you’re an RBKC resident: email your local councillor (find them here)
- If you’re a user of this route, or someone interested in getting provision for safe cycling on the streets of RBKC: email Cllr Kemahli on firstname.lastname@example.org
Please cc us at email@example.com on your correspondence with RBKC so we can keep an eye and follow up as needed!