2nd December 2020 [LONDON] Local volunteer group, Better Streets for Kensington and Chelsea (Better Streets), has asked the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) to pause and reflect before rushing to rip out the safety scheme in place on High Street Kensington. It writes as follows.
Dear Councillor Elizabeth Campbell, dear Councillor Johnny Thalassites,
We are writing to ask you to pause and reflect, and to stop your planned works to remove the borough’s only protected cycle lane this evening, precisely on the day across London we are instructed by the Government to travel by bike if possible.
As you know we have sought to work with you in collaboration over the last 18 months, following your blocking of the proposed safety scheme between Shepherds Bush and Notting Hill Gate. Over the summer, as we joined you in assessing designs for the cycle lane that is now in place on High Street Kensington, we truly believed that RBKC had begun a new chapter, ready to move up from the bottom of the Healthy Streets Scorecard inner London league table, and begin to address with seriousness the need for proper provision for those who wish to, or indeed must, cycle in the borough.
The events of the last seven days have made us and many others question whether this is the case. You will be aware of the real dangers of travelling as a pedestrian or by bike in RBKC. In 2018 there were 126 Killed or Seriously Injured (KSI), an increase from 116 in 2017. TfL data shows specifically on High Street Kensington 15 KSIs in the last three years; statistically it is a much more dangerous road than the London average. There is no alternative route for those needing and/or wanting to make this journey, and you have not proposed one.
In this context it seems unimaginable that a promised trial safety scheme would be ripped out before its construction had even been completed. And yet this appears to be what you propose to do.
It is even more staggering given that according to your own data the scheme is working very well. Cycling usage, a key objective, has increased tremendously to an estimated 4,000 daily users. The impact on traffic has been minimal, with your data showing no material change in average journey times (neither materially slower nor faster, but examples of small changes both slower and faster). This is confirmed by TfL bus journey times, which appear broadly stable now when compared to this time last year.
We have not been presented with any evidence to the contrary. The defence of its proposed removal put forward by RBKC, Tony Devenish and Felicity Buchan appears to be based on a number of elements whose credibility is coming under increased scrutiny.
We are told that businesses have asked you to remove it. Yet the Kensington Business Forum has had to issue a statement that that is not the case, and that it is not against cycle lanes. Michael Stone of the Kensington and Chelsea Chamber of Commerce you have quoted in objection it would appear however is indeed opposed, but we note is the owner of a firm of accountants that is not even located in the borough.
As for retailers, unfortunately for much of the very short trial period, many have been forced to close their doors, and so impact on footfall is impossible to calculate. But for those who are open it appears they may not even have been asked their opinion; certainly those we have visited in the past few days have been supportive of the cycle lane and staff were quite unaware of its possible removal.
As for residents, we note in the very recent Kensington Society newsletter their view that it would be quite wrong to condemn the scheme after only a few weeks and not unreasonably suggested that a review of its future should be based on evidence. We shall come back to resident views later in this letter.
Part of the alleged local groundswell against the scheme includes a petition where the location of some of its contributors has been revealed to feature those based in Cairo, Caracas, Florida and Lagos among others.
Against this increasingly questioned basis for its removal – and remembering that you do not pretend that the actual evidence supports its removal – we should contrast the support for the continuation of the scheme.
We will start with the thousands of daily users, whose views you elected not to solicit despite our request for you to do so, and the obviousness of their importance to any assessment. They after all are those primarily impacted by the safety of the scheme. They are voting with their feet, or wheels as the case may be. Numbers have trebled to an estimated 4,000 daily.
Imperial College has some 20,000 students, and campuses that straddle the scheme. Its students therefore have little alternative but to use it to travel by bike. The university, their Union, Active Travel Group and Bike Users Group all overwhelmingly support the scheme. This has been made clear to you by Professor Neil Alford, Associate Provost, on behalf of Imperial College.
Let us not forget local schools. We hope your spirits were lifted as were ours yesterday morning by the joyous ride of teachers, parents, students and friends of Fox Primary School, one of the borough’s and indeed nation’s most highly regarded schools. Fox has been joined in its support of the scheme which has been critical to the transport options for its key worker staff by Kensington Primary Academy, Ashburnham Community School, Avonmore Primary School and Colville Primary School, as a key part of their quite correct wish to enable healthy active lives for the next generation.
We should also not forget the NHS. As you know the Chelsea and Westminster NHS Trust wrote to you earlier in the year to urge you to provide for safe active travel in the borough, specifically including a segregated bike lane on High Street Kensington. You have been sent many letters by NHS staff working across the borough whose journeys depend on safe cycling infrastructure in support of a scheme they are using daily. Many do not live inside the borough, but it seems you refer only to residents when considering views, which we simply cannot understand.
But the support does not end there. Not only are globally recognised institutions such as the Royal Albert Hall in favour of the scheme’s continuation, but an ever-increasing number of perhaps less well-known local businesses that we know have written to you to express their strongest support for the scheme. We are also aware of a number of other local groups whose formal support will shortly be declared.
We were caught wrong-footed by your announcement to tear down the borough’s only protected cycle lane on its 207km of road. We had assumed the promised trial would be completed. But since the forewarning of this announcement one week ago by Felicity Buchan and Tony Devenish (using, we hope inadvertently, as backdrop another site of a blocked potential safe cycleway) we have seen a torrent of individuals writing to you to express their support for this scheme. The numbers are overwhelming, already yesterday far in excess of a thousand residents, users and Londoners demanding the scheme’s continuation. None of them would have been aware that there was a cut-off point for feedback, as the automated response now tells them the scheme is being removed, mid trial, and that you may not be able to respond to them. The words, “stop the count” come to mind.
Of course, we do not pretend that concerns about the scheme have not been voiced. During the latter part of October you will be aware of the hugely disruptive roadworks that seemed to envelope the area, culminating in emergency Thames Water works which reduced High Street Kensington to a single lane to cover both directions. Journeys were severely disrupted during this period, and we entirely understand the frustrations of those impacted by this. With that said, the data shows that this congestion has now gone, and much as we would all perhaps wish for a different past the reality is that High Street Kensington prior to October, 2020 was hardly free of occasional congestion.
Equally, the scheme was installed quickly as a temporary structure – or rather the parts of the scheme that have been installed, noting key junction improvements have not yet been done. The design of the future evolution of this scheme must of course take into account potential improvements and modifications that could be made to optimise its effectiveness.
We spoke to you on Friday, and have written to you on a number of occasions since news of a possible abandonment of the trial came to light to invite you to pause and reflect.
We repeat that invitation now. The trial should be continued as planned. You should work with TfL and relevant stakeholders including most obviously those whose journeys depend on it and acknowledging the need for safe active travel provision for this route. We are of course extremely frustrated by the conduct of the past few days, but we are willing to embark again on a collaboration with you should you be willing to pause, reflect and call-off the demolition of the safety scheme tonight.