High Street Kensington
We are thrilled that after decades of campaigning, we now have the FIRST (!) safe protected cycle lane in RBKC. It’s a temporary scheme that will be built in two phases with some junction treatments coming later.
Nevertheless, it’s been a huge success! Bicycle usage has more than doubled already. Ambulances used to get stuck in traffic and now can (and do) use the wide lane to get through when needed.
With depressing inevitability there has been some “bikelash” already. A Mayfair hedge fund manager has set up a petition against it. A conservative GLA member put out a misleading leaflet and online form in the guise of a “survey”. Instead, he should be worrying about the additional 50 MILLION MILES OF CAR TRAFFIC EVERY in RBKC alone since 2013! All this is rather sad given the wonderful things that reducing unnecessary road traffic can bring for safety, health and the environment.
The cycle lane on High Street Kensington is the only protected cycle lane in the whole of RBKC. It’s already a success. Cycling numbers have more than doubled even within a few weeks, and congestion is actually lower than before the scheme was put in. We need to keep it, and we need your help.
There are many supporters, from institutions like the NHS, the museums of Exhibition which the lane connects to, through to Imperial College whose two campuses are connected by it, as well as an ever-growing number of residents, workers and visitors.
There is also opposition. It’s understandable that when something comes in that has never been seen before in RBKC there will be questions and concerns, especially if it’s happening on your doorstep and coincides with some major roadworks. There’s also, unfortunately, some opposition on more political grounds which has led to some misinformation about it.
We believe a successful scheme will make our streets healthier, safer, more prosperous and happier for all of us. This note gives some background and information for you to make your own view.
Background: What's the problem?
Whether you’re a fan of cycling or not, chances are we share a wish for less polluted, less congested, safer, friendlier and more prosperous streets, and for healthier more active lifestyles. We want our streets to be welcoming to people with disabilities, to be efficient for public transport and to allow our emergency services to get to emergencies quickly.
London, and RBKC, has a problem that has been growing in recent years and we need to do something about it. A problem is an ever-increasing number of vehicles on our roads, which are the cause of congestion, pollution and road danger. In RBKC, traffic has increased by 50 million miles per year since 2013, and across London traffic on residential roads has almost doubled in the last decade from 5.4 billion to 9.4 billion miles. A cycle lane covering 0.7% of RBKC’s roads isn’t the problem we need to fix – it’s the first small step to finding a solution. You can read more evidence here.
Of course, many vehicle journeys are needed, and there is no suggestion of banning cars. However, the fact is that over half London car journeys are short (less than 2 miles), have only one person, and done by able-bodied people. It’s easy to confirm by looking at your nearest traffic jam. So there is a huge amount of traffic which could instead be done by foot or bike. That would make it so much nicer and less congested for those who do need to use a vehicle, whether their own or a bus – which is why the Netherlands with its vast network of cycle lanes is (according to a driver survey by Waze) the best place to drive a car.
We need to give people safe infrastructure to enable and encourage them – where possible – to make their journeys by active travel, walking or cycling. While cycling is a great leisure activity, it’s also a great transport option. It’s very space-efficient, much more so than cars, you don’t get held up in traffic, and it’s good for you. It’s not surprising that the City of London has put in so much safe cycling infrastructure – hard-working people need efficient transport.
It’s also good to recognise that not everyone has access to a car, whether by choice or because they cannot afford it or because they are not old enough to drive or are otherwise unable to. RBKC has a population of about 160,000, and about 30,000 car permits. Most of the adult population don’t have a car. For them (and for those too young to have a driving licence), public transport and cycling are the transport alternatives. It is only fair that just as car owners have a complete network for their journeys, they should too.
The biggest deterrent to people switching from cars to bicycles is safety, and the perception of safety. That’s well evidenced and was recently noted by RBKC themselves.
On larger roads the best way to do this is to provide physically segregated cycle lanes. There are other solutions appropriate for smaller roads. Kensington High Street is one of those roads in the borough where a physically segregated cycle lane is needed (accounting for c. 1.5km of the c. 207km of roads in RBKC).
Before this scheme, there was no physically segregated cycle lanes in the entire borough of RBKC. This has inevitably meant that those who cycle in RBKC are those prepared to accept (perhaps through lack of choice) the genuine dangers of cycling on RBKC roads. When you get safe facilities, men and women of all ages will cycle – as we saw in London during the lockdown. It’s how the Queen of Netherlands gets around, as does the billionaire inventor of the BioNTech Pfizer Covid vaccine. That’s because they have safe streets.
We know that safety, and the perception of safety, is the main barrier stopping people who can swap to healthy, space-efficient zero-carbon bikes. High Street Kensington has been dangerous. Road collision statistics are widely available. Crashmap is one aggregator of police reporting, which show on one part of High Street Kensington 134 serious or fatal incidents since 2000.
Previously it seems there wasn’t the right attitude to this. Lord Moylan’s views about how to cross the (expensive and unsuccessful – it cost over £20m, road speeds on it have gone up not down since it was done and visitors to the area don’t like it) “shared space” of Exhibition Road were “I intimidate the drivers. It’s dead easy. Just walk out waving your arms and stare wildly. What sort of wimp are you?”.
This probably isn’t what the average person thinks is a sensible approach to road safety. But he used to be deputy leader of the council and in charge of transportation. He is perhaps unsurprisingly an opponent of the cycle lanes that have now been put in place and is agitating against them. We have the updated data now which depressingly shows KSIs back up substantially in 2017/8 “Across the borough using the most recent information, after a reduction in the 2000s, injuries and collisions have remained at around 700 per year, with KSIs (killed or seriously injured) in the last year reported (2018) of 126, up from 116 in 2017, each almost double the previous years of 69, 52 and 69.
A hidden part of safety statistics is that some reductions in casualties have been by people changing behaviour, so that children don’t play outdoors as much, or cycle to school. Recording fewer collisions doesn’t itself mean the road has become any safer; it can also mean it that more vulnerable people just don’t dare use it.
Rationale behind the scheme
We’ve explained the importance of safe protected cycle lanes on main roads if we are to reduce vehicle traffic and get less congested, healthier roads.
Some have said that a better solution would be to use backstreets. Indeed, RBKCs strategy previously was to have a number of “Quietways”, which are meant to be a network of less busy streets. Quietways can be good and have a role to play. But specifically in RBKC Quietways have not made a great difference. First, there aren’t many of them, they don’t currently cover much of the borough and therefore the journeys people want to make. Second, they are roads not cycle paths and less experienced and/or more vulnerable users have not wanted to use them. This can be seen by the lack of growth in cycling in RBKC in recent years (pretty much no growth) when compared to the rest of London which has seen great growth, because facilities have been put in place (up about 300% since 2000). Third, there isn’t one that matches the route of High Street Kensington. There are bits that could be used to make a route, but not in a usable continuous way and with large gaps that make it impracticable, and those bits that would work take people on bikes away from the shops and cafés we would like them to be able to visit. This is why thousands of people even before the cycle lane cycled along High Street Kensington despite its danger – there isn’t a realistic alternative.
RBKC, of course, does not exist in isolation. Many of those working in our shops, serving at our restaurants, studying or teaching at our universities and schools, nursing and caring for us, live outside the borough. Many who come to shop, eat and drink do so from outside the borough. We are part of London.
And so our transport network needs to be coherent with our neighbouring boroughs and the overall transport strategy of London.
(An important bit of background is that in London TfL – Transport for London – only control a small number of major roads, known as the Transport for London Road Network. Other roads – ie, most of them – are controlled by individual boroughs. This is why you have different approaches in different parts of London, and sometimes disjointed infrastructure as you get to a borough boundary)
For many years TfL had asked RBKC for an East/West cycle route, as RBKC was acting as a block to the cycling facilities being put in by neighbouring boroughs. This would enable not only those moving within RBKC an East/West route, but also those wanting to connect either East or West of the borough – for example, the investment banker living in RBKC wishing to cycle on through the protected lanes that extend all the way from the border of RBKC to the City, or the student living in Hammersmith wishing to get to lectures at Imperial.
RBKC previously blocked plans for a route on High Street Kensington. TfL then proposed Holland Park Avenue as an alternative. This has also (for now) been blocked, and has its own issues we will address separately.
Finally then, after a long wait – for some it has been decades – we have seen the lanes put in.
RBKC have done a great job with them and deserve our thanks and congratulations. It is temporary infrastructure, and so has some limits that a more permanent scheme would resolve. It is also only half complete, because RBKC has decided not to allow TfL to do the junction upgrades that would make the scheme better. But despite those points, it is a good scheme, and put in place quickly and affordably (paid for by TfL rather than RBKC). The lanes are physically protected where possible, which as discussed is critical. The lines of paint that had been used in the past in different boroughs didn’t protect anyone. The lanes are wide, wide enough to accommodate a volume of cyclists of differing speeds safely and also wide enough to allow an ambulance to pass through.
This scheme comes of course also as part of the Government and the Department for Transport’s policy, described variously in “Gear Change”, the “Green Industrial Revolution” and elsewhere, in which the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Transport and others emphasise among other things the importance of increasing cycling’s share of transport, and the critical role of protected cycle lanes in achieving this objective. Having quite literally none in the entirety of RBKC would of course not be consistent with this policy.
Despite this, the conservative GLA member for the area, Tony Devenish, is campaigning against the scheme, allegedly in the guise of listening to residents (itself an excellent thing to do, but then so is providing complete information to residents which we would encourage him to do at the same time), but what he is really (blatantly) doing is misrepresenting the scheme in leafletting and what he calls a “survey” that wouldn’t pass the smell test for any independent research agency. Again this isn’t surprising. He has been so anti cycle lanes and apparently so unknowledgeable about them that he’s even gone to the trouble of finding one that doesn’t even exist in Earl’s Court to complain about. This is part of his election campaign to apportion blame for congestion on the current Mayor’s strategy. It’s depressing that for political advantage a scheme that works well with so many benefits is being attacked. It’s bizarre given that it is also the (excellent) official policy of his own government and political party.
How is the scheme doing so far?
The scheme was started at the beginning of October 2020. It was intended to be in two phases, with the second phase upgrading junctions. As explained, this phase has regrettably been put on hold.
This period has of course been unusual. We are living through the Covid period as a backdrop. This is impacting transport behaviours in differing ways as we move in and out of various types of restriction. We have also had specifically to High Street Kensington significant roadworks.
Congestion has been measured by average journey times in both East and West directions, both for the whole route and parts of it.
As an important point, although we have been at “lockdown” of some sort for much of this year, traffic on High Street Kensington has remained at or above the historic (using a 2018 baseline) average c. 15,000 daily vehicle movements. During the operation of the scheme in October, traffic was slightly above the 2018 baseline. That is to say, and there is no reason to think traffic has been artificially lower during this period.
Despite traffic levels remaining high, or higher than ever, congestion has become overall lower or at worst the same since the scheme went in.
There was a period of approximately one fortnight when a combination of various roadworks, followed by some emergency Thames Water roadworks, and then a general London wide frenzy before lockdown 2 when congestion did get worse (the latter in line with other London roads with no cycle lane). When those works completed, congestion improved and (as was the case immediately after the scheme was put in) is now either at or below levels before the scheme.
We can, of course, sympathise with those living nearby who see traffic. It can be tempting to blame it on something new, even if the traffic is now in reality no worse and perhaps better than it was before. Let’s not forget the traffic problems that were there before, for example by the Royal Garden Hotel where, on the south side, there would invariably be a mish-mash of parked cars and a bottleneck of congestion leading to the junction with Kensington Church Street. Those on bike needed to step off and walk around, so log-jammed was congestion – before the scheme was put in.
The scheme is still only weeks old, half-finished, has been disrupted by roadworks and is taking place in the backdrop of Covid. The connecting scheme in Westminster is being finalised. It’s not realistic to expect significant behaviour change in such a short period and given those issues.
Despite this, cycling use has increased enormously, which is remarkable: the October comparator for a 1 hour evening peak 2018 vs 2020 at Melbury Road is 630 vs 232; morning peak counts are above 500/hour. RBKC data shows a 170% increase in the comparator period, i.e. almost trebling in volume. People on bikes don’t get stuck in traffic and occupy much less space than a car, and so they are less visible. However, the volumes of people moved efficiently can be great. The cycle lane on the Embankment has (as of October) carried 2 million people in 2020. High Street Kensington may be running at around 1 million cycle journeys/year at present with great potential for growth.
What do people say?
A Big Step Forward
“The new cycle lane on Kensington High Street is a big step forward and has been especially helpful for my girlfriend who is nervous and has felt much safer.”
“I was surprised and delighted by how much the wider lanes improved my journey. It was much faster than previous trips and, of course, it felt much safer. The latter issue is not such a big deal for me (25 years London cycling and over 60 years of age), but all the research shows that people don’t consider cycling for fear of their lives.”
Visiting Local Businesses
“It has also encouraged me and my partner to shop more along Kensington High Street, by visiting both Snow and Rock, Decathalon, as well as a couple of the cafés for coffees and lunches.”
Grateful for Change
“I imagine there has been some negative comment from car owners, so I wanted to make sure you knew that as a resident of our great Borough for over 50 years I am hugely supportive and grateful for this change.”
Safe With My Children
“I feel much safer on my bike with my young children.”
We think this scheme is a vital part of building a better borough for all of us. It may well need some amendments, and we can also empathise with those (like us) who experienced the difficult weeks of roadworks and pre lockdown peaks. Please do get in touch with us if there are any aspects you’d like to discuss and please do tell RBKC of your support.
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