London council ignites safety row as it rejects cycle lane plans

Calls for government intervention after Kensington and Chelsea leadership team’s decision

Campaigners have called for the government to intervene after a council rebuffed plans to reinstate a flagship cycle lane in central London, reigniting a controversy that has come to exemplify community battles around the country over safe travel amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The lane was installed last year in busy Kensington High Street as part of efforts to boost active travel during the pandemic, and was immediately controversial. Just seven weeks later, despite protests by a local school as well as cyclists who supported the lane, Kensington and Chelsea council took it out again.

After widespread criticism, as well as concerns from Downing Street, which is committed to boosting cycling and walking levels, and a threat of legal action, the Conservative-run council agreed to look again at the decision.

But at a meeting on Wednesday evening, its leadership team decided against rebuilding the lane. The council will instead consider “a feasibility study for travel options in the longer term”, it said, a process unlikely to bring any changes for a least a year.

The decision cements the complaint from critics of the council that it is institutionally opposed to cycling. In 2019 it unilaterally vetoed a flagship London scheme for safer walking and cycling, part of which passed through the borough.

Clare Rogers, from the London Cycling Campaign, said the Kensington High Street route, which saw cyclist numbers double to about 3,000 a day when it was in place, “proved a crucial safety measure for thousands of people daily, both on a strategic east-west route for London and for local trips such as families riding to school”.

Rogers called for Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, or Sadiq Khan, the London mayor, to intervene: “Kensington and Chelsea is clearly incapable of behaving as a responsible local authority for this highway, or following its own policies on road safety and the climate emergency.”

Will Norman, Khan’s commissioner for walking and cycling, said he would be “looking at all options to deliver a much-needed safe cycle route in this part of London”.

Norman said: “The road is one of the worst cyclist casualty black spots in the borough, and as lockdown lifts in the coming months it is more important than ever that we do all we can to make our streets safer.”

When the lane was removed, the local authority cited local opposition as the reason, even though this turned out to be emails from 322 residents, or 0.2% of the borough’s population.

A subsequent poll, commissioned by Khan’s office, found 56% of borough residents backed the lane, against 30% who opposed it. Business and organisations based in the borough, including Imperial College London, the Royal Albert Hall and the retailer Peter Jones, have called for the lane to return.

After Wednesday evening’s meeting, the leader of the council, Elizabeth Campbell, said any changes to the borough’s roads “need full and proper consultation”.

A council document prepared ahead of the meeting laid out a series of alternative options that could be considered, including a cycle lane that operates only some of the time, or sending cyclists on a longer route around side streets.

The document prompted criticism from some campaigners by listing objections raised to the Kensington High Street lane by opponents complaining “that there is no requirement for cyclists to pay ‘road tax’, to hold insurance, or display a registration plate”.

Sina Lari, chief whip of the Labour opposition on the council, said the meeting on Wednesday was “stage-managed and cringeworthy”.

He said: The council is actively rejecting government guidance and the Conservative party’s cycling and walking manifesto. It has missed a huge opportunity to show its commitment to environmental and resident safety.”


Peter Walker

The GuardianTramp

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