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“Shameful, callous and retrograde”: 200 join protest against removal of Kensington High Street cycle lanes

Council’s scrapping of infrastructure comes as Londoners urged to keep cycling and walking as lockdown lifts

Around 200 people took to their bikes on Kensington High Street this morning in protest at the decision of the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea’s decision to remove emergency cycle lanes there this week – a decision that the head of London Cycling Campaign (LCC) has described as “shameful, callous and retrograde.”

The protest, held in accordance with lockdown rules, came as Londoners are being urged to continue cycling and walking to ease pressure on the city’s public transport network ahead of restrictions being lifted at midnight tonight.

This morning, cycling and environmental campaigners – plus at least four dogs in bicycle baskets – joined children, parents and staff from the Fox Primary School in Kensington to protest against the removal of the lanes, which had only been installed in September.

The council’s action follows pressure on the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea’s (RBKC) Conservative-controlled council from the local MP – also a Tory – as well as the Daily Mail, which is based just off Kensington High Street.

The initiative has seen cycling levels more than double on the roads concerned without any recorded rise in motor vehicle congestion according to London Cycling Campaign (LCC) – although opponents of the cycle lanes, such as the actor Nigel Havers, suggest otherwise.

LCC called on RBKC “to look at the evidence, complete the cycle tracks and allow TfL to proceed with their junction upgrades and run a proper and unbiased consultation once the scheme has fully bedded in; to ignore the usual suspects opposing this scheme and look at their own policies, the policies of the mayor and their own climate emergency declaration.

“If Kensington & Chelsea does rip out these tracks, it will have marked itself once more as a borough that cannot be trusted to put its own residents’ interests first; a borough that puts a minority of car owners above everyone else in not just a respiratory pandemic, but crises of climate, inactivity, pollution and road danger.

“Indeed, the borough has for decades ignored the real issues of road danger on Kensington High Street – one of the more dangerous roads in London – resulting in over the last two decades over a 130 fatal or serious injuries, and families torn apart.

“LCC alongside residents and other groups will now explore every avenue to ensure Kensington & Chelsea retains the scheme. It is no longer acceptable that councils can operate with such disregard for policy, their residents and London,” LCC added.

Dr Ashok Sinha, chief executive of LCC, said: “This rogue borough should not be able to ignore the needs of its children, keyworkers, residents and the broader needs of Londoners simply because a few privileged people don’t much like cycling.

“We urge Kensington & Chelsea council to not rip out the cycle tracks on Kensington High Street, to turn away from a course of action that will be disastrous for residents, for London, for health and climate, and soon enough for the leadership of this council if it takes this shameful, callous and retrograde action.”

Here's a selection of videos posted to social media of today's protest.

Across the capital, with non-essential shops as well as hospitality venues such as cafes, pubs and restaurants due to reopen tomorrow with the city coming under the government’s tier 2 restrictions, Transport for London (TfL) expects passenger numbers on its network to rise.

As a result, it is urging people to travel during quieter periods if they have to use public transport, and says that ideally they should travel to venues that are open under the new restrictions by bike or on foot whenever possible.

“We are asking everyone to plan ahead and travel during the quiet times so that social distancing, and keeping safe, is easier for everyone,” said TfL Commissioner Andy Byford, the city’s most senior transport official.

“That way we can all play our part in keeping the virus at bay and helping London return to normality in the future.

“Londoners will be keen to enjoy London's shops, businesses and hospitality venues in the run up to Christmas. That's good for London, and we are here to get you where you need to go, but it's incredibly important that everyone follows the government guidance on how to keep everyone safe and that customers continue to take the simple steps of good hand hygiene, social distancing wherever possible and wearing a face covering throughout journeys unless exempt. 

“The minority of people who refuse to wear a face covering and who aren't exempt, risk being issued a fine from the police or our own enforcement officers. 

“Parts of London may be busier, particularly around the popular shopping and hospitality destinations, so we are asking everyone to plan ahead and travel during the quiet times so that social distancing, and keeping safe, is easier for everyone.

“That way we can all play our part in keeping the virus at bay and helping London return to normality in the future,” he added.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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