Boris Johnson is reported to have gone “ballistic” at the removal this week of emergency cycle lanes on Kensington High Street. Meanwhile it has emerged that two years ago the owners of the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, both firmly opposed to the infrastructure, which passes by their offices, “welcomed” steps by local authorities to introduce more cycleways to promote active travel.
The Mail on Sunday reports today that Andrew Gilligan, the Prime Minister’s transport adviser, told the Conservative-controlled Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea (RBKC) not to remove the lanes, which had been put in place on either side of Kensington High Street in September – and even told the council that Johnson would ride his bike along them for a photo opportunity.
Gilligan, who from 2013 to 2016 was the capital’s first cycling commissioner when Johnson was Mayor of London, is reported to have made his comments during a phone call with an RBKC councillor, according to the Mail on Sunday’s source.
The source claimed that Gilligan “Said the PM is personally interested in the scheme and is going ballistic about it. He said if we keep the lane, he would get Boris to come and do a cycle ride down it.
“We thought this couldn't be true, we thought the PM would be more busy than that, but that's what Gilligan said.”
The source also alleged that the council had been “bullied” into installing the cycle lanes by Gilligan.
“We were being forced to do things for which we were being obliterated by our own residents, because No 10 said we will get something worse if we didn't,” the source said. “We did it because we felt a bit intimidated, and a bit bullied.”
A spokesman for No 10 Downing Street denied however that there had been any bullying or intimidation, and said that Gilligan had “no recollection” of offering to have the Prime Minister ride down Kensington High Street.
“Mr Gilligan had a brief and civil conversation last week with a councillor from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, in order to ask him to send over the evidence on which the council had acted, which he did,” adding that there had been “no threat made over funding, nor was the tone of the conversation 'bullying' or 'intimidating'.”
The outcry over RBKC’s removal of the cycle lanes has created some unlikely allies, with Johnson’s successor as Mayor of London, Labour’s Sadiq Khan, last week hinting that Transport for London (TfL) could seize control of Kensington High Street, thereby taking the matter out of the council’s hands, as well as raising the prospect of clawing back the £300,000 it had awarded the borough for the infrastructure.
Will Norman, the mayor’s walking and cycling commissioner, said: “They eventually agreed to do this [the Kensington scheme] but they are taking it out before it's even finished. People are dying on these roads. I'm so angry about it. There have been so many collisions and serious injuries that there needs to be a safe route across west London.”
The lanes were removed despite a protest ride on Tuesday morning led by children, parents and staff of the nearby Fox Primary School, and action from Extinction Rebellion and Stop Killing Cyclists campaigners who prevented contractors from beginning the work of taking the wands that marked out the lanes on Wednesday evening.
The two campaign groups also held a protest outside Kensington Town Hall on Thursday evening as well as outside Northcliffe House, where the Mail titles are based, but the council’s contractors had removed most of the wands by the following morning.
CCTV footage from TfL, however, shows that parked vehicles have taken the place of the cycle lanes – resulting in a situation whereby there is no increased road space for motorists, nor safe space for cyclists who have to use the main carriageway.
Retweeting footage from the Kensington High Street CCTV camera, British Cycling policy advisor Chris Boardman said: “It’s pretty insulting to remove a cycle lane being used by 4000 people a day even before trial period finishes, because ‘it’s causing chaos’ and then THE NEXT DAY allow traffic to park in the lane, ensuring there is now no upside for anyone at all.”
It’s pretty insulting to remove a cycle lane being used by 4000 people a day even before trial period finishes, because ‘it’s causing chaos’ and then THE NEXT DAY allow traffic to park in the lane, ensuring there is now no upside for anyone at all. https://t.co/QWRar9nh4r
— Chris Boardman (@Chris_Boardman) December 6, 2020
Meanwhile, it has emerged that Daily Mail & General Trust, headquartered at Northcliffe House and which owns the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, MailOnline and Metro, among other titles, called for more cycleways in 2018 when it provided evidence to the transport select committee’s enquiry on active travel.
“In order to encourage active travel, local authorities are placing particular emphasis on new cycle paths and cycle highways,” it said. “This is to be welcomed. We believe it presents an ideal opportunity, not only for cycling but for using other modes, including shared mobility solutions like e-scooters.”
The Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday have been campaigning against LTNs and cycle lanes, and in particular called to remove the Ken High St cycle lane (near to their offices). But in 2018 they submitted evidence to Parliament calling for more cycle lanes.https://t.co/5UAVgB9gZM pic.twitter.com/b9sS3ZqQbY
— APPGCW (@allpartycycling) December 6, 2020
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.