Computer analysis of Transport for London (TfL) traffic cameras on Kensington High Street shows that congestion has worsened since the local council removed emergency bike lanes at the start of last month.
The Guardian reports campaign group Bike is Best as saying that following the removal of the lanes, average trip times on a 1.1-mile stretch of the road rose from 5 minutes 39 seconds to 8 minutes 14 seconds for motor traffic travelling eastbound, while westbound traffic saw an increase from 5 minutes 48 seconds to 6 minutes 27 seconds.
The group, whose members include leading cycling brands, retailers and organisations, also found that cars and other vehicles are illegally parked in one of the former cycle lanes for up to 80 per cent of the time.
The cycle lanes, one on each side of the high street and with segregation provided by plastic wands, had only been in place for seven weeks when the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea announced at the end of November that it planned to remove them.
Despite protests by teachers, parents and pupils at a nearby school, supported by cycling and environmental campaigners, the council proceeded to remove the lanes in early December, with Mayor of London Sadiq Khan condemning the decision and Prime Minister Boris Johnson said to have gone “ballistic” at their removal.
The council’s lead member for transport, Councillor Johnny Thalissites, said at the time: “The cycle lane was a trial scheme to help those hopping on bikes during lockdowns and encourage shoppers to the High Street. Businesses and residents have told us loud and clear that they believe the experiment has not worked. We are listening.
“By removing the temporary lanes as lockdown lifts, we hope to help get the High Street moving again and give our local economy the best possible chance of a good December.”
Bike Is Best’s analysis, however, suggests that the borough’s optimism that removing the cycle lanes would benefit motorists by removing congestion was misplaced, however.
The group said that in the week commencing 21 December – the day after London moved from Tier 2 to Tier 4 restrictions – parked vehicles blocked the former eastbound cycle lane for 63.6 per cent of the time. On 29 December, that rose to 81.6 per cent of the time between 7am and 7pm.
From 14-18 December – when the capital was still subject to the more relaxed Tier 2 restrictions – the lane had been blocked by parked cars for 52.9 per cent of the time.
The cycle lanes ran, with some gaps, from near Olympia at the western end of the High Street to just past the Royal Albert Hall in the east, from where riders could enter Hyde Park and continue along Cycleway 3.
Moreover, in response to a Freedom of Information request from Bike is Best asking how the council had assessed whether or not the cycle lanes were working, the council admitted: “No criteria or metrics were developed by which the scheme was to be assessed.”
Bike Is Best founder Adam Tranter, who is also cycling mayor for Coventry, said: “Active travel is probably one of the only modes that can be removed based on local opinion without data or research; you wouldn’t build a new dual carriageway and close it a month later because it didn’t look like it was at full capacity.”
He said that the former cycle lanes are now “occupied by a handful of drivers of inconsiderately and illegally parked cars”, and that “the same councillors and residents who were up in arms about a cycle lane don’t seem to be too bothered about that.
“It was never about capacity, it was about something new that upset the status quo,” he added.
RBKC had previously refused to allow TfL to route part of Cycleway 9 along Kensington High Street, and in 2019 also withdrew its support for a segregated cycleway along Holland Park Avenue further north in the borough, both of which would have provided direct, safe routes for cyclists between west London and the city centre.
Instead, the council has said that its preference is for cyclists to be routed through quieter back streets, although those routes would of necessity be far less direct.
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.