A freedom of information request has revealed that the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea (RBKC) ‘choreographed’ press statements from local businesses when announcing the abandonment of the Kensington High Street segregated cycle lanes.
The lanes had only been in place for seven weeks when, at the end of November, RBKC announced that it planned to remove them.
The removal came despite protests by teachers, parents and pupils at a nearby school with the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan also condemning the decision and Prime Minister Boris Johnson said to have gone “ballistic” about it.
The council’s lead member for transport, Johnny Thalassites, said at the time that businesses had, “told us loud and clear that they believe the experiment has not worked. We are listening.”
He said: “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.”
Forbes reports that RBKC attempted to coordinate the response to its announcement that the scheme would be abandoned with its head of news editing what was supposed to be an independent press statement from the chair of Kensington Business Forum (KBF).
An initial quote from KBF said: “We had hoped, like many others that the temporary cycle lanes would have been a success but unfortunately due to the current climate it has not benefited our High Street businesses.”
This was tweaked to say: “Like many others, we hoped the initiative would be a success. Unfortunately it has not helped our High Street businesses attract customers at a vital time for them, so it is good news that the lanes will be removed.”
A RBKC spokesperson said: “Agreeing statements with partners, community groups, and stakeholders in advance of announcements is standard practice.”
Computer analysis of Transport for London (TfL) traffic cameras on Kensington High Street has shown that congestion has worsened since the lanes were removed – largely because the lane is now blocked by parked vehicles for the majority of the time.
Campaign group Bike is Best said 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.
Responding to a freedom of information request from the group 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.”