Tomorrow, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) will face a judicial review at the Royal Courts of Justice, over what campaigners say was the premature removal of protected cycle lanes from Kensington High Street.
The lanes, one on either side of the street and used by up to 3,000 cyclists a day, were removed in December 2020, just seven weeks into the scheduled 18-month trial, before the scheme had even been completed, and despite protests from campaigners and nearby schools, among others.
In March 2021, after telling local campaigners that they would reconsider the decision to remove the scheme, senior councillors at the Conservative-controlled borough voted unanimously not to reinstate the lanes but instead to “develop plans to commission research into post-Covid transport patterns”, which could potentially “lead to a feasibility study in the longer term.”
> Kensington & Chelsea Council refuses to reinstate High Street cycle lane
The council insisted at the time that the decision to remove the lanes – in response to which then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson reportedly went “ballistic” – followed what it claimed were complaints from local businesses and residents (though later evidence showed that some of that opposition emanated from well outside the borough).
The local authority also claimed that the lanes created congestion and hindered the emergency services, even though an independent study found that traffic jams had worsened following the removal of the lanes, partly due to illegally parked cars.
Now, campaigners from Better Streets for Kensington and Chelsea will head to court tomorrow to claim that the council’s decision to scrap the trial early, which prevented it “from running its course and gathering data” was unlawful.
> Council officer edited business group’s press statement on removal of Kensington High Street bike lane
“It’s been a frustrating two years since the cycle lanes were taken out,” says Better Streets’ chair Justin Abbott. “We’ve seen progress across London, but our home borough has fallen further and further behind others on healthy streets measures.
“We remain stunned that RBKC have chosen to spend public money fighting this case and prolonging road danger – rather than accept our repeated invitation to embrace the huge support to fill this overwhelmingly obvious need.
“It’s ridiculous that a volunteer community group such as ours has had to spend two years on this case. The context is jaw-dropping. Our borough – RBKC – has 200km of road, and not a single kilometre of protected cycle lane. It has blocked, hindered, ripped out, or promised and then not delivered, protected bike lanes across the borough. No other London borough has no protected bike lanes.
“Perhaps this history of refusal to put in place basic safety infrastructure explains the utter chaos of their decision to rip out the lanes in December 2020 and subsequent attempts to improve their paperwork.
“Win or lose this case, we hope RBKC finally come to their senses and embrace the support across the community from 17 local schools, the NHS, Imperial College, businesses like Waitrose, iconic institutions like the Royal Albert Hall and so many more, to put in place safe cycle lanes on this route.”
> Motor traffic journey times increase after Kensington cycle lanes removed
London Cycling Campaign’s CEO, Dr Ashok Sinha, added: “We are pleased to see the borough of Kensington & Chelsea being held to account for its irrational decision to end a safe cycleway trial prematurely.
“The council is putting lives at risk by refusing to make cycling safe on any street in their borough. Particularly damaging is their failure to take action on the headline recommendation of the Centre for London report that they themselves commissioned, namely to put safe cycling infrastructure on Kensington High Street. Plus, by deterring cycling in this way, they are undercutting their own promises to reduce toxic air pollution and carbon emissions.
“The money the Council is spending fighting their own residents in court should instead be spent on preventing further serious injuries and deaths on their roads, which has some of the highest casualty rates in London.”