By Owen Sheppard
The construction of a cycle lane in Kensington High Street, and now its imminent removal, have stirred strong emotions in West Londoners.
Less than two months since it was installed by Kensington and Chelsea Council, the authority will begin pulling out the mile-long route of bollards today.
Cycling campaigners accuse the council of bending in the face of pressure from residents, while businesses insist the changes increased congestion on the already busy thoroughfare between Olympia and Kensington Gardens.
Emma Madden, the head teacher of Fox Primary School near Notting Hill Gate, has urged the council to keep the cycle lane, as more than 20 of her staff now cycle to work.
A special-education-needs teacher, Anna Waddell, 39, said: “I live in Hackney and it takes me 45 minutes to cycle here.
“It was better for me and the environment. I’ll still cycle even though it will be more dangerous and I’ll get pollution in my face. I don’t want to use the Tube because I have an elderly Mum who I care for and I don’t want to take the risk.”
James Howe, 40, and a parent at the school, said: “The borough needs an east-west cycle lane, particularly if you want to go to Hammersmith. Historically the High Street has been a very nasty road.”
Another parent from Notting Hill disagreed. Joeness Amara-Bangali, 50, said: “It’s a disaster if there’s an ambulance or police car – there’s nowhere to go. You need a helicopter. Not even the Queen could get through.”
On the High Street itself, Matt Clawson, a florist at Kensington Flower Corner, said he could see the cycle lane had made traffic much worse.
“When the traffic is bad, it’s really bad and there’s lots of beeping,” he said. “The problem hasn’t been overstated. This road is always bad, but the cycle lane has made it worse.
“It has been difficult for people who just wanted to come and park for 20 minutes.”
Maureen Dempsey, from Knightsbridge, said: “I can see there’s a problem for delivery vehicles who need to park between the bollards. But it has been really nice seeing families with children being able to cycle around London during lockdown. We do need to do something to accommodate them.”
Sam Macneil, a data engineer from Earls Court, said: “I think it’s fair enough to remove it if it’s not worked out, if it was part of an experiment. Although I do like having cycling lanes, and it’s the classic situation of what’s good for the environment in the long run can feel bad at the time.”
Thomas Coste, an Imperial College London student from Nice in France, said he would avoid the High Street after the lane is removed.
“When it’s gone I will probably try to avoid the high street on my bike because it’s really a pain. You have to zig zag between cars. I’ll end up taking side streets instead,” said the 20-year-old.
The council’s lead member for planning, councillor Johnny Thalassites, said he ordered the cycle lane to be removed because “majorities” of local people had complained.
Cllr Thalassites wrote in an open letter: “In the spring, different layers of government instructed the council to build a ‘pop up’ route ‘within weeks’. We had hoped that a scheme might help local businesses attract shoppers to the high streets; and that residents would regard it as useful as an east-west path.
“Alas – more than two months after installing the temporary ‘wands’ on the road – it is clear that large majorities of local businesses and residents do not think the experiment has worked.”
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