Kensington and Chelsea council has blocked a flagship plan after a campaign based largely on myths
A computer-generated image of the planned new road system at Notting Hill Gate.
Photograph: Transport for London
More or less every time a city orders a report into how expanding populations can be moved around in efficient ways that also improve liveability and sustainability, the same answer comes back: active travel – that is, more walking and cycling.
And yet in many of those same cities, when specific plans are introduced to make walking and cycling safer and more pleasant, they face a fierce backlash, which can be sufficiently noisy and disruptive to scupper the schemes.
Such wrecking tactics are, it appears, increasingly common even as the need to move away from vehicle-based cities becomes ever more urgent.
Are the nimbys winning? A particularly alarming example has just been seen in London, where the grandly-named Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) in effect pulled the plug on a flagship plan from Transport for London to improve walking and cycling on a particularly feral stretch of west London roads between Notting Hill and Wood Lane.
Yes, I’m afraid it’s another example from London, but please do bear with me. The events from last week are illustrative of the ways safer, cleaner transport is being undermined in towns and cities, largely through myths.
So here’s some selected thoughts and lessons from the ongoing battle. Feel free to add your own below.
Opponents claim to support cycling in principle. Really?
RBKC’s decision to block safer cycling and walking on a route that has seen 275 collisions in three years came, amid loud applause, at a meeting of opponents on Thursday night. Beforehand the council’s cabinet member for transport reportedly said he was “hugely supportive” of cycling, but did not support this particular scheme.
This seems deeply peculiar. If he does support cycling, then why not work with TfL on improving the scheme, rather than blocking the entire thing, without warning and before a consultation was finished (more on that later), with no plans for a replacement?
There is something of a pattern to this. The wise and indefatigable New York blogger and podcaster Doug Gordon once compiled a long list of people who insist they simply love cycling, but have a unique, unfixable problem with one particular bike lane, namely the one in their city or neighbourhood. See also: “I’m a cyclist”; “I own a bicycle”.
Many of the arguments against bike lanes are misleading or false
It is a complex issue, one often reduced to an asinine series of assertions (“less space for motor traffic must equal worse congestion, which must equal more pollution”), one blithely repeated by RBKC.
While the TfL modelling does indicate some journeys in one direction of travel could take longer after the work, a series of other factors need to be considered, not least the primary cause of congestion – too many motor vehicles – and the aim of eventual modal shift to other means of transport.
Then there’s also the fact that when similar routes have already been built in London, actual measured pollutions levels have stubbornly not risen.
Opponents also cited worries from shops and companies along the route. Again, these are common with other plans, but invariably ill-founded. For a variety of reasons, cycle infrastructure is almost always good for business.
A more easily-comprehensible objection was the fate of up to two dozen trees of various sizes that would have been felled to make way for bike routes. It’s worth remembering that trees can be replanted, and also that the route could have been adjusted to save the trees – instead of taking more space from cars.