Politics

Removed London bike lane blocked by parked cars most of the time – study


A much-used cycle lane in London that was removed because the local council said it was impeding the flow of motor vehicles has since been blocked by parked cars up to 80% of the time, a study by a campaign group has found.

Computer analysis of traffic cameras on Kensington High Street have also shown that average car journey times appear to have increased since officials took out the bike lane just seven weeks after it was installed.

Kensington and Chelsea council ripped out the £320,000 lane on the busy east-west thoroughfare in December, citing complaints from 322 people, about 0.2% of the borough’s population.

The Conservative-run authority said removing the cycle lane, which was used by up to 4,000 cyclists a day, would add extra space for motor traffic, and thus ease congestion and quicken journey times.

But the study, which involved analysing video footage from Transport for London traffic cameras using Google artificial intelligence tools, found that the space had instead been largely taken up by parked cars.

The analysis by Bike is Best, which groups together a series of organisations and companies from the cycling industry, found that in the week 21-28 December, what was formerly the eastbound cycle route was blocked by parked cars for 63.6% of the time.

Even greater use of the space for illegal parking was found at other times. The most recent data, from 29 December, found that between 7am and 7pm what was the eastbound bike lane was blocked by parked vehicles for 81.6% of the period, with some parked on double yellow lines for more than 10 hours.

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Analysis of traffic camera footage from when London was still in the looser tier 2 coronavirus restrictions, during daytime hours from 14 to 18 December, showed the former lane blocked for 52.9% of the time.

The study assessed average car journey times on a sample 1.1-mile stretch of the street using Google Maps’ real time traffic data, finding that these had increased after the cycle lane was removed.

It calculated that average trip times eastbound increased from 5min 39sec to 8min 14sec, with those westbound rising from 5min 48sec to 6min 27sec.

The study will bolster complaints from critics that Kensington and Chelsea council is institutionally hostile towards safer cycling schemes, with London’s cycling and walking commissioner, Will Norman, having previously accused it of “putting the convenience of car drivers over the lives of local residents”.

In 2019 the council unilaterally vetoed a separate flagship east-west cycle scheme in the middle of a public consultation, citing complaints from 450 residents, or 0.3% of the borough’s population.

Bike is Best submitted a freedom of information request to ask how the council had formally assessed the success or otherwise of the Kensington High Street scheme. The council responded: “No criteria or metrics were developed by which the scheme was to be assessed.”

The campaign group is pushing for councils to use data analysis to properly assess the efficacy of cycling infrastructure.

Adam Tranter, the founder of Bike is Best, who has the role of bicycle 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.”

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Traffic Cam Press Pic
Traffic Cam Press Pic Photograph: transport for London

The Kensington High Street cycle lane was now “occupied by a handful of drivers of inconsiderately and illegally parked cars”, he said, adding: “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.”

A council spokesman said it was examining alternative schemes, including so-called school streets and 20mph zones.

He said: “Since the decision we have received a letter signed by 25 residents’ associations, which represent 3,400 households, welcoming the decision to remove the lanes. We have had over 1,300 emails from residents and 85% were against the cycle lane.”

This updated total of 1,300 residents represents 0.8% of the borough’s population.



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