TfL board member blasts transport chiefs over Kensington bike lane

‘The left and right hands aren’t working together’: TfL board member blasts transport chiefs over £600k Kensington High Street bike lane ‘fiasco’ after council removed it amid backlash from drivers

  • Cycle lane in West London taken out amid huge row between cyclists and drivers
  • TfL board member Ron Kalifa today criticised the ‘fiasco’ over what happened
  • Workmen finished ripping out plastic barriers of £600,000 lanes on Sunday
  • Extinction Rebellion supporters disrupted progress by gluing themselves to van

A loathed cycle lane which saw bollards removed after a backlash from drivers and businesses was today blasted as a ‘fiasco’ by a Transport for London board member.

The £600,000 lane on Kensington High Street in West London became an unlikely battleground in a row between cycling activists and drivers angry about congestion.

Ron Kalifa, who is on the TfL board, asked officials at a meeting about ‘what appears to be a bit of a fiasco around Kensington High Street and the bike lines there’.

Mr Kalifa added: ‘I’d really like to understand what’s happening there because it looks like left and right hand just aren’t operating together.’

Workmen finished ripping out the plastic barriers on Sunday, after Extinction Rebellion supporters disrupting progress last week by gluing themselves to a van. 


A section of the High Street Kensington cycle lane in West London is pictured with the bollards still in place last week (left) – and as it appeared yesterday with drivers inside it (right)


The cycle lane had caused chaos (including last week, left) but has now been removed (right) 

All painted cycle lane markings will also be removed – but some have remained in recent days, leading to some drivers still avoiding the route.

Gareth Powell, managing director of surface transport at Transport for London, responded to Mr Kalifa today by saying: ‘We were surprised and disappointed to hear the decision of the council in terms of the removal of that temporary facility there.

Kensington High Street cycle lane timeline: How huge row erupted over £600,000 scheme

  • September 28 – Kensington council begins installing the lanes, saying they would increase the number of people who could access the high street during the pandemic
  • October 14 – The work is complete 
  • November 12 – Residents’ groups and local businesses write to the council saying the scheme was ‘not working’ and harming the local economy
  • November 29 – Council confirms lane will be removed ‘after businesses and residents expressed concerns
  • December 1 – Extinction Rebellion activists descend on the cycle lane to protest its removal
  • December 2 – Activists glue themselves to a work van, temporarily halting the removal work
  • December 7 – Council confirms all the bollards have been removed  

‘That is a facility that’s been funded by the Mayor’s Streetspace programme via us. We have looked at the data and we don’t necessarily understand fully yet why that decision was taken.

‘We have written to the council to ask them to let us know the basis of the decision so we can understand fully their rationale and we are yet to receive a response to our letters on that subject.

‘Obviously these are temporary measures and they obviously need to remain under review – but we’re keen also to make sure that the evidence is there and we’re able to give schemes sufficient time to make sure that they are useful, as indeed that scheme was proving to be, in our view, quite useful.’

Mr Powell’s comments will fuel claims that the battle may not yet be over, as Sadiq Khan could be set to seize control of the road from the local council.

Meanwhile Prime Minister Boris Johnson is said to have gone ‘ballistic’ about the lane’s removal.

On Saturday, the row took a bizarre turn when it was revealed that Mr Johnson’s £95,000-a-year cycling tsar told the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea not to rip out the lane – and even pledged to send his boss along to be pictured riding down it.

Andrew Gilligan made the outlandish offer as he desperately pleaded with transport chiefs over the route amid nationwide fury at the new £250million bike lanes that have caused major congestion and blocked emergency vehicles in traffic across the country.

His move came as Mr Khan last week threatened to seize control of the road from the Tory-controlled local authority, reinstate the lane and force council chiefs to repay the £300,000 of TfL money used to put it there in the first place. The further £300,000 was funded by the council.

Ron Kalifa, who is on the TfL board, asked officials at a meeting today about ‘what appears to be a bit of a fiasco around Kensington High Street and the bike lines there’

Gareth Powell, managing director of surface transport at Transport for London, said they were ‘surprised and disappointed to hear the decision of the council in terms of the removal’

Meanwhile, Nigel Farage has vowed to field candidates against every councillor who backs Mr Johnson’s ‘green roads’ push.

Low-traffic neighbourhoods make air pollution WORSE, report indicates

The level of a toxic car exhaust pollutant dropped across parts of south London following the scrapping of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTN), according to a report.

Levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) were higher at 11 south London streets when residential roads were closed and dropped when seven Wandsworth Council schemes were halted, The Telegraph reports.  

Four weeks of analysis revealed in a council review show that pollution levels were higher on main roads where congestion had shot up considerably, often coming to a complete stop during rush hour.  

The borough had brought in seven LTNs in August amid a Government drive to promote walking and cycling following the lockdown. 

Trials were halted in September because of the ‘impact on access for the emergency services’ and ‘significant and sustained traffic congestion on the main roads was identified, raising concerns about pollution’, according to the 25-page report. 

The report says that the LTNs led to ‘an unexpected and unacceptable outcome that required the council to take the decision to pause, step back and review’ them. 

It comes amid claims that Boris Johnson went ‘ballistic’ in a row over a controversial cycling lane – and his cycling tsar pledged to send the Prime Minister riding down it if council leaders agreed not to remove it.

The Brexiteer lashed out at the cycle lanes and other ‘trendy’ environmental projects – saying they ‘cannot be justified’ as the economy faces disaster.

Mr Farage insisted Reform UK – the rebranded name of the Brexit Party – will take on all politicians who persist with the schemes in local elections in May.

Greeting the news of the Kensington lane’s removal yesterday, Pimlico Plumbers chief executive Charlie Mullins said: ‘What a great thing they’ve done. It was a total mess-up from day one.

‘It cost thousands to install and caused more congestion and pollution. Traffic has been at a standstill, it’s been a disaster. It’s about time that businesses stood up for ourselves because things can’t continue like this.

‘The Kensington cycle lane has been causing big delays for our drivers. If the people who need to move around to London for work can’t get in then businesses will shut down.’

And Hugh Bladon, from the Alliance of British Drivers, added: ‘This is excellent news. We’ve got nothing against making cycling safe but reducing road space so even emergency vehicles can’t get through is just monstrously stupid.’

Recent reports indicate that the level of a toxic car exhaust pollutant dropped across parts of South London following the scrapping of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTN).

Levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) were higher at 11 south London streets when residential roads were closed and dropped when seven Wandsworth Council schemes were halted, reported the Telegraph.

Four weeks of analysis revealed in a council review show that pollution levels were higher on main roads where congestion had shot up considerably, often coming to a complete stop during rush hour.

The borough had brought in seven LTNs in August amid a Government drive to promote walking and cycling following the lockdown.

Trials were halted in September because of the ‘impact on access for the emergency services’ and ‘significant and sustained traffic congestion on the main roads was identified, raising concerns about pollution’, according to the 25-page report.

The report says that the LTNs led to ‘an unexpected and unacceptable outcome that required the council to take the decision to pause, step back and review’ them.

Mr Khan had been expected to apply to convert Kensington High Street into a ‘red route’, which would wrestle its management from the Tory local authority and hand it to Transport for London, which he runs from City Hall.

Extinction Rebellion supporters tried to prevent contractors from removing bollards on Kensington High Street last week which marked out the pop-up cycle lane in West London

Under section 14B of the Highways Act 1980, the Mayor can direct that Transport for London take control of any road ‘where expedient’.

But in an open letter, Kensington councillor Johnny Thalassites warned: ‘Threatening us with legal action or financial penalties will make no difference to our decision, London boroughs aren’t here to be bullied into submission through sanctions.’

If Kensington Council objects, the final decision would be made by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who has previously blasted Mr Khan for his use of the cycle lane policy in the capital and admitted the scheme has caused problems for drivers.

However, in another twist, former BBC journalist Mr Gilligan claimed in an extraordinary phone call that the Prime Minister had gone ‘ballistic’ after Kensington and Chelsea Council axed the trial scheme after seven weeks, following a petition signed by 3,000 residents.

A source said: ‘He said the PM is personally interested in the scheme and is going ballistic about it. He said if we keep the lane, he would get Boris to come and do a cycle ride down it.

‘We thought this couldn’t be true, we thought the PM would be more busy than that, but that’s what Gilligan said.’

Mr Gilligan was previously appointed Cycling Commissioner for London under Boris Johnson’s mayorship in 2013. In 2019, he was appointed transport adviser by Mr Johnson, based in the Downing Street policy unit.

The comments were made during a Transport for London board meeting held remotely today

The Prime Minister’s intervention appears to contradict comments made by his Transport Secretary, adding more confusion to an increasingly bitter row.

He has previously expressed his support for greener policies – with fiancée Carrie Symonds a noted environmental campaigner.

The Kensington cycle lane is one of several across the country to be removed. 

An analysis by the Telegraph found that more than one in four local authorities involved in the green roads project has scrapped or reduced schemes.

Of the 110 councils listed as having participated in Grant Shapps’ ‘green transport revolution’, 31 have since downscaled.

Extinction Rebellion activists last week blocked council workers as they tried to remove bollards between traffic and the bike lane.

The Left-wing demonstrators glued themselves to a work van which was removing the bollards that have caused weeks of misery for drivers navigating the West London borough.

The controversial lanes, which cost more than £300,000 and were installed in a bid to encourage people back to their offices, had sparked uproar among commutes and locals.

Residents noted the affluent borough had subsequently suffered increased congestion and longer bus times. People also complained the cyclists were regularly speeding through red lights at pedestrian crossings.

Council insiders said they did not want to install the cycle lane in the first place but were coerced into it by Mr Gilligan. He has denied bullying or intimidating anyone.

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