Tuesday 22 October 2013

The Newspeak of Nicholas Paget-Brown, leader of RBKC Council

Last week I emailed the leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council, Nicholas Paget-Brown, asking him for an official response on the fact that the Council are currently obstinately blocking a fully segregated cycle lane that TfL want to install on Ken High St as part of the proposed Cycle Superhighway 9 (CS9). I thought he might take a rather more balanced few than Cllr Coleridge on the matter, and was therefore incredibly disappointed by an Orwellian response that would have been more appropriate to Animal Farm. It is copied below:

Another photo of Cllr Paget-Brown.
We have long taken the view that it is important for all road users to share space responsibly and to respect other transport modes. The re-design of the High St was designed to achieve this. Clearly there are also wider concerns in London that cycle superhighways may not be the best solution to the increasing number of cyclists and do not address the concerns of cyclists using other streets. 
You do not explain how a dedicated and separate cycle lane would protect the safety of pedestrians and bus uers and why the Council should consider one mode of travel over all others in this one location. Grosvenor Road and Millbank are much more lightly used roads than the High St and one sits inside the Congestion Charge Zone where volumes of car usage are in any case lower. The junction with Church St and the High St is more than a “T” junction, it has to allow for left and right filters and pedestrian crossing phases at a point just before the carriageway narrows. 
The Council has undertaken a huge number of initiatives to make cycling safer in the Borough but has always considered these in the light of the fact that we need to take account of all modes of traffic in such a busy Borough if we are to improve overall levels of road safety.
I find it deeply insulting (especially to the memory of Eilidh Cairns who was run over and killed by a lorry driver while cycling through Notting Hill Gate in 2009) that Cllr Paget-Brown feels he can blithely equate the dangers posed to someone on a bike by a bus, lorry or HGV, as comparable to those posed to a pedestrian when having to cross a cycle lane that runs behind a bus stop. The threat posed to someone's 'safety' is completely incomparable. In fact, cycle lanes that pedestrians have to cross to reach bus stops are the norm in much of Holland, Germany and Brighton, and are currently being built by TfL on Stratford High Street.

Moreover, I find it extremely worrying that Cllr Paget-Brown feels that taking 2-3m of the ~20m of building-to-building space on Kensington High Street in order to create a segregated cycle lane is 'considering one mode of travel above all others in this one location'. This is just nonsensical. It's newspeak. It's untrue. Anyone can see that using 2-3m of Kensington High Street to create a segregated cycle lane is only using 10-15% of the total available road space for cycling. In no rational world is this 'considering one mode of travel above all others'. There is currently ~8m of space on Kensington High Street used as pavements (discounting additional space created by the wide islands in the middle). Does this mean the Council is 'considering walking above all other modes of transport'?

The story becomes even worse when one remembers that, contrary to Cllr Paget-Brown's implications, there are not any continuous segregated cycle lanes, or even quiet-ish roads, running on parallel routes that cyclists might use instead of 'this one location'.  In fact, there are no continuous segregated cycle lanes anywhere in the Royal Borough. Coupled with Paget-Brown's opening statement that, 'we have long taken the view that it is important for all road users to share space', one can only conclude that Paget-Brown is opposed to the entire idea of dedicated, segregated space for cycling, wherever in his borough it might be suggested.

Paget-Brown's opposition, then, is perhaps not really about Kensington High Street. It's simply about segregated cycle lanes, that he plainly feels shouldn't be built in the first place.

The breathtaking arrogance Paget-Brown's position becomes clear when one remembers that Cllr Paget-Brown is a Conservative and is therefore rejecting the advice and guidance given by his Conservative Prime Minister (David Cameron, who unequivocally endorsed the Get Britain Cycling Report in April), his Conservative Mayor (Boris Johnson, who as head of TfL is proposing the segregating track that Paget-Brown is so stubbornly blocking), and even his Conservative MP (Sir Malcolm Rifkind who wrote last year that: 'a long-term paucity of proper cycling infrastructure has forced many cyclists onto busy roads, where they are bound to come into conflict with drivers of cars.').

The breathtaking ignorance and heartlessness of Paget-Brown's position becomes clear when one remembers that Eilidh Cairns has already been killed through having to 'share space' with fast moving motor traffic at Notting Hill Gate where the Council also refuses to provide a segregated cycle lanes. Furthermore, just last week in the news there were two inquests into the deaths of Brian Dorling and Philippine de Gerin-Ricard where the Coroner, Mary Hassel, clearly stated:
What we would like, of course, is to have cyclists in a separate cycle lane. It would be safer for cyclists, and motorists wouldn’t have the potential in the same way for this appalling experience of perhaps colliding with a cyclist.
Having 'cyclists in a separate cycle lane' is exactly what TfL are now proposing for Ken High St, and exactly what our 'bikeminded' councillors are blocking. It's shocking.

Paget-Brown says, 'there are also wider concerns in London that cycle superhighways may not be the best solution to the increasing number of cyclists'. Again, this is simply untrue. Concerns have not been raised about the concept of cycle superhighways, but rather about them being built in exactly the way Cllr Paget-Brown clearly wants them built; i.e. with HGVs and Londoners on bikes 'sharing space' and no segregated cycle lanes. The 'wider concerns' Paget-Brown cites in defence of his argument are actually critiques of himself, and his own position in opposing the sort of segregated infrastructure that would make cycle superhighways safe for everyone who chose to cycle.

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