Posts Tagged ‘kensington and chelsea’

Hostility on Kensington High Street

October 25, 2013

Rim brakes versus disc brakes. Electronic gears versus mechanical. Froome versus Wiggins. Sometimes, when the entrenched opinions and fierce debates of competitive cycling get too much, I long for a time when cycling was, for me, simply a means of getting about. Surely I would encounter fewer angry exchanges of deeply-held views if I went back to simply being a commuter. Then I disabuse myself of this notion by venturing into the realm of cycling advocacy and cycle safety. A spleen has not truly been vented, it seems, until it is tackling the merits of, say, a shared-use pathway.

Unusually, I found a cycling advocacy blog last week that actually made me laugh, albeit unintentionally. It goes by the wholly unbiased and open-minded title Two Wheels Good, Four Wheels Bad, and the post that gave me a chortle was about the proposed Cycle Superhighway.

It seems council officials are resisting Transport for London’s plan to build a two-lane segregated bike route along Kensington High Street because it would reduce traffic flow to one lane on part of the road and supposedly create an obstacle for pedestrians wanting to catch buses. These could be valid reasons, or they might be excuses from intransigent councillors, perhaps refusing to be ordered about by a much larger body. What’s interesting, though, is Two Wheels’ insistence that Kensington High Street is a “hostile” design for cyclists, and that the Superhighway is the best way to remedy it.

“Kensington High Street is a shopping street,” Two Wheels Good fumes, “not a distributor road, so why on earth should it have two lanes of motor traffic in each direction?!” Well, I’ve lived a few minutes away for almost 14 years, and I’ve found it one of the more pleasant main roads in Zone 1 to cycle on, partly because of its width and relatively low traffic levels. And isn’t it precisely because it is a shopping street with slower-moving traffic that makes a dedicated two-way cycle lane unnecessary?

What amused me is that as I was thinking this, Two Wheels made my point for me with a series of photographs.

kensington high street empty road

“It would be difficult to come up with something more hostile to cycling if you tried,” the blog states, even though the photos clearly show the opposite: the road is wide, there are lots of empty spaces, and cyclists are easily negotiating their way around parked vehicles.

kensington high street cab ahead

kensington high street passing cab

kensington high street walking bikes

“Also important to note is the two separate cases of Barclays Cycle Hire users that felt the road, in it’s [sic] current layout, was too dangerous to use and wheeled/cycled on the pavement instead.” It’s also important to note that he didn’t appear to actually ask them why. Maybe they just like cycling on the pavement. The trio walking their bikes may be tourists. They could’ve been lost. Or maybe they just got bored of cycling around.

Who knows? Certainly not Two Wheels Good. It seems to me that he just doesn’t like the road because it doesn’t have a segregated path and nothing will change his opinion. So yes, there is hostility on Kensington High Street. But its presence is behind the camera, not in front of it.

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South Kensington: a land of contrasts

March 19, 2012

This post is about a few things I see on my bicycle ride into town. No, no – wait! Come back! It won’t be that dull! Or at least I’ll do my best to make sure it isn’t.

Firstly, I would like to introduce you to a prime candidate for Trades Descriptions: Invisible Menders of Knightsbridge.

For a start, it’s in South Kensington, not Knightsbridge. And, as you may have noticed from the orange and brown frontage, the shop is not invisible. I mean, honestly – how could they have got away with this for so long? It’s a complete misnomer on every conceivable level.

In another sense, though, Invisible Menders is invisible, because after stopping hundreds of times at the traffic lights on the junction of Old Brompton Street and Gloucester Road, I have yet to see anyone startled by the façade or the yellowing signs with their jaunty, cursive typeface. It just sits there, unremarked-upon, a wonderful incongruity that must be around half-a-century old.

By contrast, just a few pedal-strokes away, Exhibition Road has begun making quite an exhibition of itself.

Look! No curbs! No tarmac! And no-one travelling at more than 20mph! Personally, I like the grand social statement it’s making: humans, regardless of whether they walk, cycle or use a motor vehicle, can all share the same space safely. And the chap on the left is so comfortable with these new surroundings he has squatted down to fondle his companion’s leg. An extraordinary scene, I’m sure you’ll agree.

The road planners of Kensington and Chelsea have also pedestrianised the junction of Old Brompton Road and Pelham Street, which is right outside the entrance to South Kensington station.

What you can see in that photo is a cab driver taking care not to hit two pedestrians. What you can’t see, because it happened about a minute before I took the picture, is me turning left into the junction with a big grin on my face because I no longer have to shout “WAKE UP” at someone walking blithely into my path without looking right. I’m not a psychologist, so I don’t know why removing a curb makes people more aware that they are stepping into traffic, but in my experience, it works.

So there you have it: one inconspicuous old novelty, and two conspicuous new ones. And I take hope from what the former could say about the latter: if you fulfill a purpose quietly, invisibly, then you’ll be around in 50 years, too.