As my wife and I strolled down our local high street with our dog Charlie early one morning last week, the November air was clogged with fumes. The smell of pollution wafted from hundreds of cars, vans, lorries and buses which were stuck nose-to-tail in a horrendous traffic jam.
It never used to be like this. We used to relish our brisk morning walks down Kensington High Street where we have lived on and off for the past 40 years. It was one of life’s simple pleasures.
But that all changed almost overnight after my local council – without any notice – installed these dreaded new cycle lanes which have caused havoc across the country. Little black and white bollards – euphemistically called wands by those wizards in town halls – have suddenly appeared all the way up the road, cutting off a lane of traffic in both directions.
Many of the routes, most marked simply by bollards and cones, take up existing traffic lanes, narrowing busy trunk roads and causing severe congestion in cities (stock image used)
It means that, instead of two lanes heading up past Hyde Park towards Central London, there is just one for all that rush-hour traffic to squeeze into. Add to the mix 15 bus stops and eight sets of traffic lights in a stretch of road under half a mile long, and what you have is absolute bedlam.
Every morning and evening, there is total gridlock – even in the past two weeks when more of us have been working from home.
God forbid if an ambulance, police car or fire engine urgently needs to get through – the cycle lane bollards mean drivers cannot get out of the way.
The only gaps are for bus stops, where the big red double deckers swing in and out of the cycle lane, further slowing down frustrated drivers behind and potentially endangering cyclists flying up the near left side like they are in the Tour de France peloton.
Nigel Havers said his local council has installed these dreaded new cycle lanes which have caused havoc in the Kensington area
But what is most infuriating about this disastrous, poorly designed scheme is that hardly any cyclists use it. Squinting up and down the road, you are hard-pressed to spot more than one or two at any time. Yet all this space has been given over to them. It feels as if we are living in a time of minority rule. Those who have screeched the loudest and pushed their cycling agenda into the heart of local government have won the day. So, we all must pay the price for their ‘vision’. To hell with the legions of frustrated bus passengers, delivery drivers and even the emergency services. They must get in line – a long, long line.
Speak to many cycling campaigners and they argue that ‘if you build it they will come’. Well, they have built it and they have not come. Certainly not in numbers that warrant splurging £250 million on cycle lanes during the middle of a pandemic. Official figures show the number of people cycling has dropped by 25 per cent since the first lockdown in March.
I just don’t get it. I dread the moment lockdown is lifted – hopefully – on December 2 because it will mean even more traffic clogging up the high street. This will combine with an increase in delivery vans because so many more people will be doing their Christmas shopping online this year. I also worry about the impact all these delays are having on elderly and vulnerable people waiting at home for food and medicine to be delivered.
Maybe I wouldn’t be so cross about these cycle lanes if it was not for the fact that so many of the cyclists I encounter do not obey the laws of the road. I ride a Vespa and I see so many of them jump red lights, mount pavements and go the wrong way down one-way roads. But not once have I seen any of them stopped by police. One gets a strong sense that many think they are more special than everyone else.
What stings most is that this mad scheme is being rolled out across our towns and cities without proper consultation. It feels as if – while we have been doing our best to stay alive, keep our spirits up and look after each other during the worst crisis for a generation – the cycling zealots have staged a monstrous power grab that has rearranged the country. It is quite absurd. What is the rush? Why now? Yes, we can ‘build back better’ as Boris Johnson has said, but why not take our time to get things right first time?
Already, dozens of councils have ripped up their new cycle lanes after howls of protests from residents. I can only hope mine finds a backbone and does the same. I am not anti-cycling. I think cycling is great but why are we ruining our streets like this without proper consultation?
This is costing taxpayers millions. For now, they are calling it an experiment. We are assured this is a temporary madness and that it will all be reviewed in six months.
Drivers across Britain are facing traffic chaos as councils block off miles of roads to hastily install cycle lanes – which are hardly being used (stock image used)
But, with the number of cycle lanes multiplying every week, I’m not convinced. The Prime Minister’s ‘green industrial revolution’ plan announced last week made it clear. It said: ‘We will build first hundreds, then thousands, of miles of segregated cycle lanes and create more low-traffic neighbourhoods to stop rat-running and allow people to walk and cycle.’ The various cycling lobby groups will surely not give up now without a fight. They point to us all doing our bit to combat climate change and to the health benefits of encouraging us to walk and cycle to work.
But this utopia appears to forget about the vast number of people who need to drive for a living.
Do they think everyone is going to abandon cars and vans? What about the builders, couriers, parcel delivery firms, the lorries that bring groceries to our supermarkets?
As a long-time clean air campaigner, I believe all this congestion will be bad news for our environment. Every minute, a car idling its engine pumps out enough toxic air to fill 150 balloons.
So until we all come to our senses and end this cycle lane madness, I urge my fellow drivers to switch their engines off when they are stuck in traffic.
You could be some time.