“It’s a waste of money”: why is Kensington & Chelsea at war with cyclists?

A cyclist passes the V&A museum in South Kensington. Image: Getty.

As the number of bikes on London’s roads climb higher, pressure has been building on councils to get onboard with the Greater London Authority’s cycling push.

An interconnected web of cycling lanes and superhighways has meant the nation’s capital is fast becoming a more cycling-friendly destination, as the authorities seek to cut pollution, congestion and the city’s carbon footprint.

But the Hammersmith & Fulham branch of the London Cycling Campaign believes one west London council is shirking its duty to improve conditions for cyclists – and has instead become an ideological opponent of the city’s push toward greener transport options.

The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea recently laughed a public consultation on the proposed new 1.6km quietway route between Shepherd’s Bush and Kensington High Street. The stated aim of the project is to make Holland Road safer for cyclists by installing speed humps, reducing parking areas and removing traffic islands to create more space for cyclists.

A map of the proposal. Click to expand. Image: RBKC.

Kensington & Chelsea councillor Will Pascall trumpeted the plans as the next step in the council’s quietway program. “Cycling schemes and initiatives in our borough have won national awards and our ambitious plans to build on these continue to go from strength-to-strength,” he said. “We have built more than 8km of quietway routes across the borough and we have plans to build more.”

But Casey Abaraonye, co-ordinator of the London Cycling Campaign in the neighbouring borough of Hammersmith & Fulham – a place from which anyone cycling to central London would need to travel through Kensington & Chelsea – said that the council’s proposal would have little effect. He labelled the plans as no more “than a box-ticking exercise”, arguing that the new route would be seldom used and that the quietway program was an attempt to placate the borough’s cyclists by doing the “bare minimum”.


“There’s no safe or decent way of getting to [the quietway], and when you get to the end of it you’re back out onto Addison road,” he said. “It spits you back out onto roads that have high traffic volumes, in excess of 11,000 vehicles per day, and no infrastructure to help cyclists.

“It’s a waste of money.”

Kensington & Chelsea Council’s first quietway routes were completed earlier this year. But they only arrived after the council blocked Transport for London’s plans to transform the borough’s roads into a safe haven for cyclists.

Cycle Superhighway 9 was slated to connect Hyde Park to west London by travelling through the boroughs of Kensington & Chelsea, Hammersmith and Fullham, and Hounslow. But in 2013, the Kensington & Chelsea Council singlehandedly blocked TfL’s original proposal, which would have created a segregated bike lane on Kensington High Street.

Councillor Pascall defended the council’s stance, claiming any segregated bike lane on Kensington High Street would increase congestion and decrease foot traffic for local businesses.

“We continue to work with TFL about their ideas for a route through West London,” he said. “We are not opposed to cycle superhighways.”

Despite councillor Pascall’s objections, TfL has trudged on with its plan without the co-operation of the council.  Construction on a revamped Cycle Superhighway 9 is slated to finally begin in 2019, and will run from Kensington Olympia station to Chiswick – stopping just short of the problem borough’s boundaries.

The new route for CS9, stopping short of the borough boundaries at its eastern end. Click to expand. Image: TfL.

Abaraonye argues that the council’s actions clearly demonstrate an ideological opposition to cyclists, with its stance putting people’s lives at risk. “Kensington & Chelsea Council needs to recognise that its constituents are not going to prioritise cars in the way they do,” he said. “The notion that a car is a symbol of status is past its best before [date], and [the council] can no longer continue to put the lives and health of people at risk because motor vehicles exist.”

A spokeswoman said TfL was in talks with Kensington & Chelsea council about its future involvement in the superhighway program, however little progress has been made in the past five years.

“We have been working closely with the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, along with the London boroughs of Hounslow and Hammersmith and Fulham, at all stages of the design process,” she said.  “TfL is continuing to work with them to agree the next steps and will seek the necessary approvals from them as appropriate.”

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan was contacted for comment.

 
 
 
 

How US planners experimented with “the iron hand of power” over colonial Manila

Manila in ruins, 1945. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

In 1904, Manila must have appeared to its new overlords a despairing prospect. Racked with poverty and disease, it was still recovering from years of war, epidemic and a fire that had left 8,000 homeless.

For architect Daniel Burnham, it was an opportunity to put to work the radical ideas he had dreamed of in America.

He was among those asking how America’s unprecedented wealth at the turn of the century could be reconciled with the lives of the country’s poorest. Like many, he admired the ideas of harmonised city-planning articulated in Edward Bellamy’s bestselling science-fiction Looking Backward (1888).

At the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Burnham constructed the “White City”. Built across 686 acres of parkland, boulevards, gardens and neoclassical structures rendered a spray-painted plaster vision of the future – all laid out to one comprehensive plan.

It was impressive – but implementing grand designs where people actually lived meant laborious negotiations with citizens, businessmen and politicians.

Instead, opportunity lay in America’s new overseas territories. As Daniel Immerwahr describes in How to Hide an Empire: A Short History of the Greater United States, “They functioned as laboratories, spaces for bold experimentation where ideas could be tried with practically no resistance, oversight, or consequences.”

An architect’s dream

The US had gone to war with Spain in 1898, taking advantage of an empire-wide insurrection. It ended up controlling the entire Philippines, along with Guam and Puerto Rico.

As a “territory”, the Philippines existed outside the protections of the constitution. Congress could impose any law, proclaimed the attorney general in 1901, “without asking the consent of the inhabitants, even against their consent and against their protest, as it has frequently done.”

Which is how Burnham, upon invitation by the Philippine’s new rulers, came to wield what the Architectural Record called “the iron hand of power” over Manila.

 Burnham’s plan for Manila. Click to expand.

Where Burnham’s Chicago plan was complex, took years and entailed collaboration with hundreds of citizens, Burnham spent six months on the Manila plan, and just six weeks in the Philippines. And with no voters to persuade, there seemed little reason to register Filipino input in his designs.

In 1905 Burnham submitted his Report on Improvement of Manila. It described filling the toxic moat of the Spanish fortress Intramuros and developing a rectangular street system modelled on Washington D.C., with diagonal arteries which even Chicago lacked.


Central to his plan was the city’s beautification through monumental buildings, waterfront improvements, and parks – “wholesome resorts” to “give proper means of recreation to every quarter of the city”

Burnham charged William E. Parsons as the omnipotent “Consultant Architect” to interpret his plan, who relished its authority over all public building as an “architect’s dream”. When concerned with the extent of his purview, he also chose to standardise a number of public buildings.

“I doubt if this method would bear fruit in our own city improvement plans, in which everything depends on slow moving legislative bodies,” reported the Architectural Record’s correspondent.

Despite Burnham’s colonial sentiments his biographer concluded his plan was “remarkable in its simplicity and its cognizance of Philippine conditions and traditions.”

His plans did not shy from asserting the colonial government’s authority, however. The Luneta, a favourite park, was to become the nuclei of government. The city’s avenues would converge there, for “every section of the Capitol City should look with deference toward the symbol of the Nation’s power.”

Unusual monumental possibilities

Burnham also worked on a summer palace for US administrators at Baguio, 150 miles north in the mountains. On land inhabited by Igorot people, Burnham saw an opening “to formulate my plans untrammelled by any but natural conditions”.

Baguio’s “unusual monumental possibilities” were facilitated by a road whose construction employed thousands, risking death from disease and falling off cliffs. Civic buildings would “dominate everything in sight” and a golf course would rival those of Scotland.

“Stingy towards the people and lavish towards itself,” griped La Vanguardia, the government “has no scruples nor remorse about wasting money which is not its own.”

As enthusiasm for US empire soured in the States, local power was relinquished to Filipinos. Parsons resigned in protest in 1914. He was replaced by Manila-born Juan Arellano, whose rebuke to imperialists was the mighty, neoclassical Legislative Building which hosted the elected Philippine Legislature. Arellano upheld Burnham’s plan, producing a beautified city bearing resemblance to Burnham’s White City.

But the Legislative Building, along with Burnham’s great edifices and almost everything else in Manila, was levelled as US troops recaptured it in 1945, this time ousting the Japanese in a brutal battle. “Block after bloody block was slowly mashed into an unrecognizable pulp”, recorded the 37th Infantry Division as they exercised their own “iron hand” over Manila.

American artillery had transformed Manila into ruins. “It was by far the most destructive event ever to take place on US soil,” writes Immerwahr, even if few soldiers realised they were liberating US nationals at the time. Burnham’s expansive vision was lost in the debris, and though some buildings were rebuilt a majority were replaced. Today, Manila’s pre-war architecture is remembered with fondness and nostalgia.