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KKate Cairns ghost bike

Kate Cairns with her sister Eilidh’s ghost bike in Notting Hill Gate

The sister of a cyclist killed by a HGV in Notting Hill today said it was “unforgiveable” for the council to block road safety plans.

A proposed 2.3-mile segregated cycle route is likely to be only half-built after Kensington and Chelsea council announced its last-minute opposition to the £42m Transport for London scheme.

Some residents and businesses had complained that removing one of four lanes in Holland Park Avenue to build the cycleway would increase congestion and deter shoppers.

Two mature London Plane trees would have been axed in the avenue, plus one sapling, and 23 smaller trees in the central reservation at Notting Hill.

TfL wanted to build the route linking Wood Lane and Notting Hill Gate to improve safety. It says there have been 275 collisions in three years on Holland Park Avenue and Notting Hill Gate, roads under the council’s control. UPDATE: City Hall later said the figure of 275 related to the entire route.

K Eilidh Cairns ghost bike

Ghost bike erected in memory of Eilidh Cairns

Eilidh Cairns, 30, was killed in 2009 as she cycled west on Notting Hill Gate. Her death is commemorated with the capital’s first “ghost bike”.

Kate Cairns, a civil engineer who has campaigned on road and lorry safety since her sister’s death, founding the See Me Save Me campaign, said: “I’m absolutely outraged that the local council does not have the vision to protect its residents, tourists and everyone passing through Notting Hill Gate.

“I just find that extraordinary, really narrow-minded and completely unforgiveable for Eilidh’s death and all these crashes not to be enough for them to take action.”

Kate Cairns

Kate Cairns: road safety expert and campaigner

In a statement to the Evening Standard, Ms Cairns wrote:

People are uneasy about change so I understand objections to this scheme. But there is unequivocal evidence showing that cycling increases health and well-being for all (not just those who cycle) by reducing congestion, pollution and improving the environment for pedestrians. Not only that, research shows cycling boosts business and increases local spend significantly, by up to seven times of those travelling by car. As a Chartered Civil Engineer and Chartered Environmentalist, I have written and reviewed many published papers on this issue. As the founder of the See Me Save Me campaign I have advocated for safer streets for over a decade, responding to government consultations and instigating a change to European law on HGV cab design to reduce ‘blind spots’.

“It is disappointing, shocking and irresponsible that LBKC has withdrawn support for a scheme which, had it been in place, would surely have prevented the death of my sister, Eilidh Cairns, who was run down from behind by a fully laden tipper lorry 10 years ago in the middle of Notting Hill Gate whilst cycling to work. She was dragged and crushed in front of traumatised school children, commuters and local shop workers. Is not her death, and a further 275 collisions on this stretch, not enough avoidable destruction for the council to take action? Have our elected politicians not learned to take decisions on evidence rather than play political games?

“The London Mayor Boris Johnson & LBKC gave permission to erect a permanent ghost at the spot of Eilidh’s death, to acknowledge the danger and remind others to take care. Every time I go to clean the bike and lay flowers local people come to speak to me, they tell me they remember that terrible day, and ask if I knew the young girl lay fully conscious, pinned under the wheel of the lorry. It astounds me that 10 years later this still affects the local community, those who did not even know her. I would like the ghost bike stripped, re-sprayed and re-erected in a prominent position in any new scheme. It is a stark, elegant and arresting reminder of the death and injury which creates immeasurable ripples across communities and society when we fail to take action.”

Further to last Thursday’s meeting, there was a bizarre twist when it emerged that one member of the audience had claimed to be Eilidh’s aunt – and suggested that Eilidh would have opposed the cycleway.

Ms Cairns said on Twitter that this was categorically untrue and disputed that any such relative existed.

Kate Cairns tweet 1

Kate Cairns tweet 2

Will Norman, London’s cycling commissioner, said after last Thursday’s decision: “People will die and suffer serious injuries as a direct result of this cynical political stunt.”

The council’s sudden withdrawal of support means the route is likely to be only half-built, from Wood Lane (on roads run by Hammersmith and Fulham council) to the Shepherd’s Bush roundabout, which is run by TfL. 

Peter Treadgold, chair of the Institution of Civil Engineers walking and cycling community of practice, said: “As a west Londoner I use that main-road route up to Notting Hill a lot. There are risks for bike riders, though I wonder whether a stop/start alternative on side roads would be widely used.

“The Institution of Civil Engineers supports making space for walking and cycling on convenient and direct routes where that contributes to London’s move to zero carbon emissions and healthy living.”

Kensington and Chelsea council is due to publish its formal response on its website to the TfL consultation today.

Cllr Johnny Thalassites, lead member, transport and planning, Kensington and Chelsea Council, said: “We supported the consultation and waited this long to take a position to allow TfL to make the case to our residents and businesses. In our view, they failed to do so.

“TfL need to focus on how they can come up with a plan that addresses the concerns clearly and specifically raised by people in Kensington.

“For me, protecting the people using our roads and living near our roads is absolutely vital – that’s why we’ve planned a range of cycle lanes that will help people to move safety through the borough without causing congestion and the accompanying air pollution.

“I don’t believe TfL’s plans are the right approach for keeping people safe on our roads.”

  • An edited version of this story appears in today’s Evening Standard.