Published: 11:10, 22 September 2020
| Updated: 11:31, 22 September 2020
Council bosses have removed controversial Covid-19 cycle lanes just a week after they were installed - and apologised for any inconvenience caused.
Ashford residents were left fuming after Kent County Council reduced Mace Lane, Somerset Road and New Street to just a single lane last Monday.
Drivers branded the trial - which was initially set to last for up to 18 months - as "downright dangerous" and two petitions were set up calling for the pop-up lanes to be removed.
Authority chiefs had been allocated £1.6 million by the Department for Transport to invest in walking and cycling in the county and the Ashford scheme formed part of the government’s push for ‘active travel’ in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
But KCC started removing the cycle lanes on Friday following a barrage of criticism and the final bollards in Mace Lane were taken down overnight.
In a statement, the authority confirmed it is reverting the roads to their "original state" and all traffic lights which were covered up during the trial have been turned on again.
“It has been decided to remove the pole cones along the length of Somerset Road, Mace Lane and New Street and return both lanes back to normal traffic," a spokesman said.
“The decision was made as the original design did not offer adequate capacity and there were some concerns about the speed in which cyclists could pass through these busy junctions.
“We stand by our original aim of promoting cycling in Ashford, but post-lockdown traffic levels have shown to be too much for this location to continue as planned.
“As with all of our active travel schemes, they had to be designed and implemented within just a few weeks and as we said, all of these schemes are continually reviewed and amended as necessary.
“We apologise for any inconvenience caused and we will continue to work with Ashford Borough Council to promote and encourage cycling and active travel alternatives.”
During a virtual meeting of County Hall's cabinet yesterday, KCC highways boss Michael Payne (Con) said the trial was "causing severe congestion due to a conflict with traffic signals".
"All schemes are under review and being temporary will be removed if they prove not to work," the Tonbridge county councillor said.
"Indeed, one scheme in Ashford has now been removed."
Commenting on the government's push for 'active travel', KCC leader Roger Gough (Con) said: "It's a situation where we recognise we can only proceed with the support of communities.
"We are listening and recognising that there are occasions where there are major concerns.
"We will seek to respond to that as we did in the case of Ashford.
"That is something you will see more and hear of as we move forward."
KCC said the £1.6m of funding made available by the government had to be spent by mid-September, meaning it had not been able to carry out the "levels of engagement and consultation that we normally would".
Cllr Nathan Iliffe (Con), who represents the Kennington ward, shared his concerns about the scheme last week but now says he is "relieved" KCC has ditched the trial.
"They have re-evaluated the situation, listened to Ashford businesses and residents and other stakeholders including Ashford Borough Council," he said.
"It is fair that we commend them for doing that and readdressing the situation.
"ABC has a great walking and cycling strategy which would make walking and cycling in Ashford safer.
"The initiatives implemented by KCC last week were not in ABC’s plan.
"It’s important that we move forward from here and invest in the right projects that will benefit Ashford residents."
Although the trial has been scrapped, cycle lane road markings can still be seen in Mace Lane, Somerset Road and New Street.