Published: 16:02, 18 September 2020
| Updated: 16:29, 18 September 2020
Angry residents have launched two separate petitions just days after controversial Covid-19 cycle lanes were installed in a town centre.
Three prominent roads in Ashford - Mace Lane, Somerset Road and New Street - have all been reduced to single lanes as a result of the trial which aims to encourage 'active travel'.
The Kent County Council-run scheme could last up to 18 months, but motorists are already starting to show their anger in the first week.
One of the signs in New Street reading 'Covid-19 pop-up cycle lane' has had a curse word stuck over the 'pop'.
Also, a petition asking for the scheme to be removed has now been lodged on 38Degrees and has gained more than 1,100 signatures in a single day.
Another petition has been started on Change.org , with more than 460 signatures at the time of writing.
One of those who has signed a petition is Russell Geen, owner of The Little Teapot cafe in Park Mall.
"I think these cycle lanes are damaging Ashford's economic recovery," he said.
"You have two-lane roads going into one lane and it takes ages to get out of the town centre.
"They've not thought about what they're doing - why would KCC spend millions on cycle lanes that mostly aren't being used?
"Also, they don't need to be the width of a whole lane.
"We've noticed we've got customers coming in and saying they don't want to come into the town anymore because the cycle lanes have ramped up the journey time.
"We have delivery drivers who are taking longer and having to start earlier just to make it on time.
"The petitions have come too late because they've already put the barriers up and drilled them in, so they've already made the decision and it seems to be a long-term one."
"It is ill thought out and downright dangerous"
Others have suggested the lanes themselves are being ignored by motorists.
Keen cyclist and Kennington resident Ted Prangnell raised concerns over the pedestrian crossings as numerous traffic lights have been turned off as part of the scheme.
He said: "Greater attention to cycleway design should have happened many years ago, and not put off until the pandemic came along.
"I consider that the pedestrian crossing of North Street and Somerset Road (as it currently stands) is ill thought out and downright dangerous.
"Motorists often ignore the present cycleways, and frequently use the lane to undertake.
"Yesterday afternoon I saw at least 20 vehicles do exactly that, and I saw a taxi stolidly using the cycle lane.
"When it comes to cycle routes and cycleways the borough still hasn’t got a clue."
Cllr Nathan Iliffe (Con), who represents the Kennington ward, says he is "disappointed" by the new lanes.
"Due to the time constraints applied to Kent County Council by central government to secure the funding for the scheme, there was not time for Ashford Borough Council to be consulted on the introduction of these cycle lanes," he said.
"I entirely sympathise with residents’ frustrations at the traffic chaos caused by this scheme.
"Earlier this year, ABC created its comprehensive cycling and walking strategy for the borough, which has been approved by the cabinet and adopted by full council – following proper process and scrutiny.
"Our strategy includes some great schemes to encourage walking and cycling and would make doing both in Ashford safer.
"Our strategy did not include the initiatives KCC has implemented.
"Encouraging people to be more active and enabling them to do so safely is important and an aim that I am sure most would share.
"Achieving that is about promoting the right project, following detailed consultation, testing, and planning.
"I am afraid that the initiatives we have seen implemented this week are not the right project."
Cllr Iliffe says he has already been contacted by concerned residents.
"As deputy portfolio holder for corporate property and regeneration, I have a particular responsibility for Ashford town centre," he said.
"This week I have been contacted by businesses who are concerned that the traffic caused by the new cycle lanes will deter people from travelling to the town centre to shop and socialise.
"Following the great economic strain these businesses have experienced during the Covid-19 pandemic, we should be encouraging residents to spend both their time and money on the high street.
"Ashford Borough Council is working hard to do just this through several initiatives.
"Crossing the road to access the high street on foot has been made unnecessarily dangerous"
"These changes made to the roads around the town centre could have a detrimental effect on that.
"I have crossed the road at the Forge Road and Somerset Road junction.
"With the traffic lights de-activated and drivers trying to navigate the new road layout, crossing the road to access the high street on foot has been made unnecessarily dangerous.
"This rather flies in the face of the intention of the initiative to encourage people to walk more.
"It strikes me as bizarre that a ring-road which was built to manage the growing population of Ashford years ago, has now been reduced by 50%, despite the town’s continued growth.
"I would welcome KCC to listen to Ashford businesses and residents and re-consider their scheme."
In a statement, KCC confirmed the trial can run for up to 18 months.
It said: “These trials, announced in early August, form part of the government’s push for ‘active travel’ in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and the need for social distancing and encouraging more active forms of travel.
“We appreciate that some schemes will not satisfy everyone but the government has asked all local authorities to inspire more cycling and walking.
“One lane in each direction will be turned into cycle lanes along New Street, Somerset Road and Mace Lane, segregated from traffic with posts.
“Gaps will be left to allow access to businesses and homes.
"There will also be gaps at bus stops and road junctions.
“The trial can run for up to 18 months, and if well received can be made permanent or removed if they do not have the desired effect.
“Amendments can be made to the scheme throughout the trial.
“Residents can contact KCC via the active travel fund email address firstname.lastname@example.org to provide comments.”
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