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Mini-Holland plan seeks to change how residents view their streets

Waltham Forest is one of three London boroughs selected by Transport for London to implement a Mini-Holland project to boost cycling. Jon Little, the author of the council’s bid, tells Deniz Huseyin how the council plans to encourage more people onto two wheels

Deniz Huseyin
17 April 2015
The borough trialled road closures in the Walthamstow Village area last autumn
The borough trialled road closures in the Walthamstow Village area last autumn
Segregated cycle tracks are to be installed along the full length of Lea Bridge Road
Segregated cycle tracks are to be installed along the full length of Lea Bridge Road
Waltham Forest’s Jon LIttle says a broad range of semi-segregation materials are being tested at the council’s offices
Waltham Forest’s Jon LIttle says a broad range of semi-segregation materials are being tested at the council’s offices
The council has pledged to install 1,200 cycle stands across the borough
The council has pledged to install 1,200 cycle stands across the borough


An ambitious programme is underway to make the London Borough of Waltham Forest, in the north-east of the capital, a better place for cyclists and pedestrians.

The council was one of three outer London boroughs to win ‘Mini-Holland’ funding last year from London mayor Boris Johnson to encourage more people to cycle by making routes safer while also providing better streets for pedestrians. 

Waltham Forest received £27m, while Enfield and Kingston-upon-Thames were awarded around £30m each. Of the three boroughs, Waltham Forest has made the most progress so far, with the cabinet unanimously approving a raft of measures in February.

Its Mini-Holland programme will include segregated cycle tracks along Lea Bridge Road – the route linking Epping Forest and Hackney – and an innovative re-configuring of the Whipps Cross roundabout at the eastern end of Lea Bridge Road.

Several residential streets have also been earmarked for traffic management measures, which will include through-traffic bans and light segregation for cyclists.

Bike hubs are to be installed at Tube and mainline rail stations, as well as 1,200 cycle stands and storage ‘hangars’ on residential streets. Most of the programme is due to be completed by March 2017. 

Designing out rat-runs

The initial focus of attention is on Walthamstow Village, a conservation area made up of buildings of historic interest, terraced properties and independent shops. A host of traffic management schemes are due to be implemented across the village area by late summer. Measures include closing off some roads to through traffic and making other streets one-way. 

A three-week trial of measures last autumn appeared to polarise opinion in the village between those in favour of the plans and those that felt motorists’ rights were being overlooked.

A consultation revealed that 44% of respondents backed road closures and traffic management measures while 41% were not in favour. Feedback from residents during the consultation has resulted in changes to the plans, says Jon Little, the council’s complementary measures manager and author of the Mini-Holland bid.

Responding to residents' concerns about displaced rat-running, the council closed off more streets to through traffic. “This approach really is about one long, continuous conversation,” says Little. “In the village there was the skeleton of a design insomuch as what we wanted to achieve from a traffic management perspective, but there were lots of remaining elements, such as street furniture and plantings, still up for debate. 

“We are confident that the revised proposals for the Walthamstow Village area will effectively curb rat-running, but we will monitor the scheme after implementation.” 

Little says traffic count data shows that the number of vehicles on the borough’s main roads has dropped by a third over the past ten years. “This is probably due to a combination of reasons, including more people turning to sustainable modes of travel, the London Overground line upgrade, and also because more drivers were travelling through residential roads.” 

The village’s main throughway, Orford Road, will become traffic-free between 10am and 10pm, with the exception of the W12 bus service. “We are hoping the changes to street layout will deter anti-social behaviour behind the wheel, and that includes bus drivers,” says Little. “As buses will be the only vehicles during the day they will stand out more.”

The council is in talks with W12 operator HCT Group to discuss the changes.

Making Orford Road traffic-free will benefit businesses in the area, Little believes. “We have been mindful of deliveries and parking needs, but I think it was clear that the current situation of narrow pavements and cars travelling fast along Orford Road was not really conducive to people spending a great deal of time in the area.”

Waltham Forest is keen to engage with all businesses along re-designed routes to “help them take advantage of the opportunities these changes will bring”, says Little. “Not only do we think that the changes might mean higher footfall, but we want businesses to think how they reduce how much they use private vehicles.”

Some small businesses are considering using cargo bikes for deliveries, he points out. “We hope to get a pilot scheme off the ground this year.”

Flagship projects

The council is keen for the Mini-Holland programme to extend across the borough, with a network of cycling and walking routes linking town centres, running north-south from Chingford to Leyton and east-west from Leyton to Blackhorse Road.

One of the most radical schemes will be the major re-design of Whipps Cross roundabout. The plans have yet to be finalised, but it is clear that the roundabout’s layout will change significantly, becoming a signalised junction, with several new separate crossings for pedestrians and cyclists, as well as new public space and improved bus facilities.   

The other flagship project will involve the construction of two metre-wide kerbed cycle tracks along the two-mile length of Lea Bridge Road. The route is used by an average of 1,200 cyclists each day, the council estimates. 

Changes to the route include more wayfinding and shared space at junctions, designed to slow down drivers and give greater priority to pedestrians and cyclists. The council also plans to remove sections of bus lane that it considers “ineffective”.

Floating bus stops (also known as bus stop bypasses) will be installed, enabling cyclists to  overtake stationary buses without re-entering traffic lanes. The busy junctions at Bakers Arms and Markhouse will also be re-designed to make them safer for cyclists and pedestrians.

Halfway along the route is Lea Bridge railway station, which closed 30 years ago but is due to re-open in December 2015 as part of a new London Overground service from Stratford to Tottenham Hale. 

There are few segregated cycle tracks in the UK, so it is hard to assess how the changes on Lea Bridge Road will affect businesses, admits Little. “However, evidence from Europe and the US suggests a very positive impact on footfall, trade and road safety,” he says.

The borough plans to use DfT-approved low level traffic signals for cyclists along Lea Bridge Road. The new system – which positions lights at eye level for cyclists – was installed onto the early-start traffic signals at Bow roundabout in east London in January. Little explains: “We are hoping to introduce proper segregation in space and time to give cyclists and pedestrians separate, safe crossing time across some of the busiest junctions that currently act as barriers to people.”

The council is working with Transport for London’s modelling team to assess the impact of the proposals on the local road network by using Vissim and LinSig software. Little says the modelling exercise has revealed there are “great swathes of locked road space” on Lea Bridge Road that can be re-allocated to cyclists and pedestrians.

“There are issues over what we can and can’t do. It’s simple enough to design a two-metre wide segregated cycle track. But it’s junctions where there are interactions with other modes that are the complex part of the project.”

Full v light segregation

Segregated cycle tracks are not always practical, Little acknowledges. “Semi and light segregation can represent a good alternative. They provide some flexibility where road widths are too narrow for full kerb segregation.

It allows you to allocate some space for cycling until such a time that you can re-design the road.” This is preferable to trying to “squeeze in” a metre-wide segregated lane, he says.

Besides these practical constraints, the Mini-Holland award is not high enough to cover the cost of widespread kerbed segregation. “That can require major groundworks, new drains and new kerb lines, which is a lot more expensive.”

The council plans to trial traffic separators of different profiles, heights and widths. “While most people think of semi-segregation as ‘armadillos’, there is a broad range available and we want to use the best possible solution for each specific location,” explains Little. “From the cycling perspective the bigger the better, but in some instances we may use a combination of them depending on the requirements of other road users.”

The Mini-Holland expenditure is not just for cyclists but for everyone who lives and works in the borough, Little insists. “Even if a small percentage try modes other than driving then it frees up road space, which means a lot less congestion, and that benefits everyone.”

The council wants the modal share for cycling in Waltham Forest to rise from the current 2% to 10% by 2020. “In this borough 40% of journeys are done by one person in a car travelling less than three miles,” Little maintains. “These are the journeys that are transferrable.”

The council hopes to encourage more ‘school run’ parents to leave their cars at home. “Sometimes, people don’t realise that by the time they’ve got in the car, sat in traffic and found somewhere to park they might have well have walked or cycled. You would have saved yourself a few pounds and burned off a few calories, but there’s this perception of danger, the remote chance that you will be hit by a vehicle. There’s a much greater chance that if you sit in your car all the time you will gradually do damage to yourself because you’re not being active.”

Safe, segregated cycle tracks should help to attract more women “who are under-represented in cycling”, Little says. The new routes should also appeal to parents riding with children, and older people. “The percentage of people over 65 who cycle in Denmark and the Netherlands is 25% while in the UK it’s only about 1%.”

Breaking down barriers

The council has taken steps to spread the Mini-Holland message to schools and places of worship across the borough. Little recognises that children are often “engineered out” of public engagements on transport or public realm projects. 

The council has also talked with religious leaders who “can often help engage the local community and explain broad principles or ideas”, he says. “This can be particularly useful when there is a potential language barrier or technical terminology that may be otherwise difficult to communicate, and in situations where cultural barriers such as those associated with cycling exist.”

Free cycle training is available to all Waltham Forest residents, with both one-to-one and group sessions run by the council’s partner, Cycle Confident. The training programme also aims to help those with health problems.

“We’re in the process of developing a GP referral system for cycle training for people to take up cycle training for various reasons including obesity, heart conditions and mental health issues,” says Little. “We are also developing a parent and child cycle training offer, which will encourage more families to take up cycling and encourage more active lifestyles.”

This is complemented by the council’s ‘Our Parks’ programme, where residents can take part in a range of exercise and sports classes. The council says that more than 4,800 people have taken part in the activities over the past year, of which 78% had not done any exercise prior to signing up while 97% said the programme had improved their quality of life.   

The council believes the success of ‘Our Parks’ demonstrates that people are willing to take better care of themselves and engage in exercise if sessions are local and free. 

 Stands, hubs and hangars

Over the next two years bike parking and storage is set to increase significantly across Waltham Forest. The council has pledged 1,200 cycle parking stands in town centres, near shops, supermarkets and GP surgeries. 

It has commissioned cycle parking specialist Falco to install secure cycle hubs at the three Tube and five mainline stations in the borough. The steel framework cycle stores will offer facilities such as bike pumps, repair stands and information displays. All the hubs will comprise two-tier cycle racks, a smartcard access system and CCTV coverage. 

Meanwhile, the first ten bike hangars, supplied by Cyclehoop, were installed on residential streets last month. The lockable steel bike shelters are designed for residents who find it difficult to store their cycles safely indoors. 

Each hangar takes up a single parking space and can store up to six bikes. Demand for the hangars has far outweighed the numbers available, Little says. “We have had more than 300 requests for the hangars at other locations in the borough. We need to prioritise and work out who will get them and why.”

The scale and ambition of all these schemes will help to change travel behaviour in the borough, believes Little. “As we break down some of the barriers to cycling, such as concerns over safety, people will get in the seat and experience the freedom that comes from mass cycling.”

There certainly appears to be the political will to see through the changes, despite the objections of some residents. 

Clyde Loakes, the council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for environment, told LTT: “Mini-Holland will have a truly transformative effect on the borough in a number of different ways, and, importantly, each is co-dependent on the other. The level of funding is such that we can implement major infrastructure projects to segregate cyclists from traffic, pedestrianise areas and drastically improve major junctions. This allows us to address issues of safety and encourage people to think about leaving their cars at home.”

The programme’s legacy is not just about the physical changes to streets, but a “change of mindset” in how residents see their streets, says Loakes. “Right now too many don’t see the option of cycling or walking as practical, feasible or safe.

“In five years’ time I believe that attitude will be radically different and those people who embrace the opportunities Mini-Holland opens up will find themselves fitter, healthier and financially better off. The impact of that change of behaviour will, in turn, affect overarching issues around public health generally and the benefit to the local economy. Studies have shown that local businesses profit greatly from getting more people out and about on the streets, rather than cooped up in their cars.”  

 The Mini-Holland Plans will be discussed at Cycle City Active City in June

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