5 reasons to love Mini-Hollands

It’s not long now until the new Walking and Cycling Commissioner finally steps into post. When he starts, we want to make sure he shares our love for Mini-Hollands (or “Liveable Neighbourhoods” as the Mayor appears to be rebranding them), because really, what’s not to love?

They are transforming congested, polluted and hostile roads into places shared by everyone, which promote active travel and cut air pollution.

Creating Dutch-style town centres was a key ask of our 2012 campaign, Love London, Go Dutch. They are now being built in Waltham Forest, Enfield and Kingston, and with the Mayor’s promise of additional funding for similar schemes in every other London borough, we’re expecting to see many more in the future.

So here are our top five reasons to love Mini-Hollands. 

1. They make streets for everyone

Too many of our residential streets are clogged with “ratrun” or through traffic. Drivers aren’t to be blamed for knowing shortcuts that shave a few minutes off their route, as no one likes being stuck in traffic. And increasingly apps like Waze spot those secret shortcuts anyway. But the net result when traffic turns up everywhere is kids can’t play out, and no one walks or cycles in their area (plus allowing all that through traffic doesn’t actually improve journey times or conditions for most people, nor does removing it worsen those).

Similarly, main roads are too often hostile barriers to walking and cycling – and that hostility simply encourages more traffic again by suppressing any demand for cycling and walking. Faced with fast-moving or aggressive main roads, many people won’t cycle or walk – parents, for instance, feel too intimidated to do anything but drive kids on the school run.

Creating better crossings and cycle tracks on main roads and closing residential areas to through traffic (while making sure deliveries, emergency services etc. still have access) unlocks many more cycling and walking trips and transforms our streets into places everyone can enjoy. And we mean everyone.

The elderly and disabled benefit from quieter roads which are easier to cross, more amenable to unhurried movement and where people are more likely to know each other and talk to each other, breaking down social isolation. And improved crossings of main roads break down barriers between areas and amenities. In Europe many elderly and disabled people also use cycle tracks, either cycling as a mobility aid or using mobility scooters in them. “Don’t assume all disabled people don’t cycle, or want cycle lanes,” said Isabelle Clement, Director of Wheels for Wellbeing. By investing in decent, wide tracks, and traffic-calming measures, Mini-Hollands open the streets up to everyone. 

2. They get people moving

Mini-Hollands are particularly designed to encourage people to swap shorter journeys in the car to going by foot and bike, by making these modes easier and more enjoyable. This means for many more people, the school run, popping to the shops and short trips no longer involve getting straight in the car.

In London, 43% of adults do not achieve the recommended minimum level of 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. Cycling is seen as such a brilliant way to stay healthy, it’s now prescribed by some doctors to patients with Type-2 diabetes, mental health or weight problems. Improving the health of Londoners reduces the pressure on our health service, and if we could achieve Dutch levels of cycling in the UK, we could save the NHS £17 billion a year. Mini-Hollands are great for health and wellbeing.

3. They cut unnecessary car journeys

London has a deadly air pollution problem, and a rising population that can gain massive health benefits from more active travel like cycling and walking. But even for short journeys, cars are still too often the default.

Many people worry about congestion when schemes such as Mini-Hollands are put forward. In the short term congestion can increase (particularly during construction). But over the long term, studies have found that reducing access to roads leads to overall reductions in traffic (it’s called “traffic evaporation”). There is also evidence that moving journeys from low-capacity side streets onto high-capacity main roads doesn’t add to congestion or pollution even medium-term. Instead, fewer turning movements and queues in the side streets mean less complex movements on the main roads.

The result is mini-Hollands are proving brilliant at reducing overall motor traffic levels already, without adding to congestion or pollution in their areas. Those that say otherwise simply aren’t backed by the data – and are seeing anew the traffic and pollution that was always there.

4. They reduce air pollution

The air in London is toxic, responsible for the early deaths of nearly 9,500 people a year in London. It’s a problem that’s not going away, as London continues to regularly break legal air pollution limits.

Some are saying that by closing off side roads or reducing space for cars on main roads, mini-Hollands cause congestion, hold up buses and with extra idling increase air pollution.  But the biggest source of air pollution in London is road traffic, and one of the simplest solutions to the deadly problem is to get people out of cars and making journeys by cycling and walking (TfL estimates ¾ of congestion in London is down to “excess traffic”).

High profile cycling schemes, such as Tavistock Place and Embankment, have seen air pollution stay level or drop, despite similar claims of these schemes causing gridlock. By increasing the number of people cycling and walking, and reducing car driving it’s similarly unlikely the Mini-Hollands will increase pollution – quite the opposite. 

As for the buses, in Waltham Forest, TfL have reported that the change in delays to the buses before and after the Mini-Holland on Hoe street were ‘zero minutes’. Despite what some might say, the Mini Hollands haven’t been holding up buses – they haven’t been holding up anyone.  

5. They boost local businesses

By making streets quieter, cleaner and calmer, they become places that people want to stroll or cycle along, places to linger and visit local business. There is lots of evidence that improving cycling is good for business - cyclists spend more in local shops than users of most other forms of transport. And a study in New York, for instance, found that streets with protected cycle lanes have an increase in retail sales of 24% over streets without lanes.

In Waltham Forest, all shop premises on one of the key streets closed to through traffic are completely occupied, for the first time in 20 years. Some of the businesses on that street, who predicted a ghost town, have seen footfall rise dramatically.

These are just a few of the many reasons to love Mini-Hollands, if you have any questions about the Mini-Holland schemes, or want to share why you love Mini-Hollands, you can let me know at fran@lcc.org.uk