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Low Traffic Neighbourhood in Waltham Forest with woman walking with a bike

10 years of Mini-Hollands

LCC won 3 ‘flagship Dutch-style’ schemes from returning Mayor Boris Johnson in 2012. 10 years on from the schemes beginning, what is their legacy?

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Where active travel lives

There is a large swathe of north east London that has over the last decade been extensively studied. LCC volunteers from the local group have toured that area on bike and by foot with government ministers, and delegations from as far afield as Bogota, Japan and Newcastle. Among a certain cadre of officers and politicians, Walthamstow, Leyton and Leytonstone have come to represent a mythic land of planning, regeneration and transport – particularly active travel.

Similarly, academics have pored over the schemes not just delivered in this part of Waltham Forest, but also in Kingston Upon Thames and Enfield to an arguably lesser extent, to quantify quite startling results from the three ‘mini-Holland’ programmes kicked off by previous Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.

In the Waltham Forest mini-Holland, life expectancy is measurably longer in the areas that have received high ‘dose’ treatments for active travel – because of lower pollution and higher activity levels, modelled to deliver significant benefits to health, car use and ownership is down, crime is down, cycling and walking, as well as community interactions are way up. For businesses, who were largely very against schemes initially, retail vacancy rates are down, footfall is up and the areas are very popular with visitors.

The schemes not only have won many awards and are a magnet for progressive politicians to model their town centres off, they’re visibly making a difference on the streets – parents with cargo bikes are an utterly mainstream everyday sight, as are kids cycling next to parents or on their own, and many people in the area are cycling around in everyday clothing, not Lycra. Perhaps most visible now, 10 years from the start of construction of the first schemes is that Walthamstow, Leyton and Leytonstone’s diverse population has embraced cycling – it’s not just the MAMILs. Cycle Sisters and JoyRiders, both groups for Muslim women to cycle, started here.

10 years of mini-Holland

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Waltham Forest has just held a large conference (see some of it above in Josh Reid‘s video) to celebrate the top spot it holds not just among the three mini-Holland boroughs but nationally on delivering on active travel and the ten year anniversary of the first schemes breaking ground. But why is Waltham Forest top active travel council in London and the UK? In part and in a way difficult to convey with words, because it is one of the few places in the UK which has a density of cycling provision approaching Holland.

There are still undeniably gaps to be filled, roads in Walthamstow, Leyton and Leytonstone that are rubbish for cycling – as well as the whole of the borough north of the north circular (Chingford and Highams Park). But for many residents, you can walk out of your front door, jump on a bike and ride just about anywhere you want – the tube, the school, the shops, Hackney, the Olympic Park etc. without thinking about route too much. And that cycle and active travel network, even after 10 years and the original money long spent, is still expanding.

Beyond mini-Holland…

The mini-Holland programme ran for circa five years across not just Waltham Forest, but three London boroughs, and was then reinvented following his election by Sadiq as the ‘Liveable Neighbourhood’ programme. This is still moving forward (albeit far too slowly) in London while the original mini-Holland brand is now set to go national, with the government slowly moving forward with a process of bidding for funding for town centres across England. But the three mini-Holland boroughs have also continued to expand their provision after the schemes were delivered.

As a result, a scrappy bit of outer London, campaigned for hard by LCC and its local groups, stands as an international inspiration on how to deliver bold change, fast – and win over the population too.

Boris did bikes

In 2012, London Cycling Campaign ran a phenomenally successful campaign for the Mayoral elections: Love London, Go Dutch. LCC campaigned successfully for Mayor Boris Johnson, to make three major commitments to LCC and its members if re-elected: three flagship Dutch-style schemes, end the era of ‘blue paint’ with protected cycle tracks for Johnson’s existing ‘Cycle Superhighways’ programme, and complete all major schemes to ‘Dutch’ quality levels.

Johnson won, and kept his word broadly, by replacing ‘blue paint’ Cycle Superhighways with the East-West and North-South protected Cycle Superhighways (now Cycleways C3 on Embankment and C6 north-south across Blackfriars), as well as announcing a major junctions programme and a bidding process for outer London boroughs to pitch for £100 million of funding for 3-4 ‘mini-Holland’ programmes.

After a long bidding process, three London boroughs won circa £30 million each for mini-Holland funding: Enfield, Kingston and Waltham Forest, for three what would be different approaches to intensive active travel changes around town centres. In Enfield, the council went for a limited number of high-quality cycle routes, primarily the A105 cycle tracks schemes; in Kingston, the approach was to maximise length of route with cheaper materials – but again cycle tracks – and do a massive cycle parking hub at its main station.

Waltham Forest, which had initially not been considered one of the front-runners, and was funded slightly less than the other two, rapidly emerged however as the most comprehensive. Covering less distance/area initially and focusing primarily on Walthamstow and Leyton, the comprehensive bid covered not just high-quality main road cycle tracks on Lea Bridge Road and other main roads, but also what would become called Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs), cycle parking, cycle training and more.

LCC did this

Not only did LCC play a key role in persuading the Mayor to fund these schemes, it also then campaigned for these schemes to be top quality in each borough and perhaps vitally, our local borough groups were instrumental in all three boroughs in building support for the scheme, cheerleading them publicly despite significant ‘bikelash’ as schemes were announced and construction began (with first schemes starting to break ground 10 years ago).

Borough activists were on Facebook and new upstart twitter defending schemes, passing on information and timelines etc. but also out on the streets at times, door-knocking, attending public meetings, talking to councillors and officers – helping ensure public support for the scheme was seen and heard despite the noisy attacks from those against. Because the schemes clearly were controversial.

In Walthamstow Village, when the first LTN was officially opened by the Dutch ambassador and Boris’s then Cycling Commissioner Andrew Gilligan, a crowd of circa 60 early anti-LTN protestors marched a coffin up the high street, shouted abuse at opening attendees and barracked transport lead Cllr Clyde Loakes as well as Waltham Forest Cycling Campaign volunteers. Placards and posters decried the ‘death’ of the Village’s main shopping street of independent businesses, Orford Road and said cars could drive in but not get out.

The initial trial version of the Walthamstow Village scheme had already seen officers egged in the street, and violent threats made by anti-LTN locals against prominent politicians and campaigners. As the schemes rolled out, the opposition volume grew and grew. And spread – as schemes in Kingston and Enfield started to come online too, and Boris also started construction on the North-South and East-West Cycle Superhighways simultaneously (now C3 and C6), it became very clear that there were significant and at times powerful voices raised against such change. In central London it was taxi drivers and Canary Wharf Group primarily, in the outer mini-Holland boroughs it was groups of local residents who drove, largely.

‘Critical friend’ campaigning

Campaigners worked round the clock for years, trying to inform the public and counter rapidly propagating myths, producing leaflets, going door to door, braving public meetings filled with shouting while also balancing the tightrope of supporting councils and councillors particularly under heavy fire, but also pushing to maximise scheme quality. As a result, not only were significant slices of outer London transformed, paving the way for Sadiq’s later push for protected cycle tracks (he has quintupled the amount Boris delivered) and LTNs, but also friendships and careers were formed. Indeed, it’s marked that an anti-LTN poster circulated to tell the story of the sinister ‘cabal’ that runs active travel in England really highlighted how many of the people now delivering change in London met as a result of the mini-Hollands and the backlash around them.

Street champions

A year after the mini-Hollands began, LCC’s local borough groups in two of the three mini-Holland areas had swelled in size – there was a backlash to the backlash and as some noisy locals stood against the schemes, another load of locals reacted and stood up to support them. And campaigners who’d done that year had learnt extensively from it.

Simon Munk, a volunteer from Waltham Forest Cycling Campaign joined LCC as Infrastructure Campaigner – he’s now our Head of Campaigns & Community Development and has used learnings from the Waltham Forest schemes and campaigning to help the rest of London, and beyond. Clare Rogers, a volunteer with the Enfield Cycling Campaign also joined LCC and is now Senior Campaigns Officer here. And other volunteers from the mini-Holland boroughs have gone on to work for other active travel organisations.

Meanwhile, officers from Waltham Forest and the other boroughs have gone on to work in many key active travel organisations and to roll out learnings from Waltham Forest elsewhere. As the talent forged in the fire of the first mini-Holland years has spread, so has its best practice.

Greater Manchester took inspiration from Waltham Forest’s Lea Bridge Road junctions where people cycling and walking go in all directions at once, for its ‘CYCLOPs’ junctions – and these junction types are now enshrined in DfT guidance. Yet other London boroughs and TfL have been slow to follow suit (Newham becomes the only other London borough to plan these ‘Circulating Cycling Stage’ junctions yet – for its upcoming Romford Road scheme that looks like a successor to Lea Bridge Road’s quality approach). But LTNs, a Waltham Forest rediscovery (based in part on Hackney’s area-wide work in the 1970s), have been rolled out across London and continue to be despite recent government opposition to them.

How LCC helped

Ultimately, the Waltham Forest mini-Holland programme particularly has led innovation and delivery on active travel now for 10 years. And it’s still out in front – annoyingly so. If you’ve not taken a ride yourself, we suggest this route on Komoot to go see a small part of it yourself (you can extend it in just about every direction to see more!). It remains one of the most comprehensive, large-scale Dutch-style cycling and walking networks you can see in the UK. And it’s still growing.

Remember also, it was LCC that campaigned to Boris for these and got them funded and it was our local groups that campaigned on the ground to keep schemes going in and to maximise their quality. LCC continues to be fantastically successful at making a case in London for more and better cycling for everyone. The internationally renowned success of the mini-Hollands – that’s thanks to you being members.

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