This blog post was originally published in January 2020
One of the many great things about working in the LGA Labour Group office is that we get the opportunity to go out and about and see first-hand what our Labour-run councils are doing. So earlier this week, Martha and I visited Waltham Forest to see their Mini Holland scheme and to see it for ourselves.
When we suggested our visit to Cllr Clyde Loakes, cycling enthusiast and Waltham Forest’s Deputy Leader, we didn’t actually think we’d do any cycling. But a date was agreed, and ebikes were booked for us – there was no going back for these two reluctant cyclists. We got on our ebikes and went on a tour, seeing all the different parts of Mini Holland and what Waltham Forest is doing to encourage cycling.
Waltham Forest received an initial £27 million from Transport for London back in 2013 – this helped kickstart investment in infrastructure to make it friendlier to cyclists and pedestrians. In this time, almost 400 cycle hangers have been installed with another 100 on the way, there have been over 400 secure cycling places installed by train and tube stations in the borough, and over 10,000 adults and children have been trained on how to cycle. 30kms of segregated cycle lanes have been built on the borough’s roads, giving residents a real opportunity to cycle around the borough. Modal filters have been used as traffic calming measures, giving access to cyclists and pedestrians but not to vehicles. Blended crossings have also been used to give precedence to cyclists and pedestrians. In 2018, there was a 28% increase in the number of cycling trips made by residents, and a 19% increase in the number of walking trips made. And a report by Kings College London found that if pollution levels continue to decline as they are now, Waltham Forest will gain up to seven weeks in life expectancy as a result of the programme.
Despite being a reluctant cyclist I really enjoyed seeing all these improvements myself. There are a number of bikes, ebikes and cargo bikes that residents can rent – this is a popular scheme with some types of bikes booked all the way to the end of the year (yep…that’s still eleven months away). Segregated cycle lanes mean that it’s far safer to ride on busy roads, as you’re not fighting for space with massive lorries or dangerous drivers, the traffic calming measures on smaller roads mean that cars don’t use residential roads as rat runs, again making them safer for cyclists, and having bike hangers in residential roads helps with storage as well, particularly where people are in shared houses or small flats. All of this means that residents and visitors alike feel as though cycling (and walking) is becoming more and more viable an option.
What I hadn’t given any consideration to beforehand was the impact that this changed infrastructure has on community wellbeing. Traffic calming measures on residential roads leads to better air quality and less noise – hearing birdsong in London was lovely – and in some cases leads to new public spaces where community events such as carol services take place. It’s also given a new lease of life to pubs, cafes and shops who have seen business boom because the focus of the streets has moved away from the car on onto pedestrians and cyclists instead.
Doing this hasn’t been without challenges, but the benefits are clear and the experience in Waltham Forest has shown that previously resistant neighbourhoods are now clamouring for investment in and changes to their roads. Every area is different, but if you want to look at how to increase cycling and walking, improve air quality and reinvigorate the public realm then it’s worth looking at what Waltham Forest are doing. You can read more about their work here.