Competing petitions for and against a ‘Mini Holland’ scheme in the London Borough of Waltham Forest have both passed the 500 signature mark, following the council’s launch last week of a pilot scheme of road closures which has polarised opinion among residents and business owners.
The local authority is one of three that were awarded around £30 million each in March this year by Transport for London after successfully bidding for the cash in competition with five other Outer London boroughs to transform their streets by bringing in Continental-style infrastructure.
One of the aims of Waltham Forest’s project is to reduce traffic on residential streets currently used as ‘rat runs’ by motorists, and last week the council began a trial of road closures in the Pembroke Road area to assess their impact. The pilot scheme will run until 13 October.
In a leaflet delivered last month to local homes and businesses, the council says that “a key element” of its Mini-Holland project “is the reduction in the amount of traffic using residential streets and improving the look, feel and safety of residential areas for all road users.”
It continues: “Initial traffic survey data and information from residents has shown that the majority of vehicles using the Pembroke Road area do so as a cut through between Hoe Street and Lea Bridge Road, often at high speed.”
According to the council’s website, “over 67,000 vehicles travelled through the trial area from 15 Sept to 22 Sept and that over 80% of traffic in some streets, including Orford Road and Pembroke Road, is rat running through traffic.”
It aims to cut that number “dramatically” through introducing strategic road closures to prevent motorists treating the area as a rat run, while still enabling locals to access their homes and workplaces.
The launch of the scheme has sparked the creation of two petitions on the website, Change.org. The first, headed No Mini Holland in Walthamstow, was launched by Malik Malik and at the time of writing has 528 signatories.
The petition, addressed to the borough and a number of councillors and council officials, says:
The Mini-Holland trial in Walthamstow has shown a huge issues with creating congestion, pollution, noise pollution, accessibility issues for disabled/mobility /carers / parents / residents / customers and general public, public transport buses are facing heavy delays, businesses have been affected so bad that some had no customers since the start of the scheme and surrounding residents now have congestion on their streets. The residents of Walthamstow want safer roads for cyclist but we do NOT want road closures.
Among typical reasons given for their support of the petition are the congestion being caused in neighbouring streets increasing journey times, a perceived lack of consultation on the pilot scheme, and difficulty of accessing Walthamstow Village, the latter point made by a number of disabled people who say they need their car to get around.
In response, local cyclist Garry Lemon launched a petition this week entitled We Support Mini Holland. It says:
We support Waltham Forest Council’s Mini Holland scheme because we believe it’ll make Walthamstow a better place to live for everyone.
We want to see more journeys made on foot and by bicycle to help ease congestion and reduce pollution. We want to save the NHS money as more people exercise and reap the health benefits. We want the streets we live on to be quieter, safer places where we and our families can walk and cycle with less fear of motor traffic.
We believe that if done right, Mini Holland could make Walthamstow an example for other places to follow.
For all these reasons we support Waltham Forest Council as they implement the Mini Holland scheme.
That petition has now overtaken the earlier one, with 563 supporters at the time of publication.
Safer roads, including in residential areas, less congestion and an improvement to the quality of life in Walhamstow are among the common reasons cited for signing that petition.
The issue of the road closures in Walthamstow was discussed on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning.
One local woman told the programme: “It changes the feel of this street particularly so there would normally be cars parked here but now there’s just seats.
"It’s so much more open and now you can take in your surroundings a bit more rather than being a bit stressed by all the cars. Just look at this dad with his kid on the back of his bike – two kids on the back of his bike in fact!”
But a man living on another road in the area said: “They’re just creating a new rat run in my street here. My quiet residential road is now effectively a main road.
"It’s a great idea on theory but there needs to be more consultation with residents,” he added.
Professor Jillian Anable of the Centre for Transport Research at the University of Aberdeen told the programme’s presenter John Humphrys that while it was “very nice to aspire to Dutch levels of cycling … the problem is that the UK has had significantly less investment in transport infrastructure generally in the past four decades.
“So to actually start putting these schemes in now after decades of significantly lower investment can be quite problematic for allowing all these competing modes to work together.”
She added that due to the car having been central to transport policy for so long, previous schemes such as pedestrianisation of town centres also met with widespread resistance initially but became accepted over time.
Jason Torrance, London director for the sustainable transport charity, Sustrans, said: “I think we have a choice here – what kind of city do we want to live in?
“Do we want to live in the kind of city, the kind of town centres where children can play, where we have real travel choices, where they’re safer and in time as businesses have proved around the world, competitiveness improves?
“More and more employers and businesses are recognising the value of attractive environments and I think the Mini Hollands is a really bold step towards that.”
Besides looking to address the issues surrounding traffic in the Pembroke Road area, other features of Waltham Forest’s Mini Holland project include a Cycle Superhighway on Lea Bridge Road to connect the River Lea with a new, cycle-friendly junction at Whipps Cross, and the removal of the Hoe Street gyratory in Walthamstow.
The other boroughs to have been awarded similar levels of Mini Holland funding are Enfield and Kingston-upon-Thames.
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.