Environmental campaigner Paul Gasson gives his view on how new cycling infrastructure is boosting local people’s health
With little more than half of the borough’s Mini Holland cycling programme completed, research undertaken by King’s College London indicates better air quality will see today’s five-year-olds living an extra six weeks – thanks to air quality improvements since 2013.
Their report estimates that Waltham Forest residents could gain 40,000 years of human life in the coming century. Researchers found that last year, 6,300 Waltham Forest households were exposed to more than the EU recommended guidelines for NO2 (nitrogen dioxide), a highly significant improvement from 2007, when 58,000 households were suffering from this level of pollution.
Evidence keeps stacking up for Mini Holland, with research also published in June 2018 by Dr Rachel Aldred on behalf of the University of Westminster. Her report showed that people living in the three Mini Holland boroughs (Waltham Forest, Enfield, Kingston) are becoming more physically active year-on-year, spending an extra 32 minutes per week walking, or nine minutes per week cycling.
By making car use for short trips a little less attractive we can get more people walking and cycling, which frees up road capacity for those who have little choice but to drive, such as those with mobility impairments. While some may experience personal inconvenience because their driven trips take a little longer, many appreciate the social justice implications of unfettered car use and the need to consider what’s best from the collective public interest perspective.
Half of households in the southern part of Waltham Forest have no access to a car and thus experience few of the benefits, but suffer all the downsides – including the fear of road danger whenever they leave their homes and the impact of life-limiting air pollution.
So far, public health professionals have been seemingly unable to combat the relentless rise in obesity and inactivity with its spiralling NHS costs. I believe Waltham Forest is leading the way in demonstrating that courageous and meaningful measures have the potential to deliver huge benefits for local communities.
The explosive growth in car use over the past 50 years is a major factor in driving climate change, so Mini Holland is also showcasing how communities can adopt more sustainable travel patterns.
Across the globe cities like London are struggling to deal with crippling road network congestion, casualties, and pollution, with their immense economic costs, but few are able to identify and deliver affordable solutions.
That’s why our borough is getting visits every week from MPs, councillors, community groups, council officers, and organisations from across the UK, wanting to understand how it is done.
Of course the Mini Holland programme isn’t perfect – changes on this scale will always be controversial. There are a number of issues which need to be resolved and many will be with continued political will and support from Transport for London.
But overall this is a huge step in the right direction which few in power seem brave enough to take. I’m proud to live in a borough where its leadership is prepared to put doing what’s right ahead of risking short-term popularity.
To read the Kings College London report on Mini Holland in Waltham Forest: