Welcome to Mini Holland

Submitted by: Simon Munk

Transport for London announced in March 2014 that Waltham Forest was one of three London boroughs, to win £30 million in funding for radical schemes to boost cycling. As a result, Walthamstow is set to become a “mini-Holland” with major roads and areas around the town centre transformed to improve conditions for cycling (and walking).

Whether you currently cycle or not, this is big news for the area, and set to affect your life for at least the next five years – because, at the very least, so much change to the borough’s roads will mean roadworks. On the plus side, it should also mean, at the very least, more chances for your children to play out on the streets with their friends and neighbours. Here’s why Walthamstow mini-Holland matters to you, and what it means for everyone.

Cycle Super Highway

Mini Holland villagisation area map

Mini Holland villagisation area map

Waltham Forest council put forward a series of proposals in its mini-Holland bid. The main three are: a “Cycle Super Highway” along the length of Lea Bridge Road to the border with Hackney, including radically redesigning Whipps Cross Roundabout; key safer routes north-south and east-west through Walthamstow; and “villagisation” of three large residential areas surrounding central Walthamstow.

As part of these schemes, major roads including Lea Bridge Road, Forest Road, Markhouse Road, Selbourne Road, Hoe Street and Palmerston Road will be redesigned to provide cycle lanes separated from cars and pedestrians and with traffic at 20mph.

Meanwhile, the three “villagisation” areas will see planters, bollards and gates used to close residential streets in each area to through traffic, calming them so not only can cyclists navigate through easily and confidently, but also children can play out more.

“The first schemes [are] planned to start in the Autumn. These include Ruckholt Road, High Road Leyton to Hackney” said Councillor Clyde Loakes, Deputy Leader/Cabinet Member for Environment, London Borough of Waltham Forest.

30 Million Reasons for Change

“While the Council could only do a limited amount on its own, with up to £30 million funding we really can make some radical differences,” said Councillor Loakes. “I think Andrew Gilligan was impressed by our vision for cycling in the borough and also saw huge potential here.”

No doubt, it’s a huge political win for the borough’s councillors and officers. But the mini-Holland plans could well also offers a huge fix to a big mess outer London boroughs like Waltham Forest are in. London traffic speeds are now averaging less than 20mph (central London speeds under 9mph). Yet over 80 percent of outer London car journeys are under 2km.

Partly because of all the congestion, local GPs and hospitals are under increasing strain from asthma, other roads-related health issues and obesity. Increasing cycling not only cuts congestion, and offers quicker journey, it also makes people healthier and cuts pollution.

Spending money on cycling for councils makes good sense – for every pound spent, the benefits back to residents are far higher than money spent on improving roads for drivers, for instance.

Getting On Your Bike

“Survey after survey shows a majority of local residents want to cycle more, but won’t because they’re afraid of the traffic,” said Paul Gasson, Chair, Waltham Forest Cycling Campaign. “The mini-Holland plans, if done properly, will let anyone from eight to eighty ride in safety from their home in Walthamstow to most key local destinations and beyond.”

The mini-Holland plans should make cycling feel a lot safer, opening up cycling to more than just the dedicated. On top of that, cycling is already cheap, healthy and safe. You can pick up an OK bike from £100 and you’ll soon start saving compared to driving or using tube or bus. The council offers adult learner lessons on road for free if you haven’t cycled for a while, and the Waltham Forest Cycling Campaign runs regular social and family-friendly rides to help you get used to getting around on two wheels.

Repeated studies, meanwhile, have shown cyclists live longer and healthier lives, even taking into account crashes. Despite appearances, cycling in London, and across the UK remains statistically very safe and it’s not just for the fit. Trikes and other bikes are available for those who can’t ride standard bicycles.

“We’re lucky in Waltham Forest to have the Lee valley on one side, and Epping Forest on the other”, said Gasson. “We’re really close to great leisure cycling areas.” Beyond cycling for fun, Walthamstow already has good commuter links by bike to central London and Stratford.

Sounds Great But Will it Work?

The hugely complex plans will only work if every detail is well thought-through. Anything short of a big boost to cycling numbers would mean failure – considering the sums involved.

“Walthamstow we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to show what can be done with genuine council commitment to deliver” said Gasson.

With that commitment, and assuming all of the details are carefully planned, it’ll mean far fewer cars on our roads; kids able to cycle to school as well as play out on their own streets more safely; far more people of all ages and abilities out on bikes and healthier, happier residents all round.

For more information on mini-Holland including a link to the bid see: http://wfcycling.wordpress.com/mini-holland/

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