Liveable streets: good change stings for some, and then it’s great

It was one of the UK’s most controversial liveable street retrofit initiatives (and they’ve had some biggies). Guest poster George Weeks looks at the story and results of Waltham Forest’s Mini-Holland. Part one of a two-part post


[Editor’s note: For fun, google up [“Mini Holland” Waltham Forest], especially the 2012-15 results. You’ll see what happened when the local council proposed changes to make local streets better for locals to walk, bike, linger, play, and shop. There were protesting petitions. There were street protests (including a superbly theatrical “funeral for our village”). Opposition groups sprang up (and support groups). An opposition group took the council to court alleging it hadn’t properly consulted on the scheme (judge’s finding: “no merit whatsoever”).
Sounds a lot like NZ’s controversial projects doesn’t it! Protests around street retrofit schemes, and schemes’ actual results, are just one of the reasons why we should learn about Waltham Forest’s Mini-Holland.]


Since 2014, the London Borough of Waltham Forest has brought Dutch street design to the Anglosphere and delivered people-friendly streets to London. What could this mean for New Zealand?

In late 1960s San Francisco, urban design Professor Donald Appleyard conducted a seminal study, the results of which showed that people who lived on lower-trafficked streets felt they had more social connections. This illustrated a wider principle: if a street no longer has to accommodate motorised through-traffic, it can accommodate many more people-focused functions.

Closing the street to through-traffic means opening up the streets to people. One country has followed these principles since the 1970s and it is the Netherlands.

SUCCESSFUL STREETS

Researchers at the University of Otago predict that two million New Zealanders could be obese in 2038. This pattern is repeated across the world…with very few exceptions.

The Netherlands, however, is the only European Union country where obesity is forecast to decline. This is remarkable, especially in a country where people like to eat chocolate sprinkles on bread for breakfast.

Walking and cycling for short trips is good for us. Dutch people certainly cycle a lot, at all ages. But Dutch cites are walkable too, with safe streets. Following a campaign against child road deaths in the 1970s, the Dutch approach to designing roads, streets and neighbourhoods has been to make it attractive and convenient to walk and cycle short trips. From 1972 to 2013, child road fatalities in the Netherlands fell by 98%. Dutch children are, according to UNICEF, the happiest children in the world. Importantly, Dutch people are also the world’s most satisfied car drivers.

[Ed: Hold on, can we just take a moment with those figures – ninety-eight percent fewer kids getting killed by cars. **98%!** THAT’S THEM ALMOST GETTING RID OF THE THING WHERE CARS KILL KIDS.]

NEED FOR IMPROVEMENTS IN AUCKLAND

Few motorists would assess Auckland’s rush-hour driving environment as “satisfying”, yet despite impressive cycling growth, 54 per cent of trips less than one kilometre are made by private motor vehicle. For trips of 1-2 kilometres, this rises to 83 per cent.

In addition to a propensity for driving absurdly short distances, New Zealand has the third highest OECD obesity rate, apersistently high youth suicide rate and an unenviable record on road safety. Auckland Council has declared a climate emergency: the greatest share of COemissions in Auckland comes from road transport.

This begs the question: can we redesign roads and streets in existing urban areas to increase our quality of life? Can we enable significant modal shift and deliver liveable neighbourhoods? In summary, can we go Dutch?

CAN WE GO DUTCH?

The picture below shows a scene familiar to anyone who has experience the calmness of Dutch neighbourhood streets. Note the gentle bustle of street life, the brick paving, the tree planting, the people walking in the street, the children on their bicycles. What a remarkably civilised environment. What a healthy street.

Francis Road, London E17

What is remarkable is that this photograph wasn’t taken in Amsterdam. Nor was it taken in Almere, Amersfoort or indeed any Dutch city. It was actually taken in the London Borough of Waltham Forest in Francis Road, one of hundreds of streets transformed by its ambitious Mini-Holland programme.

Despite the Dutch-looking bicycles, this is certainly not just a cycling scheme. It is part of a systematic approach to improve walkability, air quality, public health and economic viability. Follow this link to see how Francis Road looked in 2015. The street has been transformed. This video shows Francis Road now.

SUCCESS

Five years on, has Mini-Holland worked? Take a look at the video.

This is not just a few street trees and bollards. It is a systematic, borough-wide initiative to transform the environment to favour walking and cycling. Take a look at some before-and-after pictures; this is a major transformation.

After just one year, people in areas that have had Mini-Holland treatment are cycling by an extra 9 minutes per week AND walking an extra 32 minutes per week. When out in the streets, they are exposed to less air pollution. Traffic flow has fallen substantially (56% on 12 key routes; overall traffic reduction of 16% in first full year of scheme), freeing the streets for other uses. And people get to enjoy this for longer; life expectancy in Mini-Holland areas has increased by up to 9 months.

This mode shift has not happened anywhere else in the UK – it is a unique result.

The infographic below shows some of what has been achieved since 2014.

Progress is captured in the Waltham Forest Walking and Cycling Account, published in 2017 and 2018.

The success is also reflected in the press and the trophy cabinet. Waltham Forest Mini-Holland has won 18 major awards since 2015 and has been shortlisted for over 50. In 2018 the scheme won the “people’s choice” award at the Institute of Civil Engineers, cementing its status as London’s most popular infrastructure project. Other accolades have come from the Healthy Streets Awardsthe Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, the Urban Design Group and Pineapples Award for Contribution to Place.

These achievements are reflected in how people use the streets. A primary school with over 100 bicycles parked outside it (including three cargobikes). Streets where children are free to walk, cycle, scoot and skate.  Cycle infrastructure integrated with public transport. A new project – Baby Biking – to enable people carrying their children by bicycle. A quick Twitter image search for #wfminiholland will bring up many more pictures like this.

This transition to civilisation is remarkably recent. Please do not think that LB Waltham Forest has always been a beacon of cycling progress. Earlier this decade, a blog entitled Crap Cycling & Walking in Waltham Forest” (the clue is in the name) articulately summed up the frustrations of a borough whose 2012 Cycling Action Plan reportedly:

“…ignores the need for a primary network of segregated cycle routes, it does nothing whatever to stop rat-running, it in no way makes driving less attractive or less convenient and it does not re-allocate an inch of carriageway from the motor vehicle to the cyclist. Its solutions are wholly vehicular cycling solutions which in no way challenge the hegemony of the car.”

We’ll look more into the project in part 2 of this post. But for now, listen to some locals tell it…

Watch this space for part 2 of this post coming soon! Meantime, check out #wfminiholland for some really interesting pictures and video

[Ed: And in case you thought the clearly excellent results would convince the skeptics, think again. Incredibly, some Waltham Forest people petitioned to get trucks and cars back driving through those newly people-friendly streets. It didn’t work on this occasion, because London’s mayor and local politicians could see the results. But indefatigable people will keep pushing to have streets just for cars, and there are dozens of examples of councils getting cold feet on well-founded projects.

What’s clearly right doesn’t happen without help from sensible people making their voices heard. There’s guaranteed to be resistance to good street change, so make sure you’re always ready to speak up in support and re-stiffen the spines of local decision-makers.]


This post was originally published on www.greaterauckland.org.nz and is reproduced with thanks


Image credits

  • Banner image – Transport for London / Waltham Forest
  • Francis Road by Enjoy Waltham Forest
  • Bikes by rails by @gazlemon

Further Reading

Opposition group takes council to court alleging insufficient consultation on a much humbler street-humanising scheme… right here in Te Upoko o te Ika

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