Has London’s outer borough cycling scheme worked? Mini Holland, four years on

A bike rack in Blackhorse Village, Waltham Forest. Image: James Cracknell.

Four years ago former London mayor Boris Johnson unveiled the three winners of a £100m pot of cash to boost cycling in the outer boroughs. Waltham Forest, Enfield and Kingston councils won the ‘Mini Holland’ competition, taking home £30m each, with five losing bids picking the scraps of the remaining £10m between them.

The idea, said Johnson at the time, was “a complete transport makeover” of the successful boroughs. Ambitiously – and optimistically – he claimed they would “become every bit as cycle-friendly as their Dutch equivalent”.

But what’s happened since March 2014? Have these areas really been transformed into quaint British replicas of Amsterdam? Or have they squandered their cash on expensive vanity projects in homage to the mayor who gave it to them?

Mini Holland remains a work in progress in all three boroughs, with the programme not due to finish until March 2021. But while residents of Waltham Forest, Enfield and Kingston and have generally spent the last four years responding to consultations and coping with roadworks, in some places the benefits have begun to be felt.

Walthamstow Village. Image: author provided.

Waltham Forest is leading the way. It was the first to launch its Mini Holland cycling programme, ambiguously named Enjoy Waltham Forest, in September 2015, and has so far spent two-thirds of its £30m budget. By comparison, Enfield and Kingston have only spent half of theirs.

But the rush to get started came at a cost; council leader Clare Coghill apologised after admitting a consultation on the first completed scheme, a part-pedestrianisation of Walthamstow Village’s main shopping street, was “flawed”. Yet, this same scheme has also won praise, and helped Waltham Forest win ‘Transport Borough of the Year’ at last year’s London Transport Awards.

The opposition to Mini Holland, ostensibly from car owners, has been fiercest in Waltham Forest, too. There were protests outside the town hall and a 6,000-signature petition. Complaints centred on the installation of 30 modal filters – dubbed ‘road closures’ by opponents – that have caused problems for delivery drivers and anyone using a sat-nav. This was addressed last year with the launch of a cargo-bike delivery service, ZED Waltham Forest, funded through a £400,000 grant from the London Air Quality Fund. Claims the modal filters increased emergency response times were denied by London Fire Brigade.

Lea Bridge Road. Image: author provided.

Going beyond the Netherlands for infrastructural inspiration, Waltham Forest has also installed dozens of blended ‘Copenhagen’ crossings. These give priority to pedestrians crossing side streets on main roads. It has also taken on several big projects, including the centrepiece of its Mini Holland programme, a 4km segregated east-west cycle lane along Lea Bridge Road.

The challenge in Enfield – a sprawling borough that has one of London’s lowest cycling participation rates – is greater. The council aims to boost the popularity of cycling fourfold with its Mini Holland programme, simply dubbed Cycle Enfield. It’s currently outdoing Waltham Forest and Kingston for the installation of segregated cycle lanes, with 10km completed and another 20km planned.

Enfield’s biggest achievement so far has been the cycle lanes built along Green Lanes in Palmers Green and Winchmore Hill, two distinct town centres. Concerned that lost parking spaces would harm trade, many local businesses campaigned against the schemes, forming the group “Save Our Green Lanes”. The campaign was backed by local MP David Burrowes – but he subsequently lost his Enfield Southgate seat to Mini Holland supporter Bambos Charalambous in the 2017 General Election. The cycle lanes opened a few months later.

A cycle lane in enfield. Image: author provided.

Other schemes proposed for Enfield include more segregated cycle lanes along the A1010 through Edmonton and Ponders End, which will eventually join to become a continuous 8km route. A major revamp of Enfield’s congested town centre is also planned.

Kingston’s Mini Holland programme, Go Cycle, was only officially launched last spring. It includes ten linked routes across the borough, connecting existing disjointed cycling infrastructure to create a borough-wide network.

One major scheme is complete, with a two-way segregated track installed along a 1.5km section of Portsmouth Road, adjacent to the River Thames. A £4.3m revamp of Kingston Station, featuring an attractive new public forecourt with improved access and crossings, was a winner in the ‘wellbeing’ category of last year’s New London Architecture Awards.


Mayor of London Sadiq Khan now wants the Mini Holland programme to form part of his ‘healthy streets’ vision, promoting a general shift towards walking and cycling along with improved green spaces and reduced air pollution. The three boroughs are embracing the initiative with a series of smaller projects such as training workshops, organised rides, and new cycle hubs, complementing major investments in infrastructure.

But with only a quarter of London’s boroughs benefiting from the £100m being spent on the Mini Holland programme – £40m more than the cost of building Transport for London’s Cycle Superhighways – time will tell whether it proves value for money.

James Cracknell tweets as @JollyJourno.

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In many ways, smart cities are really very dumb

Rio de Janeiro’s control centre. Image: Getty.

It’s not news that anything and everything is increasingly being prefaced with “smart”: phones, watches, homes, fridges, and even water (yes, smartwater exists). And it’s not unintentional either. 

Marketeers know that we, the public, are often stupid enough to believe that thanks to their technology, life is better now than it was way back in, say, the primitive Nineties. Imagine having to, like a Neanderthal, remember how to spell words without an autocorrecting algorithm, or open the fridge door to check if you’d run out of milk, or, worse still, interact with actual people.

So it’s hardly surprising that we’re now also witnessing the rise of the so-called “smart cities”; a concept which presupposes that cities that are not technologically  “smart” are dumb, which, as anyone interested in the millennia-old history of cities — from the crypto-currency grain storage algorythms of ancient Mesopotamia to the complex waste infrastructure of ancient Rome, to London’s public transport infrastructure — will know, is not true.

Deployed in these smart cities are cameras and other networked information-gathering devices, load cells and other “sensing devices” detecting passing pedestrians and vehicles, audio surveillance devices listening for gunshots – and even vending machines equipped with biometric sensors to recognise your face. This is not to mention beacon technology — tiny anonymous looking black boxes hidden in trees and on lampposts — which transmits advertising, offers and other information directly to smart phones in the vicinity. 

If that doesn’t seem sinister enough, take, for example, Rio de Janeiro, where, in 2014, the International Business Machines Corporation designed a mammoth “control centre” that integrates data from 30 agencies for the city’s police. 

Described by the Guardian as having “the functionality of a Bond villian’s techno lair”, the then local mayor, Eduardo Paes, claimed the centre was making the city safer while using technology to deploy its “special” police unit to carry out the state’s “pacification programme”. Launched in 2008, the programme, which aims to push out drug gangs from Rio’s favelas, has been criticised by Amnesty International: “in January and February 2017 in Rio de Janeiro alone, at least 182 people were killed during police operations in marginalized neighbourhoods (favelas) – a 78 per cent increase in comparison to the same period in 2016”.

Sinister or not, as smart cities grow, they create new problems. For example, as urbanist Adam Greenfield writes in Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life, neither the algorithms nor their designers are subject to the ordinary processes of democratic accountability – a problem that international academics are currently attempting to tackle.  


“We need to understand that the authorship of an algorithm intended to guide the distribution of civic resources is itself an inherently political act,” writes Greenfield. “The architects of the smart city have utterly failed to reckon with the reality of power.”

The Real Smart Cities project, founded by Dr Gerald Moore, Dr Noel Fitzpatrick and Professor Bernard Stiegler, is investigating the ways in which so-called “smart city” technologies present a threat to democracy and citizenship, and how digital tools might be used create new forms of community participation.

Fitzpatrick is critical of current discourses around smart cities, which he says “tend to be technical fixes, where technology is presented as a means to solve the problems of the city.” The philosophy underpinning the project is “that technologies function as forms of pharmacology”, he adds, meaning that they can be both positive and negative. “The addictive negative effects are being felt at an individual and collective level.” 

An example of this lies in the way that many of these smart cities replace human workers with disembodied voices — “Alexa we need more toilet roll” — like those used to control the Amazon Echo listening device — the high priestess of smart home. These disembodied voices travel at the speed of light to cavernous, so-called “fulfilment centres”, where an invisible workforce are called into action by our buy-it-now, one-click impulse commands; moving robotically down seemingly endless aisles of algorithmically organised products arranged according to purchase preferences the like of which we never knew we had — someone who buys a crime novel might be more likely to go on and buy cat food, a wireless router, a teapot and a screwdriver. 

Oh to be the archeologists of the future who while digging through mounds of silicon dust happen upon these vast repositories of disembodies voices. That the digital is inherently material and the binary of virtual/real does not hold — there is no cyberspace, just space. Space that is being increasingly populated by technologies that want to watch you, listen to you, get to know you and sense your presence.

One project looking to solve some of the problems of smart cities is that of the development of a “clinic of contribution” within Pleine Commune in greater Paris (an area where one in three live in poverty).This attempts to deal with issues of communication between parents and children where the widespread use of smartphones as parental devices from infancy is having effects on the attention of young children and on the communicative abilities between parents and children. 

This in turn forms part of a wider project in the area that Stiegler describes as “installing a true urban intelligence”, which moves beyond what he sees as the bankrupt idea of smart cities. The aim is to create a “contributory income” in the area that responds to the loss of salaried jobs due to automation and the growth and spread of digitisation. 

The idea being that an income could be paid to residents, on the condition that they perform a service to society. This, if you are unemployed, living in poverty and urban deprivation, sounds like quite a simple and smart idea to try and solve some of the dumb effcts of the digital technology that's implemented in cities under the ideology of being “smart”.