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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Cycling on London’s Euston Road is still a terrifying experience

Cyclists on the Euston Road. Image: Jonn Elledge.

The New Road, which skirted the northern boundaries of London’s built up area, first opened in the 1750s. Originally, it was intended to link up outlying villages and provide a route to drive sheep and cows to the meat market at Smithfield without having to pass through the congested city centre. 

As with bypasses and ring roads the world over, however, it increasingly became congested in its own right. Today, you won’t often find livestock on the route, which is now Marylebone, Euston and City roads. But you will find up to six lanes of often stationary buses, cabs, and private vehicles. In a city whose centre is largely free of multi-lane highways, London’s northern ring road has long been the sort of abomination that you avoid at all costs.

But now, somewhat surprisingly, the road is seeing yet another new use. Earlier this week, the first phase of a temporary cycle lane opened on the Euston Road, the middle section of the route which runs for roughly a mile. As London rethinks roads throughout the city, this addition to the cycling map falls solidly into the category of streets that didn't seem like candidates for cycling before the pandemic.

It is, to be clear, temporary. That’s true of many of the Covid-led interventions that Transport for London is currently making, though those in the know will often quietly admit to hoping they end up being permanent. In this case, however, the agency genuinely seems to mean it: TfL emphasized in its press release that the road space is already being allocated for construction starting late next year and that "TfL will work with local boroughs to develop alternate routes along side streets" when the cycle lane is removed.

At lunchtime on Friday, I decided to try the lane for myself to understand what an unlikely, temporary cycle lane can accomplish. In this case it's clear that the presence of a lane only accomplishes so much. A few key things will still leave riders wanting:

It’s one way only. To be specific, eastbound. I found this out the hard way, after attempting to cycle the Euston Road westbound, under the naive impression that there was now a lane for me in which to do this. Neither I nor the traffic I unexpectedly found myself sharing space with enjoyed the experience. To be fair, London’s cycling commissioner Will Norman had shared this information on Twitter, but cyclists might find themselves inadvertently mixing with multiple lanes of much, much bigger vehicles.

It radically changes in width. At times the westbound route, which is separated from the motor traffic by upright posts, is perhaps a metre and a half wide. At others, such as immediately outside Euston station, it’s shared with buses and is suddenly four or five times that. This is slightly vexing.

It’s extremely short. The publicity for the new lane said it would connect up with other cycle routes on Hampstead Road and Judd Street (where Cycleway 6, the main north-south crosstown route, meets Euston Road). That’s a distance of roughly 925m. It actually runs from Gower Street to Ossulton Street, a distance of barely 670m. Not only does the reduced length mean it doesn’t quite connect to the rest of the network, it also means that the segregated space suddenly stops:

The junction between Euston Road and Ousslston Street, where the segregated lane suddenly, unexpectedly stops. Image: Jonn Elledge.

 

It’s for these reasons, perhaps, that the new lane is not yet seeing many users. Each time I cycled the length of it I saw only a handful of other cyclists (although that did include a man cycling with a child on a seat behind him – not something one would have expected on the Euston Road of the past).


Though I hesitate to mention this because it feeds into the car lobby’s agenda, it was also striking that the westbound traffic – the side of the road which had lost a lane to bikes – was significantly more congested than the eastbound. If the lane is extended, it could, counterintuitively, help, by removing the unexpected pinch points at which three lanes of cars suddenly have to squeeze into two.

There’s a distinctly unfinished air to the project – though, to be fair, it’s early days. The eastbound lane needs to be created from scratch; the westbound extended. At that point, it would hopefully be something TfL would be keen enough to talk about that cyclists start using it in greater numbers – and drivers get the message they should avoid the Euston Road.

The obvious explanation for why TfL is going to all this trouble is that TfL is in charge of the Euston Road, and so can do what it likes there. Building cycle lanes on side nearby roads means working with the boroughs, and that’s inevitably more difficult and time consuming.

But if the long-term plan is to push cyclists via side roads anyway, it’s questionable whether all this disruption is worth it. A segregated cycle lane that stops without warning and leaves you fighting for space with three lanes of buses, lorries, and cabs is a cycle lane that’s of no use at all.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.