Walthamstow resident Ruth Standing has been out on the streets trying to drum up support for the proposals to stop rat running through the borough and to create a more inviting environment for pedestrians and cyclists. (For the full bid document, click here) Here, in a special guest post, Ruth takes us through her experience of 'being the change she wants to see' and helping to set the agenda where she lives:
Taking the online fight to the streets of E17, in 5 simple stages:
Stage 1: Despondency
My journey began with a deep sense of despondency. Whatever my mood when I left the house, my daily cycle commute down Lea Bridge Road from Walthamstow to Hackney left me glum. As I dodged opening car doors and speeding drivers with their eyes glued to their mobile phones I wondered how a civilised society could create such an uncivilised transport system. Other cyclists I saw on route looked just as beaten down as me. Worst of all, I saw no political will for change amongst my elected politicians at either a national or local level.
Stage 2: A glimmer of hope!
I then heard that Waltham Forest council was bidding for a large chunk of government money to improve cycling infrastructure in Walthamstow. Plans were mooted for a segregated cycle lane down Lea Bridge Road and road closures in Walthamstow Village to prevent rat-running. But I was cynical.
"I’ll believe it when it happens." And then it did happen!
The first phase of Walthamstow’s Mini-Holland trial started just over two weeks ago. Orford Road, a narrow traffic choked strip of shops at the heart of the Village was blocked to traffic. And the transformation was incredible. The street filled with bikes, children playing, people hanging out and drinking coffee, actually talking to their neighbours. Seeing a workable alternative before my eyes made me feel well, rather emotional! I felt, for one of the first times in my life, proud of the politicians I had elected to represent me.
Day 1 of the trial road closure. Photo via @rosslydall with thanks.
Stage 3: Step away from the computer!
But then came the backlash from residents, annoyed that they could no longer drive exactly where they wanted. Angry petitions began to circulate both the internet and the streets. This felt like a call to action, but just ranting on twitter to those who already shared my opinions didn’t feel like it would cut it. So I put down my phone and went to hang out on my newly reclaimed local street. Within minutes I met Jakob, a local resident armed with a clip-board and a huge smile, collecting signatures in favour of the scheme. I immediately thought"I want to help you!"
Stage 4: Empowerment!
Over the next two weeks I helped Jakob collect over 700 signatures (although he collected many more than me). I talked to more people from my community than I had in the previous 5 years of living in the borough. I felt empowered and buzzing with positivity and my perception of my neighbours began to shift radically. In an atomised car-sick society, you simply don’t meet your neighbours, treating each other with annoyance and suspicion. In my case, my neighbours were those who bullied me on the road whilst I was cycling. But here I was discovering that actually many of them were just like me and shared my despondency about the way our public space was being used.
Orford Rd after the street re-opened after the conclusion of the Mini-Holland trial. Video via @rosslydall with thanks.
Stage 5: Keeping up the slog!
Now the job was to keep going and keep up the fight. We collected more signatures. I contacted our local paper, angry about their negative and biased coverage of the scheme. They agreed to post a short comment piece on their website. It attracted a lot of negative comments from people accusing me of being a naïve ‘newcomer.’ But at least that meant that people had read it. And last Thursday, we went to Waltham Forest Town Hall to present our petition to the Mayor.
All in all, I hope that I’ve made some small difference to the future of my borough. It sure felt good to step away from the keyboard, stop moaning and do a little bit of local campaigning. I’d recommend it to you all.
A huge thanks to Ruth for sharing her thoughts on campaigning for this trial. Here's a write up of a visitor's perception to the trial, by Cycling Weekly's Laura Laker. What tips would you share with fellow campaigners?