Fighting for "Mini-Hollands" in outer London; 5 things we can learn from Walthamstow

Recently on ibikelondon we've been focusing on the fight to ensure London's "Crossrail for Bikes" get built.  But these are not the only important plans for London cyclists currently under consideration.  Later in the week we will look at some of the issues surrounding other Cycle Superhighways; today we hear about Walthamstow's "Mini-Holland" proposals, and what the struggle to get them implemented can teach other campaigners.

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?

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18 comments:

Ric said...

Isnt the one week after video more an issue with parking/ deliveries?

TO Messenger said...

I grew up in Walthamstow, but now live in Peckham, I wish they would do a similar project down here, where we live now there are to many rat runs, our road which is next to a school is often used as a race track with cars getting up to speeds of 50 mph.

That video of Orford road where the van is driving on the pavement, the traffic problem could easily be solved if they just banned parking there!
We visit Belgium at least twice a year, and we dream of the day when London could be half as good as there.
Hopefully dreams can come true.

Keep up the good work

Gary

ibikelondon said...

@Ric The video is just indicative on what the street looked like before, and afterward. It is not just a question of parking, unfortunately. (Though I agree that issue is particularly bad here)

Studies show that a lot of the traffic cutting through the borough is not local trips (say from home to the shops, leading to any kind of economic benefit to the borough) but traffic passing through - i.e. people rat running. A clear example of the idea of every action having a reaction: those who travel, and those who are travelled upon. It will certainly be interesting to see how these trials develop - especially as so much money has been made available for change.

ibikelondon said...

@TO Messenger / Gary - thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I'm glad it is not just me who visits Europe and gets a bit wistful!

Your road in Peckham sounds a bit like mine in Tower Hamlets: a 20mph limit road with two schools, a park, a train station and a nursing home on it. And traffic (mini cabs and racer boys especially) that often goes at very high speeds. A sign saying "20" and a splash of paint is not enough it would seem.

a f h said...

@Gary - not sure which side of Peckham you are, but if you're west of the Rye, Southwark Council are promising big things with the "Southwark Spine" route between Dulwich Park and Burgess Park - "comfortable and safe for all ages". Whether they actually have the bravery and imagination to sort out the Bellenden Road gyratory such that it can be safe for an 8year old to cycle remains to be seen, but if they attempt to it will need public support. Am sure the local LCC group would appreciate you getting involved, if you're not already!

Unknown said...

Hello I also live in Walthamstow and have been involved with campaigning for Mini Holland, starting an online petition (too lazy to go out and about like Ruth and Jakob!). My day job, working for a national charity, involves campaigning as well so been interesting to do stuff on a more personal scale.

I also see there’s already local opposition to Mini Holland in Enfield from local businesses, so this is a timely blog post.

My thoughts:

1) Organise
Don’t wait for someone else to do it. People will get behind you. I was massively surprised at the amount of support there was for Mini Holland in Walthamstow. Some days you can feel most people hate you after a bad ride on the bicycle. I’ve found that’s actually not the case.

Also people who cycle are often already quite networked together already which is handy. There’s lots of influential Twitter/blogger cycle people, cycle forums, facebook pages that you can leverage.

2) Talk to the people in the middle in their own voice
An easy error to make would be to focus on the people at the extreme ends of the debate, who make the most noise. They’re not your target as there aren’t that many of them, and it’s too difficult to change the minds of people who’ve dug their heels in. The vast majority of people are in the middle. So they’re the ones you need to think about in all your campaign communications.

The majority of this mass in the middle don’t cycle regularly. Be patient with them. Try to see things from their (as yet non-cycling) point of view. Great thing about Mini Holland, and cycling in general, is that is benefits everyone. Focus on what benefits it will bring to them.

3) Don’t say ‘cyclist’
Never use the word ‘cyclist’. It’s a word that’s been abused by the media and anti-cycling groups so much that it now has negative connotations to the general public. It makes people who cycle ‘other’, it dehumanises them. Not only that but it feeds into a false ‘cyclist v motorist v pedestrian’ conflict. These are all just different ways for people to get around.

4) Don’t be a ‘militant cyclist’
I’ve commuted by bike in London for a decade. I’ve had lots of horrible things happen to me because of the stupidity and callousness of others. And I’ve seen the incredible benefits that cycling has brought to my and my family’s life and just how much sense it makes.

But the second you start feeling superior to people who don’t cycle and that feeds through into what you say, you start looking like a militant cyclist. Yes, other people who cycle understand and like it, but you lose the ear of the ordinary people in the middle.

Tim said...

I commute through Walthamstow on a bike and also drive to my in laws in Walthamstow when I have to drop my boy off, so I experienced mini Holland from both perspectives.

As a cyclist I saw no obvious improvements whatsoever. Unless I wanted to cycle to 'the village' (which, given that it is one dull street of uninspiring shops despite what Time Out would have people believe, I rarely do) I found the roads to be busier rather than quieter, because all the traffic was concentrated on the key routes. Presumably it was wonderful for the middles classes moving into 'the village', but that's no use for the rest of Walthamstow.

As a driver it was horrendous. What was a 10 minute drive became a 30 minute drive, because all the key roads were clogged up with Walthamstow residents trying to go about their day to day tasks.

I love cycling in London and, whilst I think Walthamstow is already a nice area to cycle in, I'd be delighted to see some new cycle lanes in the area. However I wasn't delighted to see 'the village' turned into a traffic free oasis whilst all us plebs elsewhere had to waste hours on end in needless traffic jams. Cycle lanes need to be on key routes, not on a small parade of estate agents and organic cafes that few residents even use.

Gaz Lemon said...

@Tim

A few things on the road closures:

- this was just a trial in a small area that happened to be the Village. It'll be rolled out to all of Walthamstow

- again, being a trial it was never going to be perfect. I hope that with all the data and feedback the council gathers they'll sort out roads that may have seen increased traffic in the trial area

- you don't know that the traffic was caused by mini holland. We haven't seen the traffic data yet. You can't honestly tell me you've never been stuck in traffic in the Stow before?



-

Tim said...

Hi Gaz. While traffic is always heavy enough in Walthamstow, I never find it too bad at the time I commute yet it was so bad during mini Holland that my wife and I had to drop our boy off on the train. Some people might consider this a success for the scheme but, as a fella who uses a bike 5 times as much as a car, I found the whole thing a massive inconvenience.

I'm glad the scheme will be trialed elsewhere in Walthamstow because it will reduce the 'us and them' feeling, but I personally think the pedestrianisation of residential streets is missing the point a bit. I actually think Walthamstow is very good for cycling as it is, but if we could spend money improving it I'd much rather see a cycle path on a key route.

Liam said...

Well done for speaking out Ruth! I hope you can help us work some of your magic down the south end of WalthamForest, as the roads in North Forest Gate are pretty terrible too.

Gaz Lemon said...

@Tim

Remember that the road closures are only part of the plan - also going to be a cycle superhighway on Lea Bridge Road and, I think, segregated lanes on Shernall, Forest, Selbourne, and Hoe Street.

The road closures are important though, to encourage more people nervous of cycling to take shorter trips by bike

ibikelondon said...

The comments on this post are really insightful, this sort of feedback is one of the reasons I love running this blog - it is so fascinating to hear about different people's experiences!

One of the points raised above which I think is really key (and will be key for the success of future Mini Holland schemes around London) is "don't talk about cyclists." Now of course it goes without saying that I think cyclists are great, and a cycling scheme should benefit cyclists, but if all we ever do is convince cyclists - a minority in outer London - that cycle schemes are a good idea we are not going to go ver far.

I explored this point in my recent talk "5 Top tips for cycle campaigning with social media". Clearly, to attract a much larger support base we need to make the benefits of such schemes clear to a much wider base of people.

I'd love to know people's thoughts on how we move beyond "improvements for cycling" on to "improvements for our community"?

a f h said...

@ Tim - just something to consider:

The weeks this trial ran for isn't anything like long enough to cause much in the way of modal shift. If the long term aim is to get people unhooked from car-addiction (and able-bodied people who routinely use cars for sub-3-mile trips are indeed addicts). So the objective of a trial should be more "is this workable" than "is this wonderful". Actual modal shift, the un-jamming of the newly jammed main roads, happens over months to years, not days or weeks (and of course requires a much wider scheme than just one road).

Like you, I cycle regularly in suburban London, and use motor transport when necessary (usually buses or taxis rather than a car, but it amounts to the same), and in many ways I don't find cycling conditions too bad for myself. Yet that fails to account for the huge suppressed demand - if I want to go somewhere by bike with my wife or kids, we basically can't as the roads aren't safe enough (wife can cope with the conditions, but really doesn't enjoy the experience; kids outright can't).

So while removing traffic from residential streets doesn't open up one single new cycle route for you or I, as on the spectrum of roads we encounter they're the more benign roads anyway, when it comes to enabling kids, mums and grans to get from A to B by bike, it's absolutely vital. That's surely going to mean some jams on the main roads while people adapt to the new conditions, but provided those jams are tolerable it's surely for the best in the long run.

Gaz Lemon said...

@ibikelondon

To change minds you need to understand and talk to people in their own frame of reference first.

If I had ten grand I would do polling and focus groups with the (mainly non-cycling) general populous to find out what they really think about cycling. Find out what they don't like, but also what resonates with them.

Once I'd built up an accurate picture I'd create messaging that starts talking to them in their own language, but starts to bring them round.

Then I'd just patiently hammer away with that messaging on all available channels and platforms until it starts to get through.

[PS this kind of stuff may already have been done by LCC or the like - if so I'd love to see the results]


ibikelondon said...

Hi @Gaz Lemon I think you're right that we need to talk in the language that people understand.

What is interesting is what you are suggesting (polls and research) has recently been done with regards to the Cycle Superhighways being proposed for Central London. The campaign group who are rallying business support for the plans (CyclingWorks.London) also commissioned a YouGov poll of over 1,000 randomised London residents to see what they thought of the plans.

The response was fascinating, to say the very least!

Gaz Lemon said...

@ibikelondon

Yep saw that and was genuinely surprised (though delighted) at the level of support.

In my imaginary YouGov poll I'd ask slightly different questions though. Stuff like:
[Strongly agree > Strongly disagree]

- I used to love cycling when I was a kid. Wish I could do it more now

- If more people cycled, my streets would be a nicer place to live

- If more people cycled, there would be less congestion for cars

Kind of test the arguments that cycle campaigners use day in day out. See which work and which don't. And concentrate using those that do.

I'd also test some of the anti-cycling messages:

- I don't think cycle paths should be built because too many jump red lights

- For most people, cycling could never be a legitimate form of transport

To see which areas we need to address.



Tim said...

Hi A F H. I would also be wary of kids cycling in many areas of the borough, but I'd consider 'the village' (and other such residential areas) a safe cycling area and I'd have absolutely no qualms cycling around it with my wife and kids. Like you, I'd be much more wary of them cycling on some of our main roads and that's why I'd much rather money was spent addressing this issue (preferably with a cycle path and/or more/better cycle lanes).

I agree we need to unlock the suppressed demand, but I'm less convinced this is the way to do it.

Tim said...

Hi Gaz. Very keen on the above proposals. As I mentioned on another post, I'd consider 'the village' and similar residential areas family friendly cycle areas already, but I take on board the potential benefits of improving them further.