Waltham Forest mini-Holland: reducing road danger and growing active travel

This post forms the second part to the Notes from our June 2018 meeting, and reports on agenda item 9 ‘Guest presentation: Waltham Forest mini-Holland with Paul Gasson’. Paul’s account of the radical transformation that is taking place in parts of this north-east London borough, at our June meeting, was very well-timed. Less than three weeks later, on 25 June, an academic paper entitled ‘Impacts of an active travel intervention with a cycling focus in a suburban context: One-year findings from an evaluation of London’s in-progress mini-Hollands programme‘ [1] was published online. The findings reported in this paper indicate that the partially-implemented London mini-Hollands programme has been effective in increasing active travel and improving perceptions of the local environment.

[1] Aldred, R., Transportation Research Part A (2018), https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tra.2018.05.018

Mini-Holland fundamentals

1: Some key conclusions
  • A fundamental objective of the mini-Holland programme is to reduce road dangerAmbitious interventions to reduce road danger are also delivering:
    • greater community ownership of streets
    • improved air quality
    • more active travel
    • better places
    • a healthier population
  • Filtered permeability delivers so much, for so little expenditureArea-wide filtering is essential.
  • It is important to paint a compelling vision to show how life could be so much better for the majority of people.
  • It is important to engage with politicians and officers, with communities, with businesses and with the opposition. Focus on the opportunities, and be prepared to bust myths.
2: Introduction

Paul Gasson, one of three Council Liaison Officers with the Waltham Forest Cycling Campaign, was our special guest at the Get Sutton Cycling meeting held on 6 June 2018.

We had invited Paul to tell us about the award-winning mini-Holland programme in his borough, to help us to learn from the success of delivery relating to this on-going project. Specifically, we wanted the focus of Paul’s talk to be on filtered permeability in residential areas (because this is something we would like to see much more of in Sutton, especially as part of the delivery of any Quietway routes and Liveable Neighbourhoods). We were also keen to hear about the all-important engagement with the council, with communities, and with those who may not initially, at least, see proposals for such transformative change as beneficial.

We were not disappointed! Paul’s presentation covered a lot of ground, ranging from what the mini-Holland programme in Waltham Forest is trying to achieve, to what it looks like, the fundamentals of filtered permeability, the process of engagement, and what lessons have been learnt. All highly inspirational and full of practical ideas, which we look forward to discussing with the refreshed Sutton Council. A visit to Waltham Forest will be arranged in order to experience first-hand what can be achieved. After all, Paul noted, talking is all very well, but seeing and experiencing the amazing achievements is what will change hearts and minds.


3: Mini-Holland in Waltham Forest

Paul began his presentation by saying that one key objective of the mini-Holland programme is to reduce road danger. Ambitious interventions to deliver on a reduction in road danger have also resulted in greater community ownership of streets, improved air quality, the engendering of active travel, and the creation of better places to live.

Around £40m has been allocated to Waltham Forest mini-Holland, £27m from TfL and £13m made available through the council from other sources (for example, ‘Section 106’ funding). Most of this money has been spent in a relatively small and densely populated area of the borough. An area that has good public transport connections, but which also suffers from high levels of motor traffic. The aim was to deliver some significant big picture changes.

There are four fundamental elements to Waltham Forest’s mini-Holland. Filtered permeability, with the aim of taking rat-running traffic out of residential areas; a 4-km  cycle superhighway on Lea Bridge Road; the provision of improved walking and cycling links between town centres; and various complimentary measures including secure cycle parking.

4: Filtered permeability

Around fifty modal filters have been installed during the last three years in residential areas that are surrounded by main roads. This has resulted in a massive reduction in road danger. The filters have also delivered on place-making, through tree-planting and pocket parks. This has been to the benefit of everyone. Many more people are now walking (or scooting, or simply stopping to talk to their neighbours).

5: Superhighways, crossings, links to town centres and complementary measures

A key element of the cycle superhighways has been the £15m redesign of an east-west corridor, including stepped cycle tracks, bus stop boarders and bypasses. An ‘all green’ signalised scramble crossing is expected to be in operation in about two months time. High-quality surface materials have been used throughout, and the cycle highways have provided further opportunities for planting and place-making. Town centres have benefited from enhanced active travel links between them, some filtered permeability and further place-making initiatives. Complimentary measures have included extensive cycle parking provision at stations, and robust signing and wayfinding.

6: Filtered permeability – key lessons

Area-wide filtering is absolutely the key because it delivers so much for so little expenditure. A basic filter may cost around £2k. Alternatively, a ‘pocket-park’ may be around £10K. Compared to what is generally spent on traffic management, this is very little and the benefits for many people are significant.

It is really important that all rat-runs in an area are severed for viability of delivery. If just a single rat-run is left in an area it will be unpopular with the people who live there, and may be difficult to remove later.

No speed cushions. Speed cushions are not effective traffic calming measures, as some drivers will simply straddle them at speed. Furthermore, cushions can also de-stabalise cycles, and are uncomfortable for riders of adapted cycles. Sinusoidal humps are an acceptable form of physical measure in the filtered areas as they bring motor vehicle speeds down substantially with a consequential big reduction in road danger.

It is also important to provide gateways around the filtered areas. Blended crossings (a continuation of the footway, which may include a cycle track) let people drivers know that they are entering a different area, and provide the right of way to pedestrians crossing the side road.

A lot of planting is key too. Not only does it look great, but it also engenders community engagement.

7: Filtered permeability – what does it look like?

Orford Road was the first filtered-permeability scheme to be developed as part of the Waltham Forest Mini-Holland programme. This received a lot of national publicity at the time, some of which was quite negative, because it was rushed in with inadequate time for engagement. (The council had thought initially that TfL’s £27m funding was dependent on project completion within three years, and so delivery had to be quick). Despite the early difficulties, the outcome has been radical and transformative. Now Orford Road receives a lot of national publicity that is highly positive.

8: Filtered permeability experience

Some of the noticeable changes since the streets have been filtered:

  • More people on foot and bikes: Orford Road is testament to that.
  • A massive reduction of road danger and sense of safety. Close passes reduced. More and more people taking up cycling because it feels okay to do so.
  • Much wider age range of people cycling
  • More diverse community cycling. Asian women on bikes.
  • Conversations (in street – can hear each other speak and nicer places to hang out)
  • More mobility scooters: because much less road danger, and surfaces are better and more level.
  • Considerate driving.
  • Community activity: people coming out to plant those planters we constructed.
  • Birdsong: you can hear it!
  • Children playing in the street
  • People walking in the road: in the middle of the road because they own it
  • Shop occupancy up: more retail visitors. In Orford Road, for the first time in twenty years, all the shops are utilised.
  • Chilled cats: lying upside down in middle of road (purring)!
9: Key messages to sowing the seeds of change

To take forward the changes we would like to see it is important to:

  • Paint a really compelling vision to show how life could be so much better for the majority of people. Talk about active travel (not just cycling, it is much more than that); talk about the freedom of the children; planting and placemaking; putting the heart back in communities (it is shocking how pervasive traffic has become and how accepting we have become of it in our communities – most of people driving through are not local people).
  • Consider Play Streets –An opportunity for safe streets.
  • Talk to parents and children – Parents are very amenable
  • Think about language. Don’t just talk about cyclists – talk about people on bikes – people who might cycle. Talk about filters, or access-only roads. Filtered permeability is not about “road closures” (with a negative connotation) as access is still maintained for motors, and everybody else can go through them.
  • Promote Healthy Streets: powerful ideas of how to civilise the street
  • Talk to opinion formers, leaders in the local community, people who really do help to influence public opinion, about your ideas.
  • Tell a story to bring ideas to life
  • Don’t leave it to a yes/no referendum. Structure bids so they include filtering (the details can be tweaked later).
  • Engage with politicians and officers: celebrate successes and use constructive dialogue about what you do, where you see the opportunities. (Officers see working in mini-Holland boroughs as a good thing for their CVs)
  • Engage with communities: Use visualisations, use Commonplace to get perception – allows a whole community to look at a map and get feedback what they like or don’t like and to think about improving places – a holistic approach not just treating as a traffic scheme. Filtered permeability is an opportunity to get community involvement by helping maintain pocket parks and planters. In Waltham Forest, community and resident groups have set up as a result of this.
  • Engage with businesses: really good engagement with businesses is essential. Many retailers believe that all their customers drive to the shops, and that nobody walks, cycles, scoots or takes public transport. Understandably, therefore, there are concerns when proposals come along that will see motor traffic in their area reduced. Lea Bridge Road is a good example of where officers carried out some great engagement. They visited every single business several times to talk about their customer base, their delivery needs, and how to accommodate the impact of reallocation of parking/delivery bays. Business said 65% of their customers drove to the store. When the council carried out a survey of people on the same section of street and asked “how many of you have driven?” only 20% of respondents said they had. This indicates that perceptions are skewed (and reflects what has been known elsewhere for many years). Furthermore, if a street does not look or feel good, people are less likely to spend time there, or even visit in the first place. If you can make that street attractive and inviting, then people who walk, cycle, or come by public transport (those with high spending power) will more than make up for those who possibly no longer drive there.
  • Engagement with opposition: If you are going to do anything radical, you will get opposition. Some people will be prepared to listen and discuss. Others will be against the ideas for whatever reason. It is important to know when to step back, otherwise you can waste a lot of energy trying to persuade people who are not open to changing their views.
  • Be prepared to bust myths. For example, the myth that there will be gridlock on main roads (which are already busy), has been unfounded in Waltham Forest. Although traffic on main roads has gone up to some extent (7%), overall traffic in the area has gone down (16%) and there has not been gridlock. The fire brigade has reported that they can get to call outs faster. TfL has not reported any problems with bus service.

Fabulous presentation, thank you Paul. There was time for some questions too…

10: Questions and answers

In the discussions that followed the presentation there were some interesting questions from the audience, with great answers from Paul. The questions included discussions around how to get public support for filters so that people see them not as an obstacle but as an asset; the challenges of high car-ownership in Sutton (what sort of challenge is it?); the opportunity to use temporary road closures during utility works as pilots for discussion and engagement with residents (is the opportunity being taken?); interactions with schools and the School Travel Plan; the importance of garnering political support for successful delivery; and the experience and expertise of traffic engineers.

10.1 Gaining public support for street filtering – how to seeing filtering as an asset not an obstacle

During public engagement on filtering you can expect a vocal group to polarise the debate and, potentially, make discussions quite challenging (see ‘engagement with opposition’ in section 9 above). However, any vocal group is likely to be only a small percentage of residents. So it is important to work with local communities, at street-by-street level, to try and build consensus from the 80%, or more, who have not engaged. Talk about the bigger picture. After all, ultimately filtering residential streets is about making life a great deal better, whether as a result in the reduction in noisy traffic, or an improved environment (through pocket parks and place-making).

The debate can be made easier once a good scheme (a small and doable scheme) has been delivered, as this can then be show-cased elsewhere. On seeing the result, most people will then say that they would like something similar.

It is worth remembering that in order to get funding from TfL, for any aspect of the proposed scheme, there is the need for majority support. Either an area is filtered, with all the advantages that brings, or nothing gets done. You cannot pick and choose.

It is also worth remembering that there is a public health crisis, and local authorities have a duty in relation to public health. This duty includes a responsibility for interventions to tackle obesity. In Waltham Forest 25% of 11-year olds are overweight or obese (in Sutton this is 18%). Essentially, something has to be done and the case has to be made. Filtering streets is a practical and proven way of making streets fitter for walking and for cycling (far more so than installing of a speed hump or a 20mph sign).

Data source on obesity: Pubic Health England > Overview of Child Health and Pubic Health England > Overview of Child Health.

More on Local authorities’ public health responsibilities (England) (parliament.uk) and Public Health: Role for Local Authorities (DEFRA)

10.2 Car ownership (Sutton versus Waltham Forest)

Sutton has a high level of car ownership, so could that mean that bringing forward mini-Holland style interventions here may not be so easy?

Ideally, it is best to focus on the areas with lowest percentage of car ownership first. In Sutton these are the wards of Sutton Central (0.81 cars/household, Sutton South (0.89), and St Helier (0.95)). It is worth noting that there are six wards in Waltham Forest were the car ownerships levels are higher than in these Sutton wards. Links to data sources are provided at the end of this article.

It is worth remembering the percentage of households having access to a car is not the same as the number of people with access to car (or the number of people who are able to drive, including the young and old).

Arguably, a high level of car ownership could make it all the more essential for interventions which make active travel more attractive. Car ownership in London is the strongest determinant of whether people are travelling actively each day, regardless of whether they live in the suburban fringes of outer London or the urban areas of inner London. Then there is parking stress, poor air quality and congestion. So, rather than seeing these stats as a problem to overcome and get support for the interventions, we should be using then to actually make the case.

Some statistics on car ownership (linked to sources) are presented at the end of this article. 

10.3 Taking the opportunity to use temporary road closures as a pilot scheme – has this been done in Sutton?

Answer, almost certainly no, but this is definitely something for us to ask at the next Sutton Cycle Forum meeting. We have discussed this in the past, see Ideas for boosting Sutton’s cycling aspirations section 4: make the most of opportunities when they are presented.

Councils now use experimental traffic orders. So can tweak and gives residents the sense that a particular intervention is not set in stone and that there is ability to be flexible in the future.

10.4 Interaction with schools

As a result of the introduction of filtered areas in Waltham Forest, ‘walking buses’ have appeared on the busier roads. These are ‘walking buses’ have not been organised by the council.

Apparently, some schools in Sutton stipulate that children can only cycle to school when they have completed Bikeability training. As that training tends to take place towards the end of year 6, it means the children only get to cycle for a few weeks before leaving the school. Councils tend to focus on training, rather than the source of the danger. A small percentage of children being driven to schools can create mayhem for everyone else.

Sutton was the first London borough to have travel plans for all of its schools, so we need to build on that success. What areas could be filtered to make it safer and more pleasant to walk to school? Perhaps that something that could be part of the forthcoming Liveable Neighbourhood bid?

10.5 Garnering political support

Getting political support is easier if the focus is not just on cycling but also on active travel, and is beneficial for, and prioritises, pedestrians. Waltham Forest has a very strong Deputy Leader of the Council who fully understands healthy streets and active travel. The Leader also supports the programme from a social justice and health perspective, as mini-Holland is liberating people in many different ways. And with the borough’s population projected to rise by 32% between 2011 and 2041, something radical was clearly required to make better use of the increasingly congested roadspace.

Political support is important, and we need to help the debate too. It is all about the ‘bigger picture’, and thinking about the sort of borough that we would like Sutton to be. Local authorities have a series of portfolios where they are trying to deliver a whole series of metrics with very little money. The Liveable Neighbourhoods programme ticks several boxes, including health and well-being, and has some substantial sums of money attached to it too. Most local authorities are scrapped for cash, so the Liveable Neighbourhood opportunity is gold dust. If your council is not interested in getting serious money to improve an area, what is going on?

10.6 Opportunities for traffic engineers

Good project management is needed within the council to ensure that there are one or two key officers who see successful delivery of mini-Holland/Liveable Neighbourhood projects as a wonderful CV opportunity. Waltham Forest has some good people who are really motivated, and want to do a good job. As a result, their CVs are looking rather good.

It is not just about bringing in new officers, but also saying to those who have been there for quite a while that they need to be more visionary and up for new ideas. Can we do an experimental scheme, monitor it and provide feedback? Essentially, it is about creating a culture of excellence, and continuingly improving. It is about getting a sense that some great work is being done, rather than being on the back foot and being complained about.

11. Closing remarks

Waltham Forest mini-Holland is an ambitious programme, but one that is well on the way to being delivered.

Paul, along with his colleague Dan, has been providing tours of Waltham Forest mini-Holland to councillors, council officers, and many others for quite a while now. They would both be very happy to offer opinion formers in our local community a tour too (either by foot or cycle). There is no doubt that experiencing, first-hand, the radical transformations that have taken place, is the best way to fully understand the value of the programme. Being there really does change hearts and minds.

Changing hearts and minds is exactly what is needed in Sutton as we look ahead to the council developing proposals for the borough’s first Liveable Neighbourhood bid. So we will be passing that invitation on.

We also look forward to taking key decision makers, senior politicians and senior officers out on the bike in Sutton to see both the good and the bad in the borough, and to base dialogue around what could be done, rather than around criticisms of what has not been done.

There was no doubt that Paul’s enthusiasm and knowledge of mini-Holland was very well received by the audience this evening. Thank you very much for visiting Sutton Paul, and telling us about the amazing work in Waltham Forest! We look forward to joining you on a tour soon.

A tour is being arranged for Saturday, 11 August. If you would like to join the tour, or would like more details, please let us know getsuttoncycling@gmail.org.uk.  

Some statistics on car ownership

TfL London Travel Demand Survey 2013/14, as referenced in Health Impact of Cars in London (GLA, September 2015),  reports that 78% of households in Sutton have access to a car. This is the highest of any London borough. By contrast, the proportion of households in Waltham Forest with access to a car is 61%. The survey results also show that, in terms of car usage, Sutton is fourth from the top.

If Londoners swapped motorised trips that could reasonably be walked and cycled, 60% of them would meet the recommended 150 minutes of physical activity per week through active travel alone. The population of London would gain over 60,000 years of healthy life every year which would deliver an economic health benefit of over £2 billion annually. Health Impact of Cars in London

London Datastore: The number of licensed vehicles by borough

2016: Sutton 87,061; Waltham Forest 78,868.

London Datastore: Population

2015 estimate: Sutton 196,000; Waltham Forest 271,000

London Datastore: Number of Households

Projection 2015: Sutton 80,000; Waltham Forest 101,000

Therefore, as an approximation, in 2015/2016

Average number of cars per household in Sutton (87,061/80,000) = 1.088

Average number of cars per household in Waltham Forest (78,868/101,000) = 0.780

London Datastore: Ward Profiles and Atlas

Office for National Statistics (Nomis) Car or van availability

LC4109EW – Car or van availability by sex by age | 2011 | Sutton

LC4109EW – Car or van availability by sex by age | 2011 | Waltham Forest

LC4110EW – Car or van availability by household composition | 2011 | Sutton

LC4110EW – Car or van availability by household composition | 2011 | Waltham Forest


Data on all licensed and registered cars

Office for National Statistics

2011 Census data archive

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