Mini-Hollands in London

This article was published in 2016, in Newsletter 125.

Families reclaim the street during trial closure of Orford Road, Walthamstow, London E17
Image as described adjacent

There has been a lot of chatter about London’s ‘Mini-Hollands’ in online cycling groups recently. But what exactly are these Mini-Hollands? How have they come about? And what might they mean for cycling in Cambridge?

Mini-Hollands are the result of pressure brought by the London Cycling Campaign in the run-up to the 2012 mayoral elections. Their ‘Love London, Go Dutch’ campaign asked the mayoral candidates what they would do to improve cycling in London, while also collecting a petition of over 42,000 Londoners for whom cycling was a vote-swinging issue.

As a result of his commitments to this campaign Mayor Boris Johnson who, though infamous for blunders like ‘keep your wits about you’ safety advice for cyclists, does regularly travel by bike, announced a £900 million Vision for Cycling in London. The vision includes cycling superhighways, junction redesigns and a network of back-street cycle routes with the aim of doubling cycling in London by 2020. To ensure that the outer boroughs did not miss out they were invited to bid from a £100 million pot to make cycling-friendly transformations to their town centres, radically improve local cycling facilities and enable local residents to make journeys by bike, all with an eye to continental examples for inspiration. These quickly became known as Mini-Hollands, reflecting the aspiration to make them as ideal for cycling as their Dutch counterparts.

In March 2014 Enfield, Kingston and Waltham Forest were announced as the successful boroughs, each receiving £30 million to make improvements to walking and cycling. The proposed improvements are varied and wide ranging; traffic-calming and protected cycle space on main roads; junction redesigns to separate cycle and motor vehicle movements; addition of ‘filtered permeability’ – where drivers can get in and out, but not rat-run through – to residential areas; improving high streets by reallocating road space, and removal of on-street parking; and increased bike parking near shops, tube and bus stations. Through to the end of 2015 several of these Mini-Holland proposals have been out for consultation, others have seen limited trials – for example, Orford Road, Waltham Forest being closed to motor-traffic with planters and other temporary barriers – and some have had early implementation.

Orford Road, Walthamstow as it is now. Photos by, Waltham Forest Cycling Campaign
Image as described adjacent

Of course these schemes have not been without controversy. The grand opening of Waltham Forest’s first scheme, a pedestrianisation of Walthamstow High Street, was marred by protesters. A coffin marked ‘R.I.P. Walthamstow Village’ was solemnly carried down the high street, proclaiming the death of businesses should customers be unable to arrive by car.

Elsewhere consultation events have seen, without any apparent sense of irony, ‘Streets for All’ protesters opposing the restrictions on motor-vehicle use. Residents have also complained that increased car-trip lengths due to the new filtered bike access have barricaded them into their homes. There has also been concern that traffic forced onto fewer roads will increase congestion and pollution, and prevent emergency services from attending incidents near reallocated streets. Also, that these schemes are only benefiting a small minority who are already cycling.

Now these are all easily countered, certainly by the Dutch examples they are inspired by, and perhaps by looking at Cambridge. On average, takings are higher for shops in pleasant walking and cycling streets. Deliveries can still be made in the early morning and the evening. While residential trips by car may be slightly longer, the elimination of through traffic creates an environment where short trips can more easily be switched to bike or foot. These improvements are not aimed at those already cycling, but rather at the not-yet-cycling who are put off trying by the current state of the road.

So what could Mini-Hollands be in a Cambridge context? With all the current interest in the City Deal it might be easy to lose sight of the local improvements to ‘place’ that these Mini-Hollands are bringing to London: local high streets that are easy to visit by foot or on bike; restricting through motor-traffic near homes and schools for safer, more pleasant journeys by bike. We might use ‘Mini-Holland’ as a yardstick for these local cycling improvements. A call-to-arms for changes within our own ‘outer boroughs’; nearby villages and towns, and high streets away from the city centre, that may otherwise be overlooked by the City Deal’s focus on commuter routes. What improvements would make your local area a Mini-Holland? We’d love to hear your ideas via and help you make them a reality.

Tom McKeown