This is part 1 in my series of posts looking at Waltham Forest Mini-Holland, covering Orford and Francis Roads.
The other posts can be found here:
As happened a couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to spend a day in London, looking at all things cycling related. Now, since my last visit, I think it’s fair to say the rate of change has slowed substantially. That last visit was April 2016, when a large chunk of the East-West Cycle Superhighway was close to completion as well as schemes at the Elephant & Castle and Vauxhall.
While there has been some work carried out since the change in mayor, it’s been more piecemeal and not so interesting to look at. On that last visit, I didn’t have time for a trip to Waltham Forest, home of one of the Mini-Holland schemes. So this time, I decided a visit was long overdue.
For those unfamiliar with the Mini-Holland scheme. It was originally started by the previous mayor, Boris Johnson as part of a plan to take cycling to the suburbs, with London boroughs bidding for a share of £100m. Three winning boroughs Waltham Forest, Enfield and Kingston were awarded £30m each, while five losing bids got the remaining £10m between them.
While there has been wide support from residents in Waltham Forest, there was also a small but vocal minority campaigning for the scheme to be scrapped and roads to be reopened. Since then, the improvements in Waltham Forest have been hailed a success, with traffic falling substantially.
I think it’s fair to say Orford Road has been a bit of a poster boy for Mini-Holland. It’s rare to see an article on the subject without the obligatory Orford Road shot. It has also been a target for some of the most vocal opposition and a legal challenge, which was sensibly rejected.
According to Enjoy Waltham Forest, the key aims for Orford Road as part of the Walthamstow Village scheme were:
- Reduce the volume of traffic and noise outside people’s homes
- Improve road safety for all users
- Make the area easier and safer for people who want to walk and cycle for local journeys
- Generally make the area more attractive for residents and visitors
To achieve this, a traffic lane has been removed, traffic restrictions have been put in place and pavements have been widened. In addition, the road has been given the shared space treatment and planters, trees and bike stands have been introduced.
While like many, I’ve been vocal about some of the poorly executed shared space schemes, such as Exhibition Road and Poynton. I believe shared space can work, but only if traffic levels are very low.
I believe the conditions created on Orford Road, with the reduction of a lane and traffic restrictions mean that shared space is a success. Even on a day of rubbish weather, Orford Road feels like a place you’d want to linger. There’s no traffic fumes or noise, no cars parking on pavements and it’s so much better for it.
It’s a great place to walk or cycle to and I’d imagine it will increasingly become a destination to shop, socialise or just hang around.
As part of the Leyton Town Centre scheme, Francis Road is in the process of receiving similar treatment to Orford Road. There’s the same lane reduction, traffic restrictions, street furniture and planting.
It’s early days and the work isn’t fully complete, but the indications are that the work carried out here will be a success. Prior to this work, Francis Road was a bit of a mess, with lots of cars and parking spaces partially blocking the pavement.
While the driver behind these schemes and the Mini-Holland project as a whole is about enabling more people to cycle. It’s clear that the benefits go way beyond just cycling. The removal of traffic and public realm improvements have enabled the creation of true destination spaces that people will want to linger in. This might not always happen over night, but given time, I believe the change will be significant.
So, could these two schemes be used as a template to revitalise our local town and village centres nationally? I hope so.
I also hope Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham and cycling and walking commissioner Chris Boardman are looking at these schemes, to determine how they can be applied in Manchester.
Next to part 2 – Lea Bridge and Markhouse Roads