Last Friday, I went with a group of Fox Lane area residents on a tour of Waltham Forest’s low traffic neighbourhoods, to see what we could learn for our own area. I was particularly interested to find out how we can make walking easier for all ages. What we found, on a lovely sunny June day, was a paradise for pedestrians, on a network of streets full of greenery where walkers have priority over traffic.
With us were four councillors representing three of the Fox Lane area wards: Cllrs Daniel Anderson and Anne Brown for Southgate Green, Cllr Derek Levy for Southgate and Cllr Maria Alexandrou (who told us she had never walked in the middle of a road before) for Winchmore Hill. There were nine other residents from various streets in the area, including some members of Fox Lane and District Residents Association and Better Streets for Enfield. Our tour guides were Walthamstow residents Paul Gasson and Dan Kelly, who have worked closely with Waltham Forest council to shape their ‘Mini Holland’ scheme.
Here are some notes I made during the tour, which took us from Blackhorse Road underground station to Walthamstow Central, and gave us a good look at some low traffic neighbourhoods in detail.
Low traffic neighbourhoods
The focus of Waltham Forest’s Mini Holland was transforming neighbourhood streets used as cut-throughs and rat-runs into low traffic streets where walkers have priority. The area we looked at used to have polluted streets, with speeding traffic and dangers for walkers crossing the road. The streets prioritised driving even short distances over walking, cycling or scooting. Various attempts had been made to slow down the traffic, with not much success.
When the Mini Holland programme began in 2014 all of that changed. Starting with a trial in the Walthamstow area, the council used barriers in the form of trees in planters to remove through traffic from a whole neighbourhood (while still allowing access to every street by car, emergency services and bin lorries). The effect was transformational (and controversial). It was made permanent a few months later and the model was rolled out to other areas in the borough.
We saw the Blackhorse Road low traffic neighbourhood, where walking and cycling to school is now the norm. Residents had wanted to get away from just speed humps, and they embraced the change. Now street play can happen, children have the right to roam, and people of all ages feel safer cycling. These low traffic streets have created active travel corridors, for instance between homes and shopping areas, recognising that people have different skill levels of cycling. Surrounding main roads and junctions have also been taken into account to make them safer.
This was crucial. The council carried out early engagement with residents, asking residents what in general they did and didn’t like about their streets (‘too much traffic’ was a common answer). They used different types of consultation, including pins on maps and an online survey tool called Commonplace. They also ran co-design workshops with residents.
Interestingly for the Fox Lane area, we stood on a railway bridge like the one on Fox Lane. It was weakening owing to heavy traffic flow, so Network Rail were preparing to have it strengthened. Instead, the council negotiated for Network Rail to make it pedestrian and cycles only, with planting and seating. Now it keeps traffic off what was a busy road and provides a pleasant area to sit as well.
Modal filters is another name for the barriers which prevent motor vehicles entering a street but allow bikes and pedestrians through. They can be bollards, planters, gates or even trees. We saw a number of these, including one placed on two straight roads and rat runs, which could easily be replicated in the Fox Lane area. Some bollards are removable for emergency vehicles, depending on the status of road.
Lorries access low traffic roads as they would any cul-de-sac – by reversing out. Many roads have turning areas at one end where double yellow lines were already in place, so there is no loss of parking.
Junctions and planting
Planting areas such as flowerbeds and rain gardens were started by the council, and handed over to local community volunteers to keep them going. Placing planters at the corners of side road junctions, where pedestrians have priority, forces drivers to turn slowly and prevents them cutting corners. Pedestrian crossovers like the ones at the junctions on Aldermans Hill have been narrowed so only one car can pass at a time. Perhaps these could be looked at again in our area. The neighbourhoods are also 20mph throughout.
A major junction
Pedestrians are not just considered inside residential neighbourhoods. Over the last four to five years, negotiations with Transport for London have resulted in changing priorities for the very busy junction at Blackhorse Road tube station (currently under construction). Pedestrians will have priority and cyclists will be protected as well. This has already been achieved at other junctions in Waltham Forest. Cllr Clyde Loakes, deputy leader of the council, is campaigning for a 20mph limit across Waltham Forest.
This is a paradise for pedestrians - and it could happen here, if we get the Fox Lane low traffic neighbourhood we are calling for.
A Fox Lane area resident