Wednesday 23 September 2015

"Mini-Holland" - an outside view...

If you live in London, chances are you may already have heard of the "Mini Holland" schemes that are currently being proposed for three London Boroughs - Waltham Forest, Enfield and Kingston, and in fact has now been implemented at least in part in the first of those. Before I go any further I should mention that I am a driver. I am also a pedestrian...and a cyclist - so I am able to look at this subject with a foot in each of the three camps that it is meant to affect. (No, I don't really have three feet!)

As a cyclist, you need to have your wits about you no matter where you ride in my view. Pedestrians with no awareness of cyclists being on the road is one issue, and drivers turning straight across cycle lanes or simply turning without indicating is another. When I'm cycling, I signal my intentions, use the roads or cycle lanes NOT the pavements, and ride defensively when I'm around traffic. As a driver, one of the things that I find most annoying to have to deal with on the roads is cyclists who consider that the rules of the road - no, sorry, let me re-phrase, the LAWS of the road, do not apply to them. Going to turn left at a junction only to realise that I can't, and simply have to stop dead as I have a cyclist wobbling up the left hand side of me totally ignoring my indicator; Sitting patiently at a red light watching as cyclist after cyclist whizzes past and across the junction with scant regard for any other road user; or as happened just this morning, making a left turn into a one way street to find myself faced with a cyclist coming towards me at speed - thankfully she just managed to squeeze through the gap available without doing any damage to my vehicle*. As a pedestrian one of the things I find most dangerous is - oddly enough - Cyclists who consider that the laws of the road do not apply to them. If I cross a one way street, I look in the direction that the traffic will be coming from - yet often find a cyclist bearing down on me from the "wrong" way. Crossing the road outside the office where I work regularly - I wait for the "green man" to show at the lights-controlled crossing, yet all too often nearly get hit by a cyclist riding straight through as I cross. (On average this probably happens 4 - 6 times a month - and I'm not there every day! As a comparison, and to keep things fair for the cyclists, in 5 years of using that crossing with some regularity I have NEVER nearly been hit by a car driving through the red lights...

So - mini-Holland. It's stated aims are: (Taken from the Scheme's own website)
1.  Improve our roads to make it easier and safer to travel between areas in the borough
2. Improve and Create new public spaces to make the borough a more enjoyable place to live, and to encourage community interaction
3. Increase the number of people choosing to travel on foot, by bike and on public transport to ease congestion on the roads, improve air quality, and improve the health and well being of our residents

Although I used to live within Walthamstow I no longer do so, therefore I can't comment with any certainty on the improvements to quality of life. My interaction with the area these days is to drop Mr EH off at Walthamstow Central Station most mornings, to enable his onward travel to his workplace by public transport. I then continue to my own workplace which is outside Walthamstow. Now I can hear the tutting already....why does he not just use public transport for the entire journey?! Let me explain:
Monthly ticket from our local station to Liverpool street: £326.40 
Monthly ticket from Walthamstow to Liverpool Street: £89.90
Rough diesel cost per month Home > Walthamstow: £90.00
Rough estimate of monthly cost of running car: £50.00 (Tax, insurance, tyres, servicing)

So we are very nearly £100 a month BETTER OFF by NOT using public transport. How mad is that? It gets worse though - as that diesel/running cost figure of course includes my commuting too, and we've not even talked about the fact that we live just over 2 miles from the station so there will always be occasions when MrEH would need to get a bus to the station because of weather conditions, for example...except that we don't HAVE a bus that runs to the station! (My commute, done on public transport, would cost in the region of £200 a month, by the way, and would take around 2 hours each way minimum)

The Mini-Holland scheme has been in place now for a few months - it's been gradually taking effect as more and more road closures are being put into place. Have I noticed an increase in people cycling? No. An increase in people on foot? Well, no - as the vast majority of people who live within the Walthamstow area don't drive around it anyway unless they're dropping kids off at school - something which certainly has NOT decreased, largely I suspect because the road closures that have been put in place don't really affect the problem-areas around the schools! What I have noticed is a massive increase of traffic along the main roads - the pollution on those streets must now be horrendous with all that nose to tail traffic. Amusingly one of those roads features one of the new safer cycle-paths...hmmm! Taking Hoe Street as an example - it used to flow nicely most mornings - with traffic able to travel at 20 - 30mph without any issues other than when something unforseeable struck, such as a traffic light failure for example. I've noticed an increase in drivers behaving aggressively - I suspect as a result of frustration caused by the traffic and their inability to get where they want to go via any sort of sensible route. Mileages are increased too - I'd estimate my old route from drop-off point to parking place at being around 1.8 miles...Google maps now suggests I'm having to drive around 2.5 miles to make the same journey. 

There has been a lot of focus on how dangerous it is to cycle in London - and yes, it can be, there's no question. Yet by their very actions a lot of cyclists are happy to make it more dangerous still to be a pedestrian - we don't only have the actions of car-drivers to contend with but also the scenarios I mentioned earlier! However, as both a driver and a pedestrian the use of a decent amount of common sense can reduce the personal risk - and you know what, the same thing applies to cyclists! In so many cases where cyclists have been killed or injured by trucks, for example, it is as a result of a cyclist going up the left hand side of a large goods vehicle and being crushed as the driver can't see them when they are in the blind spot. This sort of event has a similar effect on a driver to that of a Tube Driver having a "one under" - yet people rarely even give consideration to that side of things! harmony on the roads relies on ALL users of them - whether those users are on foot or on two, or four wheels - using common sense, having a regard for others and behaving with courtesy. In my opinion without those factors, any "Mini-Holland" style scheme will just shift the problems to a different location, rather than curing them. Let's focus more on educating road users rather than preventing them going about their business, eh? 


* It should be remembered that cyclists do not currently have to carry any form of insurance. In the event of their actions causing damage to a vehicle it is left to the innocent driver to pick up the bill.