Residents of the London boroughs of Enfield, Kingston upon Thames or Waltham Forest have noticed radical changes to their town centres over the last few years. ‘Mini-Hollands’ have been created: new cycle lanes, cycle storage and traffic calming have changed the look of streetscapes. The new road layouts were designed to replicate those in the Netherlands, where cycling is more common, and to encourage Londoners to take to their bikes. But has it worked? MPH student Jack Davies spent his summer finding out, and reports his findings here. He found promising signs that the Mini-Hollands had a positive impact on cycling in outer London, where active travel levels are generally low.
Answering the question of whether the Mini-Holland schemes have increased cycling is not straightforward. They have been developed in the context of a whole system approach to try to get Londoners to be more ‘active’ when travelling, and leave their cars at home. Across London, other changes like cycle superhighways, advertising, Congestion Charging and improvements to bus services have also changed our travel habits – so pulling out the effects of one scheme is difficult. Simply counting the users of the new schemes also doesn’t tell us much, as it is hard to tell whether these are existing cyclists simply shifting to the new routes. These are typical challenges for evaluating the public health impact of transport interventions.
To meet these challenges, I drew on three different data sources: cycle counts, brief interviews with cycle path users, and travel diary data. Pulling all three together provided more confidence in the key finding: that the Mini-Hollands had a positive effect.
The first question was whether more people were now cycling in the ‘Mini-Hollands’ (like the one pictured left in Palmers Green) than we would expect, if there had been no investment. To answer this, I used cycle counts that are routinely collected by Transport for London. Changes in cycle counts on Mini-Holland routes before and after the scheme was implemented were compared with changes on similar roads where there had been no Mini-Holland scheme. The comparison roads were in three other outer London boroughs (Merton, Ealing and Richmond upon Thames) which had applied for funding to develop Mini-Hollands, but not been successful.
Cycle counts went up in all three of the Mini-Holland borough roads, though the change was only statistically significant in one (Waltham Forest). Counts also went up in the comparison road in one borough (Merton), but went down in the two other control borough roads.
So it looked like Mini-Holland routes did have more cyclists than we might expect if there had been no investment. But the problem is that this could just reflect the fact that they are attractive routes: higher counts of cyclists might reflect existing cyclists changing their routes – not more cycling. This is where the interviews were useful, to get a sense of whether Mini-Hollands had changed anything other than the route chosen.
To find out, I spent many hours, in commuter peak time, and at weekends, standing by cycle lanes in Enfield and Waltham Forest. As cyclists stopped at a red light, I asked two quick questions: ‘How did you make this journey before this cycle path was here?’ and ‘Have you cycled more often now this infrastructure is here?’. In total, 212 cyclists answered. Most people said cycling was how they would previously done the journey – but 34% had changed their mode of transport, 26% from public transport. At the weekend, the proportions reporting previously using a car were much higher (about 1 in 5). Over half of those interviewed said they had increased their cycling levels since the Mini-Hollands had opened.
One encouraging finding was that more women reported taking up cycling than men: this is important, given that cycling in London is still more likely to be done by men. Cyclists were invited to add their own comments. These included many positive comments about the increased safety of the new routes. These comments were particularly common from women:
This survey of behaviour made it more credible that the changes in cycle counts reflected ‘more cycling’ in the Mini-Holland boroughs, rather than just changing routes. But what evidence was there that these new road infrastructures had any impact on cycle uptake more generally? If they had only affected people living near the roads, this is an expensive way to improve uptake for a small number of people.
To assess the wider impact on cycling, I used an annual survey of Londoners, conducted by Transport for London, which asks selected households to fill in a travel diary. This was used to look at borough level ‘mode shares’ for cycling. As the numbers of cycle trips across individual boroughs are small, these data are difficult to interpret. However, both Enfield and Waltham Forest saw an increasing share of trips made by cycle, whereas in all three comparison boroughs (and the Mini-Holland borough of Kingston on Thames), the cycle mode share had declined slightly since 2014.
Taken together, these findings suggest that the Mini-Hollands have had a really positive impact, within a fairly short time since implementation. In outer London, few trips (about 2%) are currently made by cycling, although it is estimated that 54% could be. We know that issues such as road danger put off many potential cyclists, and the Mini-Hollands do directly address that. It was particularly encouraging that so many people were using the cycle lanes at the weekends, and that many of these reported now using their bikes in preference to cars. However, there is much more work to be done. Changing travel behaviour away from cars and towards more active modes is essential for planetary and human health, but requires a long term strategy. Safer infrastructure is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for encouraging people to cycle. As important that cycling infrastructure is, it will not be enough on its own. However, this study suggests that Mini-Hollands have had an important and positive role so far as part of wider healthy transport strategies.
- Jack Davies is now working as a Public Health Project Officer for the London Borough of Havering.
- Follow Jack on Twitter: @Jackhealth2
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