'Mini-Hollands' for London?
London's attempts to improve its cycling infrastructure looked to Europe this week, with London's mayor Boris Johnson announcing the allocation of £100m to create "mini-Hollands" in three sites around the capital. Schemes in Waltham Forest, Enfield and Kingston each received £30m in funding to support cycling infrastructure and accessibility. Johnson and the GLA's cycling commissioner Andrew Gilligan invited submissions from London's outer boroughs which sought to improve roads and junctions for cyclists, inspired by the cycle-friendly schemes of many Dutch cities.
Areas once terra incognita for the bicycle will, over time, become every bit as cycle-friendly as their Dutch equivalents – places that suburbs and towns all over Britain will want to copy" – Boris Johnson
The submissions have taken as their aim not only the improvement of cycling infrastructure, but are also looking to cut down overcrowding on existing public transport services, to reduce pollution and congestion and to improve the general public realm provision of each borough. One of the landmark schemes to benefit from this funding is Kingston's plan for a Thames Riverside Boardway- a project with similar features to New York City's High Line which will see cyclists and pedestrians moving along an elevated walkway along a railway line. Kingston also included plans for a major cycling hub and a cycle-friendly plaza outside its tube station in its funding proposal. Enfield council has proposed to build a Dutch-style roundabout with protected cycle lanes, as well as a 'cycle super hub' in the centre of the borough and segregated cycle lanes connecting key destinations in the area. Waltham Forest has proposed the creation of a new cycle superhighway on Lea Bridge Road, and the creation of cycle-friendly low-traffic neighbourhoods.
The Dutch are often held up as the pinnacle of urban cycling- with accommodating street designs and eager cyclists of all ages but, as with all idealised best practices, the mere transplanting of design elements or incentives without local support or take up capacities is never sufficient to produce the desired result. Is London's eastward gaze something that will inspire true cycling innovation in the city- or is the 'mini-Holland' tagline merely another superficial scheme which fails to tackle London's specific cycling needs? This latest round of funding, it's scale, the process by which it was allocated and its empowering of local councils to meet the needs of the local cyclists, looks positive for the capital. While Johnson pledged that his office is "determined to go as Dutch as possible", this process should not blindly mimic without addressing the key underlying structures of accessibility, inclusivity and ownership of that determine the success of any public transport infrastructure project.