The quiet streets of London

Where in the UK can you wander round streets re-designed for walking and cycling? The ‘Mini Holland‘ scheme in Waltham Forest, London E17, is one such place – you can wander down the middle of long roads with barely any traffic; listen to the birds singing and children playing in playgrounds far away from busy roads; check out pastel-coloured cycle frames in on-street bike hangars; and marvel at the politeness of drivers who move their vehicles slowly and wait for you to cross the street.

We took 14 Southampton residents on a tour of this low-traffic neighbourhood in February and our guide was Paul Gasson of Living Streets. He was a goldmine of information on modal filters, walking and cycling statistics, and bold council actions for healthier communities. He showed us quiet residential streets which used to have thousands of cars passing through every day, community art, a cycle parking hub next to the station, outdoor community spaces, a cycle superhighway, wildflower planters tended by residents, sinusoidal speed bumps and Copenhagen-style crossings for side roads.

Our aim was to allow people to experience calm & healthy streets for themselves and show that taking space away from cars is possible. We also hope this study tour will help residents engage with and support Southampton City Council’s plans to co-design liveable streets in St Denys.

“The collaboration is critical. When a community brings its local knowledge and connections, and the council brings its convening, planning and fundraising power together, real change can happen.”

Below are a selection of photos from the day together with some thoughts from the residents who joined us. We hope they will share their experience with their family, friends and neighbours in St Denys and across the city!

14 Southampton residents went on this study tour on 7th February and here are some of their thoughts:

“It’s great to see a community where things are clearly and measurably getting better. The improvements are measurable: Cleaner air (56,000 fewer people in illegal NOx zones), more active travel, traffic moving faster on the main routes, hearing children play and birds singing. Fears about change were mostly groundless. There will always be resistance. Engage with it in an open, honest and transparent way. When you get things wrong, say so. Then try again, try better.”

“I was impressed with the council’s commitment to modal filter to stop through traffic, as a I don’t think half measures produce the benefits. Also they have increased their vote which would often be a reason a council would shy away from that commitment. They have also used the proper parking and enforcement legislation to keep cycle ways clear which can be challenging for councils. All this creates a great feeling of calm about the area and such an atmosphere has to reap rewards for families and residents. There is also a sense of ownership from the residents with the artworks and planting projects. The benefits towards active travel and use of outdoor space away from road traffic and exhausts go without saying. The car journey count reductions on minor roads are impressive. The layout of St Denys and the need to tackle the rat running here means it lends itself well to such a scheme.”

  • “There were several moments during the day when I stopped and thought “how wonderful is this!” These include:
  • Walking in the middle of the road and knowing I was safe – that even if a vehicle arrived it would be moving slowly
  • The bike storage in ex-car parking slots – great to have secure storage that doesn’t involve dragging the bike through the house
  • Being able to hear the birds singing – in London!
  • A general feeling of the area being a great place to live because so much thought had been put in – about how to make it a nicer place to be
  • The special attention that had been put in near the schools – traffic reduction measures like narrowing the street, widening the pavements, putting in planting to take rainwater runoff and be nice to look at and closing off some streets in one direction or another, to stop rat runs
  • The way the pavements were continued across a junction at the same level, so vehicles knew in a physical way they had to slow down and take care (driving over the raised bit)
  • Clearly designated through routes (faster main roads) and clearly separate residential routes, where driver behaviour was changed by making it much slower and not a through route to anything except homes
  • Removal of traffic (except walking and cycling) from the small shopping street (between 7am and 7pm) and the large market – took me back to my youth 😉 – and the threat of a fine of £659. The way residents had got involved with art work and little libraries and planting schemes
  • Overall I thought that there is nothing like “being there” – to experience how my stress levels fell as soon as I entered roads which were quiet, where traffic moved slowly and where I felt safe – pictures can’t give you that.”

“I think that to be able to have such a scheme here we need to look at Southampton as a whole, hence have a long term vision, supported by the Council. Paul said 270000 people live in Walthamstow,  slightly larger than Southampton. Having pedestrianised areas in St Denys North would be ideal as the pollution is horrendous but will only work if we can reduce the amount of traffic by offering Park & Ride, and more public transport. Otherwise we will pass on our issue to another street in Southampton. I really liked the layout of the roads: ie having pedestrians, cyclists, cars on very segregated spaces. This looked much safer than having cycle lanes painted on the road. I actually gave up cycling when I reached 50 as I felt too unsafe sharing the same road as an articulated lorry. 
I really liked the artwork (paintings, mosaic), the green spaces and the cleanliness of Little Holland. If the local schools, local residents in St Denys could be involved in this, the area would be more welcoming, people could take ownership and there may be less vandalism.”

“It was great to visit Waltham Forest to see what they have achieved and I feel these ideas which have been implemented will be transferable to St Denys and city wide in order to achieve a cleaner and healthier environment.  I would like to see areas become more pedestrian friendly with more footpaths and ideas such as Copenhagen Crossings being implemented. I feel this would help to encourage more people to walk and give more freedom.”

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