The Battle for Enfield's Streets

By Andy Brown, posted 6 March 2018

Contact on twitter @justridethebike

We're a long way from Holland. And even when there is investment, 'that' vocal minority mean it's a battle every step of the way to get some safer infrastructure for cycling.

Just how far is the UK from being anything close to the cycling culture of Holland? Judging by the reaction to the mini-Holland initiatives in Waltham Forest (Walthamstow is at the heart of it) and Enfield in north London over the past few years a long way. JRtB has reported on Waltham Forest and mini-Holland before and, since our piece, it has flourished with some outstanding reports of success in places such as Orford Road, E17. This is a great example of what good cycling infrastructure can do in terms of creating safer streets for everyone – not just people that ride bikes. However, the response amongst the community of Enfield – ‘London’s top borough’ – has been difficult to say the least.

Indeed, according to advocate for safer streets and cycling, Clare Rogers of Better Streets for Enfield it has been something of a battle. In a nutshell, there is a noisy minority of residents that just don’t get it – a group of campaigners even took the council to court council to court three times, failing every time. The resistance and misinformation has been like that witnessed by cycling campaigners against Cycle Superhighway 9 in Hammersmith and Chiswick.

Here is some context: The Mini Holland idea was part of the Mayor of London’s 2012 Vision for Cycling and involved awarding £30 million each to three outer London boroughs to make them havens for walking and cycling. The winning boroughs were Kingston on Thames, Waltham Forest and Enfield. Enfield is just completing its first major route, the A105 (linking Palmers Green, Winchmore Hill, Bush Hill Park and Enfield), but is behind Waltham Forest due to the strength of opposition from shopkeepers, politicians (the Conservative opposition did back the plan, but did a U-turn) and residents. It’s made for a painful few years.

Since when was cycling bad for you? 

Clare Rogers’ blog piece neatly summarises the story up to January 2017. Now, things are slightly better, but the argument still rages – especially regarding the shop closures. This might need some research, but it doesn’t stand up. Big brands close and open stores despite cycling infrastructure schemes (just think about ToysRus and Maplin for example). Small, local independent shops might fail for all sorts of reasons. The arguments are not too different from the lack of informed debate amongst the House of Lords and advocated by people such as Robert Winston. The main opposition in Enfield comes from ‘Save our Green Lanes’. SOGL have whipped up a lot of opposition from shopkeepers, to the point that those who are willing to see the benefits to local business feel they can’t speak out. Allegedly, one prominent SOGL member is a business landlord who owns lots of retail units on Green Lanes. Stories have been reported that he would come in and put up anti Cycle Enfield posters in shop windows whether, or not, the business agreed with him (some simply took them straight down again).

I have a personal angle on this. I am from Enfield. So, it is painful to endure conversations with family and friends who argue that shops are closing because of the introduction of cycleways and that it makes for more, not less congestion.

The lost art of articulate debate

People don’t get it. The term ‘cyclist’ – or even ‘bicycle’ – in any public debate has become a red rag to a bull. So, what do you do? Well, Clare and her fellow campaigners, such as Hal Haines (who wrote the piece about the shops) have tended to avoid using the term at all. It is much better to focus on healthier, safer, better streets. ‘Better Streets’ became the name of the group - it nailed the main goals and, after all, not all its members cycle and in fact most of them drive. The concerns include traffic danger, rat running, air pollution, the school run, better high streets etc as well as facilitating cycling – all explained in its manifesto:  http://betterstreets.co.uk/our-manifesto/

Getting more kids active

After all, the investment in Enfield’s infrastructure does not only encourage people to ride bikes on protected bike paths – it includes more street greenery, like trees and rain gardens, more pedestrian crossings, more public realm in town centres along the route. The cycle lanes act as a buffer between the pavement and the carriageway, and by narrowing the space for cars, have effectively calmed traffic. So, the wider benefit is for everyone. In fact, even though it's not finished yet, Enfield is already seeing young and older children using the cycling lanes now who could never have previously ridden a bike on the A105.

Getting kids more active, enjoying themselves and reclaiming the streets is a huge plus. That benefit alone must be shouted from the rooftops. Or even from the top of new bus shelter. However, it takes time and the commitment of very dedicated and thick-skinned campaigners (whether they call themselves ‘cyclists’ or not).

Groups like Better Streets need the support of JRtB and its readers – for all our sakes.

Images courtesy of Clare Rogers, 2018

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