Car Ownership is Growing – Waltham Forest Edition

Following the implementation of Waltham Forest’s Mini-Holland scheme, it is worth keeping an eye on car ownership trends to see if there is any impact.  Data is only available to 2016 Q3 at the moment, but the Waltham Forest (E17) trend, highlighted in pink, shows that car ownership is not just increasing by Mini-Holland.  The rate at which car ownership is increasing, is also increasing in E17, while the same trend curve for neighbouring E4 (in light blue) is practically straight.


We will have to wait and see, but no London council currently has a target to reduce its local car ownership, or set an upper limit. As Mini-Holland doesn’t involve the removal of any resident on-street parking, it is difficult to see why anyone would sell their car for any reason of constraint of space.  So, if the pink curve trends upwards through 2017 as well, it would suggest the new sustainable walking and cycling journeys taking place are additional, or separate to existing car journeys.  While this is positive, it should not be incorrectly interpreted in a way which suggests modal shift away from the car is a “job done”, yet.

So the enormous increase in commuter cycling from the Mini-Holland area may not be part of a modal shift from cars, but a substitute for walking journeys previously made.  Increased family cycling activity may simply be additional journeys made rather than staying at home, which is of course positive.  However, this does raise the question of Mini-Holland as a template.  It produces a pleasant streetscape, and safer cycling routes. But if the wider context is increased car ownership, we do need to measure the impact of these journeys on surrounding London streets, including increased displaced traffic due to roads closed to main road access as part of the Mini-Holland implementation.

The danger is that the Mini-Holland template so many are advocating as a London-wide model has the effect of protecting and concealing local car ownership, and serves the interests of commuter cyclist at the expense of the quiet-route cyclist, due to increases in on-street car storage, often by cyclist beneficiaries of the new segregated routes.  That the many pictures (often of the same scene) re-tweeted across the Web are actually a kind of Potemkin Village, with the truth lying just outside the camera lens perimeter’s chocolate-box-filtered focus.  This includes marginalisation of the rights of the poorest, including pedestrians, as resident-only “permitted footway” parking means pensioners and those of restricted mobility without cars have a reduced quality of urban environment, and should “watch it mate, that’s my car” when passing, keeping a respectful distance.

It is important we have a data-led approach before rolling out this model across London, including impact assessments to gauge upper sustainable limits of numbers of cars owned in London, and ANPR data so that we can publish details on which council wards traffic originates from, and gradually address this in future local council policy.

Car Ownership is Increasing – Tower Hamlets Edition

There is a spirit of anecdotal evangelism abroad in planning circles on Twitter, when it comes to discussing car ownership trends in UK cities.  A typical comment will be along the lines of:

“Actually, good things are happening in our area on car ownership, it’s going in the right direction.  You high street businesses should play your best card and try to attract cyclists, even though we planners haven’t provided you with any cycle racks for visitors.”

The logic seems to be that it is OK to misrepresent an actual trend, because if you report accurately on car ownership trends then it might possibly interrupt ongoing cycle and walking investment programs. And best to conceal any collateral damage suffered by the high street as we double-think this through.

Unfortunately, car ownership is going in the wrong direction, according to vehicle licensing statistics (more recent and more accurate than census data).  The following graphs the trend in Tower Hamlets (based on postcodes E1, E2, E3 and E14):

Tower Hamlets Car Ownership Trend since 2010 (earliest available statistics)

Tower Hamlets Car Ownership Growth

So I might possibly have mentioned this before, but the trend is rising car ownership in London, and no London local authority has an objective to reduce or limit car ownership numbers.