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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.


  1. It is worrying to see rising car ownership, but I would urge you to visit the Blackhorse Road area, which is outside the ‘village’ which gets all the awards and is always photographed. It’s a poorer area but the transformation due to filtered streets is pretty breathtaking

    1. I don’t doubt it and I wish your local community well for those improvements. However, the wider picture is that we appear to be transitioning to a Dutch model – which includes high levels of car storage and higher levels of ambient outside pollution in Amsterdam than, for example London.

      We are also experiencing a fairly callous approach to how small businesses are treated during the period of transition, while motorist custom remains significant, in some areas still the majority of disposable income. This transitional period supposedly started 20 years ago (with cpzs) but we still don’t actually have a transitional policy. The subject is always discussed in terms of the idea that cyclists and public transport could, one day, replace all motorist custom. Meantime, a whole generation of business owners and locals reliant on their goods and services has paid the price for this moral luxuriating.

      There have been consequent deportations, decimation of the high street, de-skilling of local economies, and increasing domination of the kerbside by local car storage at the expense of local walkability.

      If I visited, I would enjoy Blackhorse Road and Orford Road as self-enclosed, non-threatening spaces, safer for children. But I would also note the refusal of local residents to abandon their cars (which they then drive in other people’s areas) and the lack of sectoral diversity of the local high street with damaging effects that you can’t normally see if you have a full-time job in Central London.

      Because of these things I would not be able to enjoy the area, as the selfishness of the proposition – where there is no need of conflict between fair provision for businesses and cycling infrastructure – would be unforgettable.

  2. You call for a data led approach but then misuse data to try to make your point. You can’t draw any of the conclusions you’ve made from the data you’ve given. You are drawing conclusions about journeys when the graph shows car ownership. That’s a different thing. For a start, as you’re aware, most cars spend most of their time stationary. An increase in cars in the borough doesn’t directly translate to a corresponding increase in journeys by car.

    In addition to that, you haven’t adjusted those figures for the growth in households. The data above appears to be showing about 1500 additional cars over a 3 year period for E17- 500 per year.

    The GLA forecasts growth in population in E17 of about 4000 per year over the next 4 years. Lets assume that’s been the same over the period you’re looking at above. Average household size is 2.6 (same source). Assume that stays the same (actually it’s probably lower as likely growth is in small flats rather than houses). That gives you about 1500 new households. The borough is becoming more densely populated but only 1 in 3 new households has a car.

    So – E17 (and presumably E4) is growing. Only 1 in 3 of new households has a car. That’s lower that the average for E17 so actually the growth shown in that graph means the overall pecentage of households in E17 with access to a car is falling.

    Yes, the fact that its’ growing in real terms is still a problem but “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.” is pure supposition. It’s not backed up by any data.

    1. “Yes, the fact that its’ growing in real terms is still a problem but … ”

      There is no but. That’s the null hypothesis right there, because the number of cars bought and stored in a finite space where there are life-threatening congestion and pollution problems, is increasing. The virtuously-low motoring percentage of new households is irrelevant unless you can show an inverse correlation between the number of households with cars, and journeys made, which is not intuitive. In terms of the pure supposition, I don’t need to back up the possibility it is not a modal shift. The point is, the modal shift is not proved, therefore it cannot be asserted as a transition from car use to bicycle use by Mini-Holland advocates who own cars. More cars is more cars.

      None of this is to oppose any of the improvements made in Waltham Forest. There is simply no proof of modal transfer from car use, as asserted by many, and this is what my blog post states.

      In terms of the cars being stationary most of the time, 95% of the day motionless (cf Donald Shoup) still allows for 1 hour’s driving per day, allowing for a supermarket trip or school run every day. But that is not the point. Domination of the kerbside and public space causes economic damage, interrupts pedestrian vectors, generally degrades the environment and creates dooring pinch-points for cyclists. They discourage active movement, and are therefore part of the obesity epidemic, an even greater threat to health than pollution, in London. In my opinion, the damage done by stationery cars is often greater than when they are in motion, polluting, due to these factors and the obesity which they are encouraging.

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