This is a guide for policymakers to enable Harrow to break free from the vicious cycle of car dependence, overcome resistance to change, and become a healthier, happier place to live.
- Increasing walking and cycling, and reducing car travel, are essential to protect the environment and meet Harrow’s goal of a healthier, happier, more sustainable community.
- Surveys show that there is broad public support for measures to provide protected space for cycling even if it reduces space for motorised transport.
- A vocal minority will oppose any scheme that meaningfully improves conditions for active travel. The council should not degrade the quality of schemes in an attempt to gain everyone’s approval.
- Most people respond to consultations based on how they feel rather than according to a logical argument. Active travel schemes should be promoted with a clear story of benefit for public health or road safety (e.g. enabling children to walk/cycle to school safely).
- Health, education and disability organisations must be involved in designing and championing walking and cycling schemes.
- Harrow needs to activate a virtuous cycle by providing:
- Better walking and cycling infrastructure, including school streets, cycle lanes, low traffic neighbourhoods and 20mph speed limits.
- Supporting measures to enable and encourage people to switch from driving. This should include improving access to cycles (cycle hire and parking), cycle training and signage, and discouraging car ownership (controlled parking zones, car clubs).
- Education and promotion of walking, cycling and car-free lifestyles in all council communications. Councillors and senior officers should also promote walking and cycling through their own travel behaviours.
1. The need to increase active travel in Harrow
Public health and road safety
Harrow’s residents deserve a street environment that is safe and encourages healthy physical activity. Harrow’s Health and Wellbeing strategy  has a vision for a ‘happy, healthy borough’, and aims to halt the rise in obesity by 2025 through a multi-factorial focus on prevention. Harrow’s Transport Local Implementation Plan  aims to increase the proportion of Harrow residents doing at least 20 minutes of active travel each day to at least 34% in 2021 and 70% in 2041 (currently 25% according to 2014-2017 data). Only 7.4% of adults in Harrow cycle at least once per week – one of the lowest levels in London , and 30.1% of adults are physically inactive.
Physical inactivity is a major cause of ill health for Harrow’s residents. Almost 10% of Harrow’s population is diabetic – the second highest proportion in England , and almost 8% are obese.
Harrow scores as one of the worst boroughs in the Healthy Streets Scorecard , showing that the street design and borough’s policies do not encourage walking and cycling. Car traffic in Harrow has increased by 60% in the past decade (see below), and serious cycling casualties doubled in 2020 compared to the previous 3 years .
Protecting the environment
Recent flooding in London and on the Continent have brought home the effects of the climate emergency, and the need to reduce transport-related emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants, and also mitigate the effects of extreme weather. An important goal is to reduce motor traffic in favour of active travel. Electric cars are only a minor part of the solution, as they involve considerable carbon dioxide emissions through their manufacture and electricity generation, and apart from reduced tailpipe emissions, they have all the other disadvantages (road space, danger, congestion) of petrol or diesel cars.
Harrow’s Climate Change Strategy  states: “Cycling in Harrow has the weakest mode share but offers the greatest potential to increase the uptake in sustainable transport.”
Thus Harrow’s overarching policies all point towards a need for increased active travel and reduced car use. However, the recent removal of the Streetspace low traffic neighbourhoods and cycle lanes was not in accordance with this strategy, and was contrary to statutory guidance regarding such schemes .
2. Public support for walking and cycling
Numerous population based opinion polls and surveys have shown that the general public strongly supports the creation of safe cycle lanes and low traffic neighbourhoods.
For example, in the most recent wave of the National Travel Attitudes Study , 64% supported the creation of dedicated cycle lanes in their local area, even if this means less road space for cars, and only 19% were opposed. Similar results were found in a UK-wide survey of adults in November 2020, with 56% support and 19% opposition to COVID-19 active travel measures . A recent survey asking outer Londoners about low traffic neighbourhoods also showed a majority in favour .
3. Handling opposition to cycle schemes
Some motorists demonstrate by their actions (by driving dangerously) that they do not care about the safety of other road users, and have negative attitudes towards cyclists  . Motorists with negative attitudes towards cyclists will likely oppose any improvements that make cyclists feel more welcome on the roads. They may try to justify their position publicly by arguments that appeal to the wider public e.g. that cycle lanes are underused, but these are flawed arguments.
However, unless there is clear and consistent messaging from the council, there is a risk that the vocal arguments of motorists may gain popularity among the wider public, leading to a perception that the specific scheme is poorly planned. This happened during the Streetspace programme.
It is important to ensure that schemes are well communicated, but impossible to achieve complete consensus on any scheme. A recent letter from the Department for Transport to local authorities emphasises “Consultation does not mean giving anyone a veto, requiring consensus on schemes, or prioritising the loudest voices” . Furthermore, the guidance states that “consultations are not referendums”, and if there is a need to ascertain public views, this should be done by “objective methods, such as professional polling to British Polling Council standards, to establish a truly representative picture of local views” . The guidance also states that decision making should be based on objective evidence, not solely on consultation responses.
4. Promoting the benefits of walking and cycling schemes
Harrow council needs to promote walking and cycling schemes with a clear story of benefit for public health or road safety, such as making it safer for children going to school.
Schools (especially secondary schools) are an ideal focus for cycling schemes because teenagers enjoy the independence of cycling and are old enough to be involved in designing and advocating for the schemes, but are too young to drive. More children cycling to school can be defined as a clear benefit of the scheme.
We recommend that schemes should be designed and marketed as ‘complete’ schemes incorporating all the measures to create end-to-end safe walking and cycling routes, so that people understand the benefits. This is what happens in every other transport intervention – no tube line is built without trains or stations, so why would a temporary cycle lane be created and then removed without linking it to the surrounding area?
People tend to respond to consultations based on how they feel rather than according to a logical argument. The key to gaining a positive response is to ensure that the schemes give people a positive feeling from the outset.
The Streetspace schemes were not well received because there was limited dialogue with relevant stakeholders in the design of the schemes, and hasty retraction of schemes gave a negative impression of the whole programme. For example, Nower Hill School is supportive of improving safety for children walking and cycling along George V Avenue, but the council’s original cycle lane design was presented without any consultation and led to an initial negative reaction. The school is in favour of a revised cycle lane design with pedestrian crossings proposed by Harrow Cyclists.
5. Working with health, education and disability organisations
We recommend that the council prioritises engagement with health and education organisations in Harrow, and provides a formal avenue for public health and children’s needs to be incorporated into decision making. Schools and healthcare organisations have a statutory duty to protect the health and safety of students or the general public, and they can ensure that interventions are seen as being in the public interest rather than politically driven. They can also be involved in the delivery of interventions, such as promoting active travel to school, and social prescribing by general practitioners.
We also recommend that the Council engage with Harrow’s disability organisations to ensure that streets are designed to be as inclusive as possible , and to avoid disability issues being raised by opponents to active travel schemes. There is a popular assumption that all people with disabilities travel by car, but a TfL report shows that car ownership is lower among people with disabilities than the general population . Safety measures such as dropped kerbs, pedestrian and cycle priority at junctions, well-maintained footways clear of obstructions, and less motor traffic on residential roads are essential to enable people with disabilities to travel as independently as possible.
6. A strategic approach to increase walking and cycling
Harrow’s road environment is currently hostile for walking and cycling, which means that few people walk or cycle, and there is little understanding of measures to increase walking and cycling. When good infrastructure was created during the Streetspace programme, the opposition was so vocal that it was removed before it could achieve a benefit.
Lack of supporting measures also make it more difficult for people to switch from driving. Harrow has no residential bike parking hangars, cycle training is currently not running, there is no bike hire or ‘try-before-you-bike’ scheme, and very few car clubs.
Harrow is currently stuck in a vicious cycle of car dependence.
Improvements aimed at any one of these three problems will have only a limited effect. For example, improving cycle parking will only enable people to cycle if they are already confident cycling among traffic. Improving infrastructure may be politically difficult if there is poor public understanding of the benefits of walking and cycling.
Reversing this cycle requires strong leadership and a strategic approach in which schemes are built to show early benefits and increase support for subsequent schemes. It is also important to act on all three factors simultaneously to convert the vicious cycle of car dependency into a virtuous cycle of active travel:
6.1 Creating better walking and cycling infrastructure
The 5 key infrastructure measures for improving active travel are described in the on the Healthy Streets Scorecard website :
Low traffic neighbourhoods
Low traffic neighbourhoods (networks of minor roads which are inaccessible for through motor traffic) are extremely effective at increasing walking and cycling, but can also be politically difficult interventions. They are complex behaviour change interventions that require careful planning – see detailed recommendations.
Borough-wide default 20mph speed limit
The existing 30mph default speed limit is outdated and not evidence-based. The World Health Organization recommends 20mph as the limit wherever motor traffic and vulnerable road users mix , and many outer London boroughs (e.g. Croydon, Ealing, Haringey) and other UK towns have already taken this step . With a default 20mph limit on most roads, higher speeds are only permitted on major roads with segregated walking and cycling provision where it is safe.
Use kerbside space for public benefit, with controlled parking zones
Small area controlled parking zones (CPZs) improve road safety by reducing obstructive and dangerous parking and encourage a reduction in car ownership. However, Harrow council currently makes decisions about CPZs by local referendums, which has led to patchy CPZ coverage. Referendums are inequitable because those whose safety is affected by dangerous parking (e.g. disabled people and children) are outnumbered by those who are being asked to voluntarily give up a council benefit of free road space for storing their private property. Consultations on road schemes should not be treated as referendums, as stated in DfT guidance .
Car clubs should be provided throughout the borough to enable people to become car-free while having access to a car when needed. This will reduce the amount of road space used for storing cars, which are idle most of the time .
Comprehensive CPZ coverage would generate much-needed income to fund improvements such as street trees and rain gardens, particularly in areas where residents may not be able to afford the council’s tree sponsorship scheme . Rising temperatures and the increasing risk of extreme weather (particularly floods) makes it essential to provide at least 40% tree canopy cover equitably across the borough. If possible, street trees should be planted in rain gardens created from de-paved car parking spaces, rather than in narrow tree pits surrounded by paving. Other beneficial uses of kerbside space include benches to enable people to stop and rest, secure residential cycle parking, and short-term cycle parking.
Cycle lanes, better junctions and pedestrian crossings
Safe cycle lanes conforming to the LTN 1/20 standard  are essential to make cycling a viable mode of transport. Many of the cycle lanes in Harrow are unprotected advisory lanes which are narrower than the minimum standard, and may actually increase danger for cyclists by encouraging motorists to overtake too closely. Many of Harrow’s major road junctions lack a pedestrian phase or safe facilities for cycling. A motion to provide a pedestrian phase on all signalised junctions was recently passed by the London Assembly .
We recommend that cycle lane schemes are ‘packaged’ with improvements for walking (e.g. better pedestrian crossings) when presented to the public, and where possible designed around a particular school or hospital. This will make it easier for people to understand the benefits and it will be possible to achieve modal shift by engaging with the organisation itself, which can champion the scheme.
We recommend that schemes which will achieve the greatest modal shift from driving to active travel should be prioritised. These schemes should improve routes that have high desire but are currently poorly provided for.
School streets and safe routes to school
School streets create low traffic zones near the school entrance at the start and end of the school day, and are effective at encouraging active travel for journeys to school. In Harrow, school streets are the only Streetspace interventions that survive, and this was because they were championed by the schools and had a very clearly defined benefit. Protecting children from dangerous traffic and pollution is a concept which most people agree with, and are willing to accommodate.
6.2 Enabling and encouraging people to use active travel
People need to have access to a cycle and know how to ride one in order to be able to use cycling infrastructure. Free cycle training (including in schools) is essential, and the following measures can help to improve access to cycles:
Secure residential cycle parking – particularly for people living in flats, as cycle theft is a major problem. They should be funded through car parking schemes, and the cost of storing a cycle should be much less than storing a car, given that a cycle uses up so much less space.
Try before you bike – cargo or adapted cycles are expensive to buy outright, so people need the option to be able to try them out and pay in instalments. The ‘try before you bike’ service offered by peddlemywheels , which many London councils have signed up to, allows people to try out a cycle and hire it by the month. The council should also sponsor the development of cycle recycling. There are many cycles lying idle in garden sheds which could be repaired and resold at a reasonable price, enabling people on low incomes to have easy access to cycling.
Cycle maintenance training, Dr Bike events – this can help to address the fear of cycle breakdown and punctures. There is a need for more qualified cycle mechanics, and a scheme to train unemployed people to become cycle mechanics would be greatly beneficial.
6.3 Educating the public and promoting the benefits of active travel
The council should promote active travel and a car-free lifestyle in all communications. Councillors should lead by example by taking steps towards active travel themselves, such as using the council’s cycle training and hire services, and walking and cycling for their own journeys. The council should also educate people about the harms of car dependence.
Harrow council also needs to gather more information on the need for active travel measures to address road danger. Casualty statistics show only the tip of the iceberg – the majority of dangerous driving and bullying of vulnerable road users is unreported, but can profoundly affect people’s willingness to walk or cycle.
We recommend that the council prioritises engagement with health and education organisations in Harrow, in order to provide a focus for engagement activities. They can ensure that interventions are seen as being in the public interest rather than politically driven. Better public understanding and more people walking and cycling will increase public support for more infrastructure.
The role of voluntary organisations
The council should work with voluntary organisations that are relevant to all three aspects of the work in order to maximise the success of interventions and help bring residents along the journey.
Encouragement and training – organisations such as Harrow Cycle Hub (helping people to get into cycling), Evolve (Muslim women’s cycling club), Breeze (led bike rides for women), Kenton Road Club (road cycling club) and bicycle user groups at institutions encourage and assist people taking up cycling.
Promotion and education – groups and organisations that work for environmental causes can help promote the benefits of active travel.
Infrastructure design – voluntary organisations such as Harrow Cyclists, Harrow Association for Disabled People and Living Streets can contribute lived experience and knowledge of best practice. Their input should be sought throughout the design process, not just at the final consultation stage when it may be too late to amend a design.
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