There is a large latent demand for cycling that is not being realised because of safety concerns
Just 2% of trips under 2.5km are cycled in the UK, compared to 14% in Germany, 27% in Denmark and 37% in the Netherlands (Pucher and Buehler).
Research by Transport for London found that only 7% of 'potentially cyclable' trips in London were currently cycled, and that safety (the lack of it, more precisely) is the greatest barrier to cycling.
A large DfT survey carried out in December 2009 found that:
- 60% of people who can ride a bike say it's too dangerous for them to cycle on the roads, including 71% of women and 72% of those aged 60 or over.
- 52% agree they would cycle more if there were more dedicated cycle paths (30% disagree).
- 86% of people say that cycling is the least safe form of transport.
In 2011, two thirds of people in the British Social Attitudes survey said they were not very or not at all confident about cycling on the roads (DfT table).
Research shows that high quality, separated infrastructure is safest and most popular
- "The key to achieving high levels of cycling appears to be the provision of separate cycling facilities along heavily travelled roads and at intersections, combined with traffic calming of most residential neighbourhoods". Pucher and Buehler, 2007
- "Consistent with gender differences in risk aversion, female commuter cyclists preferred to use routes with maximum separation from motorized traffic. Improved cycling infrastructure in the form of bicycle paths and lanes that provide a high degree of separation from motor traffic is likely to be important for increasing transportation cycling amongst under-represented population groups such as women". Garrard et al, 2008.
- "The greater the physical separation from motor vehicle traffic, the higher the women's share of cyclists". Pucher et al, 2010.
- "The lower risks on quiet streets and with bike-speciﬁc infrastructure along busy streets support the route-design approach used in many northern European countries. Transportation infrastructure with lower bicycling injury risks merits public health support to reduce injuries and promote cycling". Teschke et al, 2012.
We have a severe shortage of the right kind of cycling infrastructure
The under-utilisation of bikes for short trips, the survey findings on subjective safety and the high casualty rate in places where cycling is more popular all point to a widespread and severe lack of high-quality cycling infrastructure in Britain.
To get Britain cycling in safety central government must urgently address this deficit by
- Revising DfT cycle design guidance so that high-quality, Dutch-standard cycling infrastructure is given the highest priority;
- Making available sufficient ring-fenced funding to introduce high-quality separated cycling infrastructure in towns and cities across Britain in the next five years;
- Allocating this funding through a competitive bidding round in which funding goes to the proposals that combine the highest quality design with the greatest impact in terms of current and potential cycling demand.
Leadership from central government is vital
Many local authorities lack understanding or expertise in designing for cyclists, and in many parts of the country so few people cycle that they hardly impinge on local political consciousness at all. The fastest and best way to get local authorities to act is for central government to provide the right funding and the right guidance.
Higher rates of cycling will save people money and bring wider benefits
- In total, people in Britain cycle about 3.1 billion miles a year (DfT).
- But on a per person per day basis, people in the Netherlands cycle about 12.5 times as much as those in the UK (Pucher and Buehler).
- That suggests that if people in Britain individually cycled as much as the Dutch we'd cover about 39 billion miles a year.
- According to these figures from Edinburgh cycling saves you between 55p and 60p per mile compared to driving, taking all costs into account.
- So people in Britain are already saving almost £2 billion a year by cycling instead of driving, but if they cycled at Dutch rates they would save over £20 billion.
- These figures may be a touch too high, since there are other (and usually cheaper) alternatives to cycling than the car. They're also fairly dependent on volatile variables like petrol prices.
- But they also exclude the wider social and environmental benefits of cycling and driving, which are very large (even taking into account higher average casualty rates from cycling), perhaps three times as high as the private cost savings (Figure 3.1 here).
- So it's probably fair to say that achieving cycling rates akin to those in the Netherlands would deliver private and social benefits to the value of tens of billions of pounds.