Cycling Demonstration Towns see growth in cyclist numbers

Investment pays off as study shows more adults and kids alike taking to their bikes

by Simon_MacMichael   November 16, 2009  

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The Department for Transport and Cycling England have announced that the level of cycle traffic in the country’s first six Cycling Demonstration Towns has risen by more than a quarter over the last three years.

In a report that included research from Sustrans, the University of Bolton and Leeds Institute of Transport Studies, the DfT said that data from automatic traffic counters found an average 27% increase in the number cyclists passing them in the six towns – Aylesbury, Brighton & Hove, Darlington, Derby, Exeter and Lancaster with Morecambe. Manual counting returned an average annual increases of 4% in the number of riders.

Acknowledging that it is impossible through analysis of traffic numbers to assess the success of the initiative in encouraging people to take up cycling, Cycling England also commissioned a survey from market research firm ICM, which found 27.7% of adults in the six towns had taken to their bike during a typical week in 2009, compared to 24.3% in 2006, a 14% increase.

Moreover, the survey found that people in the Cycling Demonstration Towns were not forgoing other forms of exercise in order to get on two wheels, meaning that the local populations were on the whole becoming more active, with obvious health benefits.

One key aspect of the initiative has been to encourage children to use their bikes to get to and from school. At national level, according to the Schools Census, their numbers rose by an average 16% between the 2006/07 and 2007/08 academic years alone.

But in the six Cycling Demonstration Towns, the proportion of children cycling to cycling to school either every day or once or twice a week soared by 126% in those schools – around half the total that enjoy Bike It support, which provides a dedicated Bike It officer and Bikeability training.

The study also said that each of the towns had undertaken initiatives requiring investment additional to that provided under the Cycling Demonstration Towns initiative.

Since 2005, the latter has provided annual sums of £500,000 to all except Aylesbury, which received £300,000 due to its lower population, matched pound for pound by the respective local authorities to take average funding to around £10 per head of population under the programme.

In 2008, the initial six towns were joined by England's first Cycling City, Bristol, and 11 other towns - Blackpool, Cambridge, Colchester, Chester, Leighton Buzzard, Shrewsbury, Southend, Southport, Stoke-on-Trent, Woking and York.

The authors of the study pointed out that these are very much interim findings, and the full impact of the scheme will only become fully apparent once funding finishes in 2011, after which a final report will be researched and published. In the meantime, the current report can be downloaded from the Cycling England website.