Investment in cycling is preaching to converted, say academics, as masses continue to shun bikes

Segregated bike lanes highlighted as solution to overcoming fear of riding on roads

by Simon_MacMichael   June 6, 2011  

London cyclist approaching junction.jpg

Academics claim that attempts by successive governments to get more people cycling have failed to have an effect on the wider public, who continue to consider bicycles as being either something suitable only for children, those without the means to buy and run a car, or strange types clothed in Lycra. They identified the danger posed by cycling on roads as the biggest barrier to getting people cycling, and say segregated bike lanes are the solution – a view shared by transport minister Norman Baker.

The findings come from an interim assessment of an ongoing study entitled Understanding Walking and Cycling, led by researchers from Lancaster University working alongside colleagues from Oxford Brookes and Leeds universities, which focuses on four towns and cities throughout England – Lancaster, Leeds, Leicester and Worcester, reports The Guardian.

In the interim assessment, Dave Horton from Lancaster University says: "Many people barely recognise the bicycle as a legitimate mode of transport; it is either a toy for children or a vehicle fit only for the poor and/or strange. For them, cycling is a bit embarrassing, they fail to see its purpose, and have no interest in integrating it into their lives, certainly on a regular basis."

The study is seeking to identify reasons why people in the four locations it focuses on choose to cycle, or if they don’t, what the barriers are preventing them from doing so. Questionnaires were sent out to local households, with researchers also spending three months in those places to conduct more in-depth research with selected families.

One finding of the research is that even when people do try to use a bicycle, existing road layouts that favour motorised traffic is a huge deterrent to would-be cyclists, and Dr Horton said that even those who did ride regularly could find such infrastructure to be "a dangerous obstacle course.

He continued: "The minority of people who cycle in English cities tend to do so despite, not because of, existing conditions. Some people try cycling, but are quickly put off."

As a result, many people view cycling as something to be done perhaps in the country at weekends rather than as a means of getting around on a daily basis, with those who do regularly ride in urban areas tending to be the keenest cyclists in the first place, underlining cycling’s status as a minority activity.

"Regrettably, we did not find this mass of people on the threshold of change, who only needed a little push to start cycling as a daily means of getting around," explained Dr Griet Scheldeman, a colleague of Dr Horton’s at Lancaster University.

"The hardy, Lycra-clad cyclists confirm that cycling is a very skilled practice, from which most people immediately distance themselves. So far, cycling promotion still reaches mainly that smallish part of the population that does not really need that much convincing."

Interim findings were presented this weekend at a conference called Building Cycling Culture hosted by Leicester University, where researchers from the University of East London also highlighted the outcome of their own research project, Cycling Cultures, which focused on four areas that already have higher-than-average levels of cycling – Bristol, Cambridge, Hull and the London Borough of Hackney.

The conference came just days after the Office for National Statistics revealed that three in four workers outside London still use cars to get to work, while less than one in ten used public transport, despite most commutes being of 15 minutes’ duration or less, putting many of those journeys within cycling distance, as reported by the BBC.

In the capital, longer commutes and greater usage of public transport were the norm, and the city is of course one where there has been an upsurge in people using bikes to get to their workplaces, bucking the national trend.

Meanwhile, the Daily Mail reports that the average annual cost of running a car has risen by more than 20% and now stands at £3,090, with the increase largely driven by higher fuel prices.

The Lancaster University researchers maintain that the biggest steps that they believe can be taken to encourage more people to cycle would be building segregated bike paths on key routes in towns and cities, restricting the speed of traffic and availability of parking in urban centres and also introduce strict liability legislation to protect more vulnerable road users.

"The cycling world has in the past been divided over the best way of growing cycling. But if we want to achieve high levels of cycling across our cities, this has to change,” insisted Dr Horton.

"Perhaps above all, and probably most controversially, our research has made it very clear to us that in order to create a mass cycling culture in English cities we need to segregate cycling from motorised traffic along main roads. Combined with a range of other measures, very high quality segregated cycle routes could push English city cycling from its currently marginal status towards a mass phenomenon," he added.

Roger Geffen from national cyclists’ organisation CTC told The Guardian: "This new research certainly opens up some really interesting debates about how to redesign our roads and streets to get more people cycling. But the even bigger question is how to mobilise the political will to make this cycle-friendly future a reality."

Transport minister, Norman Baker, whose remit includes cycling, underlined the coalition government’s commitment to getting more people to cycle through its continued support for Bikeability as well as the £560 million Local Sustainable Travel Fund (LSTF), introduced last year, with the newspaper quoting him as saying, "Like another Norman before me I am keen to see more people get on their bikes."

While critics of the LSTF have voiced concerns that cash-strapped councils might use money from it to help plug holes in highways budgets for example by incorporating repairs in other schemes, Mr Baker told road.cc recently that they would not be permitted to divert funds to address issues such as repairing potholes.

He acknowledged that the rate of return from investment on cycling projects made good economic sense, and revealed that according to Department for Transport research, individuals travelling into town centres by bike rather than other modes of transport spent 10% more money while they were there.

Mr Baker insisted that the coalition government was spending more money on cycling than its predecessor did on cycling, although our feeling is that the maths only work if cycling takes a huge slice of money from the LSTF – something that is far from guaranteed.

It also pales into insignificance compared to the money being spent on roads – the cost of widening a 22-mile section of the M25 between junctions 16 and 23 was said to have escalated to £3.4 billion by a National Audit Office report last November, while the new five-mile extension to the M74 in Glasgow cost nearly £700 million.

However, Mr Baker pointed to the government’s scrapping of the proposed £1 billion-plus upgrade to the A14 as evidence of its intentions.

Mr Baker acknowledged that there was massive potential for cycling in the UK as a sustainable, greener, form of transport and admitted that the one thing keeping more Britons from taking to bicycles to get around was the fear factor. As a result, he, like the Lancaster University researchers, is in favour of segregated bike lanes, as well as more purpose-built infrastructure such as the Two Tunnels scheme near Bath.
 

9 user comments

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"However, Mr Baker pointed to the government’s scrapping of the proposed £1 billion-plus upgrade to the A14 as evidence of its intentions."

Only if that money was spent on cycling instead. No guarantee that it will be, even with the LSTF.

Conscientious Objector in the War on Vulnerable Road Users

t1mmyb's picture

posted by t1mmyb [86 posts]
6th June 2011 - 13:09

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The cost of motoring goes up and up each year, yet people regard the only viable alternative form of door-to-door transport as childish and silly. I think the old apocryphal tale of the boiling frog is really a slur on amphibians, and should be changed to an anecdote involving a motorist getting poorer and poorer, and fatter and fatter, until he cannot get out of his car, or afford the food at drive-thrus.

posted by handlebarcam [527 posts]
6th June 2011 - 13:57

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I thought the two tunnels scheme was recycling old rail tunnels. Are they being built just for cycling then?

Not convinced the self-reported reasons from those families are accurate. The cycle paths next to main roads seem among the least popular. Good cycle-only or cycle-priority routes along direct quiet roads seem most popular. Segregation seems much less important than design yet they only seem to touch on it once, about junction design.

posted by a.jumper [675 posts]
6th June 2011 - 14:08

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The only way to bring cycling up to the status of a normal day-to-day activity for the masses is going to be these segregated routes.

While I personally am happy to cycle along the dual-carriageways into Glasgow, I know many would not be.

This is the tipping point we have to reach, once the choke-hold the car culture has on people is broken surely THEN we can address the issue of respect in road building and driver behaviour.

posted by mad_scot_rider [530 posts]
6th June 2011 - 16:54

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Dr Horton wrote:
Combined with a range of other measures, very high quality segregated cycle routes could push English city cycling from its currently marginal status towards a mass phenomenon.

Note "very high quality", something we have almost none of in the UK.

two wheels good; four wheels bad

posted by cat1commuter [1316 posts]
6th June 2011 - 17:08

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Adding segregated lanes is all well and good. But eventually you have to get people out of the cycle lanes and onto the roads, then you can actually get somewhere useful as opposed to the strange places that cycle lanes stop.

I don't like cycle lanes for a couple of reasons, they are poorly maintained and they don't normally go anywhere useful. Make them a coherent network in most towns and people will cycle more. Even better make them a better (shorter/quicker) network than the roads and you have an incentive to cycle.

posted by 0liver [76 posts]
6th June 2011 - 21:16

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I have to take issue with your title, "Investment in cycling is preaching to converted", because many people will not read beyond that and misrepresents the research paper.

The researchers did not say that all investment in cycling was preaching to the converted, but that information campaigns to encourage people on bicycles did. What they did identify would actually lead to more cyclists is "very high quality infrastructure", now that is proper investment, not photos of incredibly beautiful people on bikes in Hampstead Heath on the TfL website.

Same with all the people above complaining "I won't go on a cycle lane, they're crap". Well, because your local council can't tell a crank from a rack doesn't mean there aren't people in the world who can't design good cycling infrastructure. Let's hire them instead. I'll repeat it again: we need "very high quality infrastructure".

And for those who think this is expensive at £800,000 per km, the OVERSPEND on the M25 extension, that will do nothing but increase congestion and misery, is ONE BILLION POUNDS. That could have paid for over 1,000 km of "very high quality cycling infrastructure". There is the money, the know-how is a short Eurostar trip away, all we need is for our politicians to grow a pair. So get campaigning!

posted by nico [1 posts]
7th June 2011 - 10:31

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Is there any evidence that Boris bikes are changing the perception of cycling in London? Speaking to people who run successful bike share schemes in Dublin and Barcelona, the word is that bike share does entice new riders to try, and having once tried, people often stick with this new way of getting around.

Of course segregated bikeways are essential. But in the meantime, I think Bike share is a game changer.

And whilst we wait for that to be enabled here in Australia, it will take a helmet exemption for at least such bikes, I'm making bike art.

I think, in a small way Bike art of a certain sort can help. I note that in Vietnam they ride a lot of bikes and love drawing and painting bikes. There may be a connection.
http://bit.ly/mkAvzt

posted by mike rubbo [2 posts]
7th June 2011 - 16:49

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Here's a thought. As a fitness and sports coach and in to all things cycling. I would suggest that the solution is not necessarily segregated bike lanes, although i have to admit they would help. The problem is the masses obsessive aversion to being active. The bike is seen as a form of physical torture. All those hills, painful legs.etc The view is born out by speaking to many many individuals over many many years when it is suggested we go on a bike ride.

The feeling is deeply engrained. However once you get them on a bike for a regular period it is amazing the change in attitude to the bike especially if you give them some basic bike skills.

If you realise that the gym market only penetrates say 12% in to the population and there is no other truly accessible or visible place to try cycling. Although not a fan of gyms in the first place, ironic I admit, but there has to be some places where people can actually try out cycling with experts and such to instill how wrong and misguided there original perceptions regarding the bike were or are.

It is also ironic that in terms of praticipation, road infrastructure is always mention but never the ill informed feeling regarding what it is actually like to ride a bike. Personally I feel that this would be a better way to get people on a bike. It could be a basis for one of those BBC reality programmes. Just a thought.

posted by Ciaran Patrick [117 posts]
10th June 2011 - 20:09

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