Sustrans says that more than half of the UK’s adults believe that the country’s roads in built-up areas are too unsafe to cycle on, while seven in ten want speed limits in residential areas to be reduced to 20mph. The sustainable transport charity’s chief executive, Malcolm Shepherd, has described the findings as “yet another wake-up call to politicians.”
The results, contained in a nationally representative poll of 1,002 people aged 16+ conducted earlier this month on behalf of Sustrans by consumer research firm GfK NOP, have been released ahead of this Thursday's parliamentary debate on cycle safety, itself inspired by The Times newspaper’s Cities Fit For Cyclists campaign.
Since the questions focus exclusively on cycling in built-up areas, there may be an element of subjectivity in response levels – clearly, someone in London is likely to have a different experience and opinion than those living in more sparsely populated regions of the UK that have a significant rural population.
Indeed, there are some significant regional variations in the survey’s findings regarding the safety of the roads. Northern Ireland shows the highest proportion of those who believe they are unsafe, at 75 per cent, compared to a national average of 56 per cent.
Scotland at 62 per cent, Wales at 61 per cent and the North West at 60 per cent all also show response rates significantly higher than average.
People in Yorkshire and The Humber are less likely than average to view the roads as too dangerous to ride on, at 50 per cent.
Perhaps surprisingly given the focus of the local, and increasingly the national media on cycle safety in the capital, Londoners at roughly in line with the average at 57 per cent.
However, among those who cycle less than once a month or who do not cycle at all, London and the South East had the highest rates of those who maintained that nothing could persuade them to ride a bike, at 22 per cent and 21 per cent, respectively.
The survey found that one in five respondents, 19 per cent, cycle regularly, defined as once a month or more. By gender, 25 per cent of males and 14 per cent of females do so.
Propensity to cycle once a month or more declines with age, with the highest response being 52 per cent of those aged 16-24, dropping to 22 per cent in the next age group, 25-34, and standing at just 6 per cent among those in the oldest group, the 65+. Some 40 per cent of males and 52 per cent of females never cycle at all.
Regular cyclists are most likely to be found in the South East, at 29 per cent, one and a half times the national average, with the East Midlands at 26 per cent, the East of England at 23 per cent and the West Midlands and South West at 22 per cent also above average. Below the average were the North West with 17 per cent, as were Wales with 16 per cent, Northern Ireland on 14 per cent, Scotland at 13 per cent, Yorkshire and The Humber at 11 per cent and the North East, where only 9 per cent of people classify themselves as regular cyclists.
London was also below the national average at 15 per cent, although of course what the figures do not reveal is how many regularly commute by bicycle, compared to those who perhaps take to their bike one weekend a month.
A third of single people – 34 per cent – ride their bike regularly, dropping to 16 per cent of those who are married or living with a partner.
The survey also asked those who do not cycle regularly, comprising people taking to their bikes less than once a month as well as those who never ride one at all, 817 respondents in total, what would encourage them to ride more regularly on roads in built-up areas.
‘More care taken by drivers’ and ‘more marked cycle lanes’ came out top, with respective response rates of 54 and 53 per cent. They were followed by ‘more care taken by other cyclists’ at 46 per cent and ‘slower cars as a result of lower speed limits’ at 34 per cent, while 16 per cent claimed ‘nothing would persuade me.’
Increased provision of marked cycle lanes was particularly sought after by people in the East Midlands and Scotland, at 63 and 62 per cent respectively, while 66 per cent of those in Yorkshire and The Humber wanted to see drivers take more care.
Northern Ireland showed by far the highest response level for lower speed limits at 56 per cent, more than one and a half times the national average.
Asked specifically whether all councils should follow those that have reduced the speed limit to 20mph in residential areas, 70 per cent agreed, comprising 66 per cent of males and 75 per cent of females, with the highest response by age seen among the youngest group, the 16-24s, again at 75 per cent.
The lower limit was particularly popular in Scotland and Northern Ireland, at 81 and 80 per cent respectively, and least welcome in the East of England, where 64 per cent expressed agreement - although that is still two thirds of the people polled.
Commenting on the results, Mr Shepherd said: "People shouldn't have to feel they're taking a risk when they travel on two wheels in our towns and cities.
"This is yet another wake-up call for politicians who must act now to save lives and take the fear out of everyday journeys.
"People want to cycle more for every day journeys and they want a twenty miles per hour speed limit in their neighbourhood.
"Ministers must invest in making our streets safer for cyclists, pedestrians and drivers," he added.
This Wednesday, on the eve of the scheduled three-hour debate at Westminster Hall in the Houses of Parliament, a flashride has been organised by cycle campaigners in London, departing from the Duke of York's Steps on The Mall at 6.30pm.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.