Mayor of London Boris Johnson’s promised “Cycling Revolution” in the capital appears to be well and truly under way, with a new report from Transport for London (TfL) showing that his Year of Cycling, including the launch of initiatives such as the Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme and Barclays Cycle Superhighways, is encouraging more people to take to two wheels for their daily travel needs.
The third edition of TfL’s annual Travel In London report reveals a substantial shift in modal share towards public transport and cycling or walking during 2009, with a 5 percentage-point increase in the number of trips made by those methods during the year compared to 2008.
During 2009, around half a million journeys were made by bicycle in London each day, reflecting 5% growth on the previous year, and a 61% increase on the levels seen between 1993 and 2001.
Assessing data provided by permanent automatic cycle counters on specific sections of the TfL Road Network (TLRN), cycle traffic flows were 117% higher in the 2009/10 financial year than they had been in 2000/01.
The report also highlights a huge increase in the number of people commuting by bike into Central London, up 123% from 2001 and 2009, with a 15% increase in 2009 alone.
However, it’s the chapter focusing on developments during 2010’s Year of Cycling that gives perhaps the biggest cause for optimism for cycling’s future as an everyday travel option within the capital, this gives the first detailed breakdown of who exactly is using the Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme and the first two Barclays Cycle Superhighways to come into operation, as well as their reasons for doing so.
While it might be expected that most of the scheme’s 100,000-plus members would already be cyclists who have signed up to use the hire bikes when they are in Central London, that turns out not to be the case – six in ten of the 3,500 members surveyed during September and October, in fact, had only started cycling in London during the previous three months.
Eight in ten of those surveyed used the scheme at least once a week, with two in ten using it five times a week or more, and the report highlights that one of the key groups to whom the scheme appeals are those who commute into London for work from elsewhere in the South East.
Non-Londoners are also likely to be more frequent users of the scheme than those who live in the city, with TfL saying that the initiative appears to be encouraging people who live outside the capital to cycle there for the first time, which presumably is partly explained by the hassle of taking a bike on the train to travel into London as well as concerns about finding somewhere secure to leave it once there.
TfL says that another explanation for the finding may be that the scheme has in effect provided an alternative to other forms of public transport for those commuting into the city, with the tube being the most likely mode of travel dropped in favour of the blue ‘Boris Bikes,’ particularly by those who previously would have used the underground to complete the last leg of their journey into work after arriving at one of the capital’s mainline stations.
That suggestion is strongly supported by the finding that 56% of users hire bikes in the morning peak and 62% in the evening rush hour, while two thirds cite travel to work as their purpose of travel when using the scheme.
Turning to why people chose to switch their form of transport to the hire bikes, with multiple responses allowed, two thirds of respondents said that it was quicker than other options, while just over six in ten said that it was a healthier way of traveling. The former was cited as the main reason for using the Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme by one in three users, the latter by just less than one in four.
As to who exactly is using the bikes, nearly seven in ten respondents to the TfL survey were aged between 25 and 44, with men making up three quarters of users. Six in ten had household income of £50,000 a year or more, and only 5% less than £20,000, despite four in ten London residents falling into the latter income band. One explanation of this might be the requirement of having to provide debit or credit card details to join the scheme.
Although three in ten residents of London are from an ethnic minority background, the profile of hire bike users was overwhelmingly white, accounting for nearly nine in ten of the scheme members surveyed, and TfL points out that while 57% of white Londoners never cycle, that rises to 71% for those belonging to an ethnic minority.
However, TfL says that “It is notable that women, residents of the South East of England (outside London) and to some extent people from ethnic minorities were more likely to be new to cycling in London and to have taken up cycling in the last month,” adding that with the scheme now open to casual users, it may appeal to a wider cross-section of the population.
The scheme’s success also appears to be leading to increased interest in cycling, with TfL claiming that it “has encouraged new people to give cycling in London a try, and
many have become frequent cyclists as a result of the scheme.”
TfL adds that “There is evidence of wider benefits arising from the scheme, with many of those new to cycling saying that they have bought a bike for their private use as a result of using the scheme.”
Research into the first two of the Barclays Cycle Superhighways to come into operation, CS3 from Barking to Tower Gateway and CS7 from Merton to the City, also finds that they have encouraged people to undertake their journey for the first time, with 28% of those using CS3 and 20% of those riding on CS7 starting cycling on the route after the launch of the new facilities.
Although the Barclays Cycle Superhighways have had their critics, that doesn’t seem to be borne out by the responses from those who actually use them. More than three in four of those who used the routes prior to the introduction of the Cycle Superhighways say that they have improved the safety of cyclists.
While one of the criticisms levelled at them is that they represent little more than a lick of blue paint, that opinion doesn’t appear to be shared by the users surveyed here, with the proportion of those saying that the coloured surface improves their feeling of safety outnumbering those who stated that it made no difference by two to one, at 60% versus 31%.
TfL added that people using the two pilot Cycle Superhighways were also likely to have increased the amount of cycling they do elsewhere in the city, and that “the wider cycling economy can be seen to be benefiting from the scheme as around three in ten of those cycling on the route had purchased a bicycle or cycling equipment since the launch.”
Despite the progress made in recent years, there is still a long way to go if the mayor’s targets for a 400% increase in the number of journeys made by bike in London between 2001 and 2026 is to be met, let alone increasing journey stage-based modal share to 5%.
In 2009, the latter stood at just 2%, compared to 21% for walking, 41% for public transport and 37% for private transport, almost all of that comprising journeys by car.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.