Four in 10 Londoners (39 per cent) say they are cycling more since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new survey from Halfords – and almost all (87 per cent) are doing so either to avoid the risk of infection while using public transport or to avoid adding to air pollution and traffic congestion while driving, or both.
The boom in cycling in the capital since March is well documented, with year-on-year levels trebling at times during the first lockdown from March to June as key workers switched to bicycles for their commute and people got in the saddle for their daily exercise.
But the survey of 1,000 Londoners who own or have owned a bike, conducted for the retailer by the market research firm Opinium as part of its recently announced partnership with Transport for London, found that even more people would ride if it were made easier or safer for them to do so.
Nearly half of respondents (48 per cent) agreed that they feel unsafe on London’s roads, but a third (34 per cent) said they would cycle more if more dedicated cycle lanes were provided.
Meanwhile, 32 per cent would ride more if there were more cycle parking on residential streets, while 25 per cent would do so given more car free zones or Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs).
Other factors that would encourage people to ride bikes more include more relaxed dress codes at work, and better changing facilities there, each cited by a fifth of respondents.
Sales through the government’s Cycle 2 Work scheme, of which Halfords is one of the biggest providers, have seen strong growth during 2020 and 12 per cent of respondents say that access to the scheme would encourage them to cycle.
Another popular incentive is the government’s Fix Your Bike scheme, cited by 25 per cent of respondents, which provides a £50 voucher to help get a neglected bike – and its rider – back on the road; to date, however, only 100,000 of the promised 500,000 vouchers have been released.
Commenting on the findings Graham Stapleton, chief executive of Halfords, said: “Our survey shows Londoners have twin health concerns – the perceived risk of viral spread on public transport, and contributing to poor air quality in the city. This is helping to drive the unprecedented switch to cycling that we’ve seen since the start of the pandemic.”
Echoing a phrase employed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson back in May, he said: “We hope we really are seeing the start of a golden age for cycling in the capital.
“At Halfords we want to play our part in ensuring this change is here to stay, as a safer, healthy and greener way to travel. Since April we’ve undertaken more than 32,000 free 32-point bike checks in our London stores, helping the nation to get back on a bike.
“In London, we have seen a huge rise in interest in our Cycle2Work scheme since April, with registrations in the capital rising 95% year on year, including in e-bikes which provide a great and affordable option for those making essential commutes that might otherwise be made by car.
“Lots more can be done to remove barriers to cycling,” he added. “A quarter of Londoners surveyed would be encouraged by more relaxed office dress codes, or better changing facilities at work. A third cited more dedicated cycle lanes, and better bike parking provision would encourage them to make the switch.”
The results of the survey are published as England, and London, emerge from a second lockdown, albeit one that was not accompanied by the low levels of motor traffic or warm weather of the first one earlier this year.
The intervening period has also seen opposition – albeit by a minority – to schemes such as LTNs and cycle lanes become more vociferous and in some cases better organised and financed, and often it is Conservative politicians at the forefront of campaigns against active travel initiatives, despite the government’s backing of them.
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.