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Study claiming there are over 100,000 kilometres of cycleways in Bristol causes confusion online

According to the French civil engineering firm Colas, Bristol has three times as many bike lanes as the Netherlands – but the study’s methodology has unsurprisingly been debunked

A recently published analysis of Great Britain’s “most cycle-friendly cities” has caused confusion online after it claimed Bristol contained over 107,000 kilometres of mapped cycleways – a quarter of the UK’s entire road network.

Yesterday, the Twitter account for a group of Labour councillors in Bristol shared the results of a study which claimed that the city was the UK’s most cycle-friendly urban area. The councillors took the opportunity to praise their own efforts in promoting active travel in Bristol as well as their plans for the future.

When examined closely, however, the study shared by Bristol Labour raised more questions than answers, and provoked some consternation online.

Undertaken by French civil engineering firm Colas, the study – entitled ‘How cycle-friendly are UK cities’ – aimed to “find out how often UK adults cycle, as well as how they view cycling infrastructure in the UK.” 

Some of the findings are genuinely interesting. Of the 2,000 people surveyed, 8% said that they started cycling regularly during the pandemic, with millennials (25 to 34-year-olds) the most likely age group to have started riding bikes since 2020.

The study also found that 60% of those surveyed did not believe that the area in which they live is sufficiently well-equipped for cycling, and said that they would welcome more bike lanes and cycle routes.

> Bristol drivers are Britain's worst for road rage, according to new research 

However, when it came to analysing how accessible British cities are for cycling, and how much these cities had invested in active travel schemes, the findings become rather baffling.

Based on a confusing, percentage-based rubric which combined the total distance and number of cycle routes and the number of collisions involving cyclists, Bristol emerged as the UK’s most bike-friendly city with a score of 89%, with the London boroughs of Hackney and Islington also achieving the same percentage.

That finding alone perplexed a number of cycling Bristolians.

Relying to Bristol Labour’s tweet, Aaron Davies wrote: “You are kidding me? I cycle daily. Around Easton, my life is endangered every time I cycle. Why? No traffic calming measures, no speeding enforcement, pavement and double yellow line parking, too few one-way streets. Measures that could have been introduced 4 years ago!”

“I can’t think of a single bit of the city with extensive and safe cycle lanes,” tweeted Connor.

Another Twitter user said: “Not sure you folks cycle often in Bristol, where is this coming from? Between buses, parked cars and traffic, it's really scary. I would like to know where you go to feel safe?”

> Dublin and London make Copenhagenize list of Top 20 Most Bicycle-Friendly Cities 

Others noted the rather eyebrow-raising numbers used by Colas to collate their rankings.

According to the study, Bristol contains 107,084 kilometres of cycle ways. To put that figure into perspective, in 2020 the total road length in Great Britain was estimated to be just under 400,000km.

As David Hembrow and David Wilcox pointed out on Twitter, that number would also mean that Bristol has three times as many kilometres of cycle paths as the entirety of the cycling-mad Netherlands, and enough to travel two-and-a-half times around the world.

Stuart Presnell wrote that, going by Cola’s figures, if each cycleway was one metre wide, bike lanes would cover 97 percent of Bristol’s whole area.

While some Twitter users assumed the use of kilometres in the statistics was a simple typo, the inflated numbers were actually the result of a flawed methodological approach.

As noted by Joe Dunckley and Simon Munk, Colas calculated the total distance of “mapped cycleways” in each city by simply adding up the length of bike rides submitted for the area to ride sharing website Bikemap.

While those behind the study didn’t seem to realise the difference between rides shared to a website and actual cycling infrastructure, they did nevertheless also calculate the total distance of cycle lanes in each city, with Nottingham apparently coming out on top of that table, with 482km of bike lanes.

A rather more reliable (though by no means fully complete) study published last week by Sigma Sports found that Cambridge – which didn’t feature at all in the top 18 cities on Cola’s ranking – was the most popular area in England to ride a bike, with 44.8% of adults claiming they cycled at least once a week. 

Colas' UK headquarters has been contacted for further comment.

Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

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11 comments

Avatar
Dingaling | 2 years ago
0 likes

They must have had Diane Abbot work the numbers.

Avatar
eburtthebike replied to Dingaling | 2 years ago
0 likes

Dingaling wrote:

They must have had Diane Abbot work the numbers.

Or Boris the Liar?   Or Rishi Sunak?  Or any other member of this, the most godawful goverment ever?

If Dianne Abbot was in this cabinet, the average IQ would go up by 100 points.

Avatar
peted76 | 2 years ago
2 likes

This whole article is both hilarious and sad at the same time.. Sad that the figure of 100,000km's might have passed through so many peoples hands and seemingly no-one has picked up on the absolute ridiculousness of it all.... in fact it's not hilarious, it's just sad, there are some seriously oblivious people around, and I bet every single one of them drives.

Avatar
Troon | 2 years ago
3 likes

Staggers me how anyone responsible for publishing data like this can be so clueless as to not immediately realise that the number was utter nonsense. "Sense checks" like this are taught in most maths curricula, and it doesn't take a lot of thinking to realise this is wrong.

For example (using one sig fig rounding), at 20km/h, it'd take 5,000 hours / 200 days / 7 months continuous riding to cover all of Bristol's purported infrastructure. Clearly incorrect.

Avatar
whatbyke | 2 years ago
1 like

And York has more than 64,000km of mapped cycleways and over 1,000 cycle routes, according to the piece about the Colas report in Tuesday's York Press. I put it down to the Press's customary relaxed approach to fact-checking, but it seems that the original figures in the report were iffy to start with. Doesn't exonerate York Press from uncritically relaying nonsense statistics, though.

Avatar
hawkinspeter | 2 years ago
4 likes

So, which is the absolute worst "cycle lane" in Bristol?

from https://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/news-opinion/most-daft-dangerous-cycle-lanes-1186314

The St Werburghs death slalom:

//i2-prod.bristolpost.co.uk/incoming/article1196419.ece/ALTERNATES/s615b/Mina-Road-death-Slalom.png)

 

Avatar
eburtthebike | 2 years ago
9 likes

Simple mistake; it is 107,084 millimetres, not kilometres, so just over 100 metres.

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chrisonabike replied to eburtthebike | 2 years ago
7 likes

...of which 40m is "non-mandatory cycle lane", 10m are bus stops, 20m are a bus lane (which only operates 9-10am and 5-6pm on weekdays, excluding bank holidays and Michaelmas) and the rest is actually a footpath with a blue bike sign stuck on it (unfortunately now lost), some of which a Mr. Smith is disputing with the council as he's always parked his caravan there.

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chrisonabike | 2 years ago
3 likes

Following Brexit the UK has levelled up so I think you'll find that 100000 dinky little European kilometres are actually now equal to four British furlongs, or 160 rods. That sounds about right.

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davwil | 2 years ago
0 likes

Thanks Ryan!

Avatar
hawkinspeter | 2 years ago
3 likes

Is it though?

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