The UK Government’s Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy argues that “some have seen cycling as a niche activity”. Press coverage of cyclists generally focuses on serious or fatal collisions both of cyclists and pedestrians, or road rage incidents captured on helmet-mounted cameras, which serves to reinforce two key barriers to cycling; safety and culture. The Government’s £1bn fund to 2022 seeks to address these barriers through improved cycling infrastructure, and through the provision of bicycle training and education.
Whilst walking and running to work is easily achievable, and myth-busting about cycling has its place, cities need infrastructure investment to persuade more inhabitants that cycling to work is a safe option. In Copenhagen, ranked the most bike-friendly city in the world, £240m has been invested over the past two decades in the city’s efforts to reach 50% of all commuting by bike by 2025. In 2017, bikes outnumbered cars in the city centre for the first time. This success though is breeding new issues with bike jams becoming prevalent on popular routes.
The proliferation of flexible bike-sharing schemes within cities, including short-term hire options with and without fixed docking stations, allows anyone to jump on a bicycle at any time. London’s ‘Boris bike’ scheme is the best known in the UK, but has been joined by private providers such as Ofo and Mobike. While city bosses may well be pleased to see private entrepreneurs entering the market, schemes have not been without their teething troubles – for example, Ofo have, for now, have pulled out of both Leeds and Sheffield. Mobike has also withdrawn from Manchester owing to bike theft, but will continue to operate in Newcastle. In Birmingham, as in London, the public sector has ended up taking the lead.
Employers keen to attract health-conscious employees can assist. Cycling UK offers Cycle Friendly Employer certification allowing employers to measure up their scheme against the only international standard for workplace cycling.
There is growing recognition of cycling as a useful and cheap method of travel within cities. Transport for London report that between 2000 and 2016 the number of trips made by bicycle increased from 200,000 to 600,000 per day. This represents a modal increase of 136% over the same period, yet amounts to just over 2% of all trips per day in London. If that rate of growth were to continue, then we could expect 1.2 million bicycle trips daily in in London by 2040. Some may argue that the investment in cycling represents poor value for money, given the still minor proportion of all trips currently taken by bicycle.
But advice from a variety of sources, including the NHS, suggests that the health benefits of cycling are enormous; and modal shift from vehicles to cycling has a wider benefit of improving air quality; a study by Kings College London into the potential benefits of the Waltham Forest ‘mini-Holland’ scheme suggests that the life expectancy of every Borough resident will increase by 1.5 months.
Furthermore, we are only just beginning to appreciate the technological and commercial benefits of cycling for our cities. Improvements in battery technology have enabled light yet powerful electrical engines to be added on to bicycles, improving the viability of cycling as a genuine transport option for people with physical impairments, and for the transfer of heavier loads. Operators are now positioning cycle couriers as last-mile bulk delivery solutions – with the Department for Transport running a “call for evidence” to understand the opportunities of this. Sainsburys recently trialled the use of electric cargo bikes in lieu of their traditional online shopping delivery vans.
We reckon that a substantial increase in cycling (and bike hire schemes) is likely in most cities by 2040, with potentially significant implications for the character of our city streets as road space is reallocated.