The study investigated cycle use and cycling culture in four UK cities with higher than average cycle use. – Hull, Cambridge, Bristol and Hackney (London)
- Different factors determine bike use in different cities. Hull, has a low rate of car ownership (0.72 cars per household). In Hull, cycling has traditionally been an alternative to public transport for people without cars. In Bristol, car ownership rates are higher (1 car per household) cycle use has developed through stronger promotion of cycling culture and cycling initiatives. Cambridge is relatively prosperous but has a strong tradition of cycling, and high student population. Hackney in London has one of lowest rates of car ownership in UK (0.55 cars per household) and cycling is often an alternative to public transport.
- There is no key socio-economic factor behind cycling rates. In Cambridge, many cyclists are affluent professionals, who have a car, but use a bike because it ‘makes sense’ for short journeys. In Hull and Hackney, low car ownership rates play a greater role in encouraging cycling.
- Cycling infrastructure plays an important role. Hull council were one of earliest councils to promote traffic calming schemes, 20mph speed limits and replacing lanes of motorised traffic lanes with cycle paths.
- Bike Theft is a significant cause for concern. This is especially the case in Hackney, where high density flats, makes storing bikes securely safely difficult. The report mentioned one household with 4 bikes stored inside a small flat. As the report noted. ‘An interesting thought experiment is to consider how driving would be affected, if drivers had to remember to bring their own lights and locks each time they made a journey, removing their lights again while the car was parked.’.
15 Key Findings of Report
- Compared with motorised modes, cycling creates distinctive experiences of places - Cyclists tend to be more aware of surroundings and cities than in a car where windows create a greater sense of personal space.
- Emotional benefits from cycling are important -Cyclists are often motivated by health, environmental and fitness benefits of cycling.
- Social riding creates ‘mobile public spaces’ different from individual riding. People enjoy cycling with others, this experience can encourage solo cycling
- In terms of skills, knowledge, and ‘stuff’, a lot is expected of cyclists. Cyclists have to be reasonably competent at bike maintenance and preparation for inclement weather e.t.c
- Storage issues shape and limit the use of bicycles. Fear of bike theft and safe places to store bicycles is a disincentive to cycle. Those who have experienced bike theft can give up cycling completely.
- The meaning of cycling are different in different localities. Many in Hull, associate cycling with the more traditional British club scene and long distance cycles – In the days when cycling was often an alternative to car journeys. In Hackney and Bristol, there is a sense of cycling as being an alternative activity – for example, a thriving fixed gear scene, support of independent local bike shops.
- Key life course events affect what cycling means to people – People often cycle at certain ages, and give up later when they get a car.
- Cyclists are still stereotyped and stigmatised (including by other cyclists) This is quite an interesting point. There are two types of cyclist stereotypes. The negative stereotype from motorists that cyclists don’t follow the rules of the road. The second stereotype people fear is being labelled a ‘cycle nut’ or cycle fanatic. For example, in a blog, they report one response to questions of what a proper cyclist is ‘Oh I would say an avid cyclist is somebody who like, they live and breathe it really. You know the sort, you’ll see them when you’re driving somewhere going up a really steep hill and all you can see is these legs like tree trunks (laughter)’. [link]
- Cyclists are often judged by the way they dress. A widespread understanding that cyclists will get judged on how they dress, how they look. What they wear and don’t wear. What cyclists should wear is often a hot topic. (Imagine if motorists were always being judged for what they wore when they got in a car. This judgement comes from other cyclists as much as anyone else)
- In some contexts, cycling is being redefined as aspirational – Traditionally cycling has been used by those who can’t afford a car or petrol. But, increasingly cycling is seen as something middle-class. In Hackney cycling is a seen as a sign of affluence because it means people can afford somewhere to store a bike!
- Personal support plays a key role. To get started, most people relied on support, encouragement of fellow cyclists. This is why cities with high cycling rates can encourage more to get started.
- Advocacy, activism, and organisations matter It matters in terms of infrastructure created. But, also whether there is a positive image created of cycling.
- Utility cycling’ can limit our understanding of cycling practices and motivations Even in utlity cycling, e.g. commuting a strong motivation is the enjoyment gained from fresh-air and being outside.
- Cycling policy is shaped by broader ideas about social and public policies. Cycling is essentially left to local provision. There is no national co-ordination of cycle policy like there is for roads.
- Existing everyday cyclists in higher-cycling areas have a lot of ideas about improving cycling. Although there are a wide range of ideas what should be implemented.
It is encouraging to see some shift in perceptions of cycling in the UK during past two decades. The response of people to cycling varies enormously. The relative success of cycling in some cities shows that it is possible to encourage and increase cycling rates. What the report didn’t look into are cities with incredibly low cycle rates. For example, my visit to cities like Bradford showed that cycling was so marginal you might not think cycling was possible.
My own city, Oxford, is a similar story to Cambridge. Relatively well off. People cycle simply because driving isn’t always so practical. Rates of cycling are boosted by the number of students, who in theory are not allowed cars. The limited size of historic city has forced council to limit traffic in certain areas. There is a reasonably vibrant cycling culture and advocacy group which help to raise cycling issues.
It is interesting to see the different factors that motivate people to cycling. And it’s interesting to see what puts people off cycling.