Commuting By Bike


I got into cycling through riding long distances with a cycle club. The idea of commuting to school by bike never occurred to me. It would have been about a 9 mile commute into the centre of Bradford and unfortunately cycling didn’t seem very practical. I’m sure my mother would have raised many objections.

It was only on coming to Oxford that the bike became a means of getting to lectures and cycling around town. It may not always feel like it, but, Oxford is a bike friendly city.

  • There are some bike paths.
  • Distances are relatively small
  • Cycling is usually quicker than driving
  • Parking is very difficult in Oxford
  • There are many other cyclists already. I think people subconsciously have a feeling of ‘safety in numbers’ When there is a critical mass of people it encourages others.
  • Pictures of Cyclists in Oxford

There is a huge discrepency between the % of journeys taken by bike in UK cities. In some it is very high, in others very low. In America, there are some cities where the rate cycling seems to be ridiculously low. The rate at which people will cycle depends on many factors. I think the most important are:

  1. Is there a tradition for cycling in the city? As mentioned before, the sight of many cyclists attracts others to give it a go.
  2. Layout of city. Is the road system conducive to cycling? How many dangerous crossings / right turns are to be negotiated?
  3. Cycle Paths. Are there well marked and well designed cycle paths? (note I say well designed as badly designed cycle paths can be worse than useless
  4. Climate. I’m sure rain is one factor which discourages cycling. Cycle rates tend to be higher in the South, where generally it is drier.
  5. Hills. Cities like Cambridge, and Amsterdam have an advantage because of the lack of hills. However, Bristol has a reasonable % of commuters cycling, and it is pretty hilly. People often use hills as an excuse not to cycle though.
  6. Cycle Policy. I think people are influenced by cycle policy. If city councils really promote cycling then people will be encouraged to cycle.
  7. Parking. One of the biggest factors that encourages people to cycle is the fact that driving a car is difficult. My old landlord only started to commute by bike when the University introduced parking permits. If you can’t park, cycling becomes much more attractive. City with the highest rates of cycling are often old historic cities, not built for the motor car. Cambridge, Oxford, York all have good cycling rates, because the motor car is discouraged from driving into the city centres. It is no coincidence cycle rates have increased in London since the introduction of the congestion charge made it more expensive to drive into the capital. I wrote a long economics essay on the negative economic effects of Free Parking.

What other factors do you think are important for determining the number of cyclists in a city?

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