Why do cycle rates vary so much across English cities? A look at why some cities may have high cycle rates, but in others a cyclist is a rare sight.
Cycle Rates by Region.
The difference between regions is relatively small. Cycling is highest in the South East – 18% cycle once a month. Compared to 12% in the West Midlands.
Cities have bigger variation in cycle rates
A lot of the traditional northern cities like Manchester, Liverpool, Bradford, Leeds and Birmingham have very similar cycle rates, stuck between the 11-13% rate.
Within Cities there can be a large disparity. This is most obvious is within London Boroughs.
Cycle Rates Within London Boroughs
% cycling at least once a month
Possible Reasons for Variation in Cycle Rates
- Tradition / History. People are more likely to cycle when they see other people cycling. If no-one cycles in a city, perhaps you subconsciously must think there must be a good reason. People often follow habits and patterns. Therefore, there is a cumulative effect with cycle cities encouraging more to join in.
- Safety in Numbers. Related to the first reason is the strong evidence for the benefits of safety in numbers. When cyclists are more visible in a city, motorists are more likely to expect cyclists on the roads and drive accordingly. When cyclists are in the minority, motorists may check mirrors less frequently and be more likely to miss cyclists. Higher rates of cycling make it more safe, and so encourage more cyclists. If you are deciding to take up cycling, the existing popularity of cycling will be a big factor.
- Profile of Cities. It is no surprise that cities with the highest cycle rates are geographically small with limited room for road expansion. Cities such as Oxford, Cambridge and York couldn’t cope with motor cars as the only means of transport. The demand is much greater than space. This has encouraged unorthodox transport policies such as limiting car use in parts of the city centres, one way systems and expensive parking. These measures to deal with traffic growth have swung the balance in favour of cycling. For example, the Cambridge city centre has large areas where cars cannot go, so the bicycle becomes the most practical means. By contrast, large cities such as Birmingham, Leeds and Bradford, have sought to accommodate road traffic and have inner ring roads which both make driving more attractive and cycling less attractive.
- Cycle Lanes. Cycle lane provision tends to be quite patchy even in the best cities. For example, cycle lane provision in cities like Oxford and York is highly variable – from the good to useless. Some routes like the millennium bridge in York offer car free routes. But, the main arteries in Oxford and York are still shared with cars and buses.
- Cycling advocacy. Some of the cities with the highest cycle rates are ‘cycling towns’ – Places with strong local campaigns to encourage cycling.Bristol, Cambridge. Cycling advocacy and effective local campaigns may encourage people to cycle. But, there is also a chicken and egg effect, with the most popular places to cycling tending to have more people willing to start and promote cycle campaigns.
- Infrastructure. Cycle infrastructure is frequently cited as the most important factor in encouraging cycle use. If there is good cycle paths and junction designs, this encourages cycling. Campaigners point to the high cycle rates in European cities such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen and there good levels of infrastructure. This is definitely a factor, but it is definitely not the only one. For example, Plymouth was voted as the city most favourable for cycling in (Plymouth named most cycle friendly). But, it’s cycle rate was 15% – no better than the national average. Even cities with high cycle rates – Cambridge, Oxford – you will get plenty of people complaining about the lack of cycle facilities.
- Weather. I don’t think weather makes much difference. E.g. the weather doesn’t explain variance within London boroughs. It is possibly a factor in explaining why cycling is slightly more popular in southern regions than northern regions. (when it rains, I think there are less cyclists in Oxford)
- Geography. Sometimes it is argued that cities with flat topography encourage more cyclists. E.g. Cambridge with the highest cycle rates is almost flat. But some hilly cities, such as Bristol are still able to have better than national averages. Some London Boroughs with the lowest cycle rates are quiet flat. I don’t know how important this is.
- Cycling England
- Cycling statistics
- Cycle Rates
- Cycling in Bradford – a visit to a city with a low cycle rate.