Cycling – What works?

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Increasing the proportion of everyday journeys made by bike is a policy aim of the Scottish Government. The First Minister announced in a statement to Parliament on 5 September 2017, that:

“For the sake of our environment and our health, we will also take further steps to support walking and cycling—active travel—by doubling the amount spent on it in Transport Scotland’s budget from £40 million to £80 million a year.”

To help raise awareness of how these funds could best be invested to drive growth in everyday cycling, SPICe has published a briefing which summarises research into effective public sector cycling interventions and looks at the experience of Edinburgh, which has the highest proportion of journeys to work made by bike in Scotland and has seen significant growth in everyday cycling over the last 10 years.

Some key findings set out in the briefing are summarised below.

Key points from the literature review

Evidence gathered through the literature review indicates that the proportion of trips made by bike (known as modal share) is best increased through the implementation of an integrated package of measures, which normally includes:

  • Long term, strong pro-cycling political and official leadership at a national and local level.
  • Cycling is seen as a legitimate transport choice and accorded appropriate physical infrastructure and policy priority.
  • Plans are in place for the development and maintenance of a comprehensive cycle network focused on facilitating everyday cycling.
  • Cycle networks are based on clear design standards aimed at ensuring direct, obstacle free travel.
  • There is a willingness to reallocate road and parking space to cycling infrastructure.
  • Driving is discouraged in city and town centres as a matter of policy.
  • Increasing cycling is part of an approach to reducing the modal share of private cars, integrating cycling with rail, bus and where available tram and subway – rather than abstracting passengers from public transport.
  • Land use planning policies encourage compact towns and cities and mixed use developments, which allow for shorter trips that are easily made by bike.
  • Cycle promotion is pursued in tandem with infrastructure development and is targeted at people from all parts of society over a sustained period of time.

Lessons from Edinburgh

Actions taken by the City of Edinburgh Council (CEC) to encourage cycle commuting can be categorised under four broad headings:

  • Creating a pro-cycling culture within CEC: The development of a pro-cycling culture within CEC has been driven by the personal commitment to cycling of key politicians and long term, constructive engagement between those politicians and their colleagues, CEC officials, SPOKES (the Lothian Cycle Campaign) and the wider cycling community.
  • Developing a pro-cycling policy framework: The development of the Active Travel Action Plan (ATAP) has provided a clear focus for action by CEC. Key to this has been setting objectives and measurable targets, identifying the actions to be taken by CEC and its partners, allocating each action a timescale for completion, a lead department and/or partner organisation for action and regularly monitoring implementation at both official and political level.
  • Delivering cycle infrastructure: A pro-cycling policy is meaningless without the means to implement it. The CEC decision to commit a rising share of the transport budget, now standing at the target 10% of total transport investment, is possibly the single biggest decision taken by CEC in support of its cycle mode share goals. It allows for the development of multi-year investment plans and large scale infrastructure projects, such as the city centre west to east project. It also acts as a funds multiplier – allowing additional “match funding” to be secured from Sustrans and other organisations, which would not be possible without this commitment.
  • Promoting cycling as a transport option: Current cycle commuters are clear that promotional activities are secondary to infrastructure development, as people are only likely to consider cycling when they feel it is safe to do so. They also felt that promotional efforts should be focused on facilitating peer-to-peer promotion and providing practical tools to enable cycling, e.g. route maps and personalised travel planning, rather than general awareness campaigns – which do not help people overcome barriers to cycling.

The effectiveness of measures to increase in cycle commuting

The availability of the safest possible cycle infrastructure, offering the highest level of segregation from motorised traffic, has the biggest influence on decisions to commute by bike. Cycle commuters were clear that current cycle infrastructure fell short of these requirements in many areas.

While advisory infrastructure has encouraged modal shift, it is not of the same level as would be produced by segregated infrastructure, as it does not offer the level of comfort needed to encourage less confident cyclists to commute by bike. The same is true of isolated sections of higher quality cycle infrastructure. If cyclists feel it is unsafe to get to and from a stretch of cycle infrastructure, regardless of its quality, they are unlikely to use it.  This is likely to limit the use of such infrastructure to cyclists that are confident enough use the roads at either end of such facilities – limiting the potential for modal shift.

Lessons from Edinburgh on growing cycle commuting

While infrastructure developed over the last 10 years has been successful in attracting more cyclists, it has not increased the diversity of cycle commuters.  Cycle commuting remains dominated by middle aged, middle class men – generally a more confident group of cyclists that are more willing than other groups to use advisory or piecemeal cycle infrastructure. Efforts to increase the number of cycle commuters should consider the provision of infrastructure, and promotion efforts, that are attractive to groups from across society.

If cycle modal share is to grow, plans should focus on the development of high quality, segregated infrastructure that will fill gaps in the current cycle network. To achieve this councillors and officials may be required to make the sometimes difficult, even potentially unpopular, decision to move/remove on-street parking or inconvenience drivers in favour of cyclists – policies which are already set out at a national and local level. Such a change in attitude would allow for the development of new continuous, segregated on-street cycle infrastructure.

Councillors and officials also have to take a wider view of policy and decision making and its impact on encouraging modal shift to bike. While land use planning policies are supportive of developments conducive to cycling, competing economic and institutional priorities have led to developments being approved that are in locations which are unfavourable for cycling, due to long travel distances or only being accessible from busy roads. Careful consideration of planning applications is required to ensure that they do not undermine cycling goals.

Alan Rehfisch, Senior Researcher; Brexit, Environment and Rural Unit