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Cycling push has had little impact, research finds

Monday 6th June 2011

Government efforts to promote cycling have had almost no impact on a ‘sceptical’ population who largely view bikes as either children's toys or the preserve of Lycra-clad hobbyists, a university study has found (Guardian).

The coalition has pledged more than £500m over five years on pro-cycling efforts. But the research, from Lancaster University, indicates these reach only the small proportion of people already interested in cycling, leaving others unmoved.

The study, which investigates why people in four towns or cities around England cycle – or, in the main, don't cycle – is still being completed. The academics behind it will gather in Leicester shortly to present their preliminary findings.

Dave Horton, of Lancaster University, wrote in an interim assessment of the Understanding Walking and Cycling study: "Many people barely recognise the bicycle as a legitimate mode of transport; it is either a toy for children or a vehicle fit only for the poor and/or strange.

"For them, cycling is a bit embarrassing, they fail to see its purpose, and have no interest in integrating it into their lives, certainly on a regular basis."

The three-year project used questionnaires sent to a large numbers of households, as well as more in-depth studies about the everyday transport decisions made by dozens of families. Researchers spent three months each in Lancaster, Leeds, Leicester and Worcester.

A key finding was that the small numbers of people who do try cycling tend to be intimidated by overwhelmingly car-oriented urban layouts.

Dave Horton adds that even to experienced riders these often resemble “a dangerous obstacle course".

He added: "The minority of people who cycle in English cities tend to do so despite, not because of, existing conditions. Some people try cycling, but are quickly put off."

The study concludes that even training the young to ride safely achieves little while road conditions remain unfriendly. The only way to bring in mass cycling, the researchers argue, would be a series of hugely costly – and seemingly unlikely – measures to reshape towns and cities. Chief among these would be to build well-made, continuous, segregated cycle routes on all major urban roads and encourage people out of cars by restricting traffic speeds and parking.

Click here to read the full Guardian report.

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The final reports from all of the Cycling Demonstration Towns will soon be available. Summary results from the first 6 towns invested in between 2006-2009 seem to contradict the above piece http://www.dft.gov.uk/cyclingengland/site/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/lift-off-for-cycling1.pdf
Zsolt Schuller, Exeter

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This is a bit of related fun: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bzE-IMaegzQ&feature=player_embedded
Chris, Oxford

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The government should stop wasting money trying to expand cycling, clearly it does not work, money should be put to improving roads for all road users, especially taking out the obstacles that Derek Reynolds refers to.
Robert Bolt, Chiswell Green

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Tony - the Guardian piece is based on preliminary findings, which we are looking at to see if they warrant adding to the Knowledge Centre. The full report will be published in September and will be added to the Knowledge Centre at that time.
Nick Rawlings, editor, Road Safety GB newsfeed

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Can the full research paper be uploaded to the "Knowledge Centre" please.
Tony S Bristol

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Roads are the correct place for all wheeled vehicles – bicycles included. Everyone knows what bicycles are, and what they are for. Why some should regard them as ‘toys’ beggars belief, they are basic transport for those able to use them and quicker than walking. It really is no more complex than that. They are the cheapest form of transport for those with few miles to travel, and of shallow pocket. At one time trades people used them regularly – window cleaners and sweeps come to mind in my living memory.

That government, regardless of party, have attempted to increase the cycling population is testimony to their misunderstanding of both the population at large, their basic needs, and the road network in general. The amount of money spent on grandiose cycle paths, signage, and within Greater London – Blue paint, is folly. The Universities research comes as no surprise, at least not to this reader.

The apparent hostility towards the cyclist on today’s roads, and the feeling of vulnerability felt by some cyclists may well be due to having segregated lanes in favour of specific vehicles. In a bus lane, the cyclist is caught in a nine foot wide rut with vehicles of over seven tons using it as a rat run. On the Marylebone Road in London I have witnessed cyclists riding not in the nearside bus lane, but in the next lane out, taking central position and denying the passage of other traffic without other traffic needing to use the third – outside lane to pass. Elsewhere in Central London I have witnessed cyclists commanding busy one way systems causing themselves some considerable danger, and the rest of traffic delays and frustration. Such actions create antipathy, and all due to the promotion of cycling as ‘environmentally friendly transport’. Dedicated cycle lanes encourage the lycra clad enthusiast, and the helmeted new cyclist who wishes to ‘feel safer’, though in more rural areas the former such people are apt to ride two abreast in main traffic lanes, and the latter scared stiff by ANY kind of traffic. Lack of experience and education.

Is it any wonder the ‘cyclist’ has become a target?

Chicanes, speed humps, vehicle specific segregated lanes, priority areas at junctions – all have demands upon vital road space that cause congestion and delay. Add to this the ‘pro-cycling’ attempts by government, and the result is less road safety.

Were the roads taken back to 1960 without such restrictive measures, with all traffic making all use of all road space, and without so many being ‘wired for sound’ and further oblivious to dangers, then perhaps more respect would be shown both to and from the bicycling fraternity and road users as a whole. Unless of course, they feel they have some kind of hierarchical position for not consuming a fossil fuel.
Derek Reynolds, St Albans.

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