International evidence

What actions are needed to boost cycling rates rapidly?

Cycling under human power is, for day to day utility trips, a short to medium distance mode of transport, and this is acknowledged in CAPS insofar as it recognises that the biggest potential for growth in cycling is in Scotland’s urban areas, where average trip lengths are shorter. This is also recognised in Cycling Scotland’s 2015 International Comparator Study of what has brought about change in cycling in other European cities and countries, in the following quote (page 5):

“Most policies that increase cycling and make it safe are implemented at the local level. National governments, however, influence cycling through national cycling policies, dedicated funding, traffic regulations, roadway and bikeway design standards, and dissemination of expertise.”

The policies found by this report to have increased cycling rates are as follows:

  • Pro-cycling policies backed up by funding at the national level but also for key cities and regions
  • Provision of continuous, direct, well-designed, safe infrastructure, segregated from motor vehicles on roads where their speeds are higher.
  • Cycle training.
  • Events to support cycling to schools and workplaces and promote cycling more generally.

Of these, the most essential were found to be the second and then the first; without them, the effectiveness of the others was much reduced (page 74):

“The evidence strongly indicates that, to grow cycling appreciably, the primary investment focus should be on enabling cycling through changing the physical environment (e.g. providing protected cycle tracks and/or managing motor

traffic)”…[but] “cycle training – while an important tool in growing cycling - is not a

substitute for physical measures to make cycling both be and seem safer.”

 It should be noted that the advent of the electric bike has increased the range of cycling trips and thus its suitability for interurban and longer rural trips. However, countries such as the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Germany where electric bikes are increasingly used for such trips are places that have well developed cycling infrastructure, so the conclusion of the International Comparator Study about the importance of infrastructure remains valid even in the light of the electric bike.

These conclusions are backed up in a paper dealing with the experience of German cities in increasing cycling in the short period from 2002 to 2008 (Lanzendorf and Busch-Geertsma, 2014). These authors were clear that a significant increase in funding spent on improving the physical infrastructure and on accompanying campaigns and public awareness measures were the key actions in raising cycle mode share in Munich, Frankfurt am Main and Berlin in this period. (The greatest growth was in Munich with 11% of all trips by bike in 2002, rising to 15% in 2008.)

As a final note to this chapter, is important not to neglect the role of land use in facilitating active travel. If urban areas are dense then, all other things (for example, quality of active travel infrastructure, or car ownership) being equal, average trip distances will be lower than in less dense areas, and short average trip distances lend themselves to being walked and cycled. For example, the proportion of trips made on foot by residents of the central City of London averaged over the years 2014 to 2017 was 57%; for the inner London Borough of Wandsworth, 35%; and for the outer London Borough of Bromley, 23% (Transport for London 2018). Whilst not entirely a product of urban form, land use density and trip lengths play an important role in producing these travel patterns. Melia et al (2012) cite data from England, a number of Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands that highlight the same issue: both higher density and shorter distance of a location from the town or city centre are associated with higher rates of active travel. Thus the role of land use in facilitating active travel should not be underestimated and declining population densities and suburban development are likely to undermine other efforts to increase rates of active travel.