Key issues and evidence summary

This section outlines the key evidence relating to protected characteristic groups and the key populations likely to be affected by the Cycling Framework.



The Annual Cycling Monitoring Report (2019) recorded that 5.2% of primary school pupils and 1.3% of secondary school pupils in Scotland cycled to school, ensuring suitable cycle routes in and around schools will help to promote sustainable transport modes from a young age.

Safety is a key issue for many when using transport however, a particularly vulnerable group is children and young adults. There were 68 child pedal casualties recorded in Scotland in 2019, 24 of which were seriously injured (Transport Scotland, 2019). This accounted for 12% of all cycle casualties of all ages. In addition, there were 331 child pedestrian casualties, accounting for 44% of all pedestrian casualties of all ages. Evidence from Sustrans (2019) shows that the risk of being in a road accident increases for children travelling on foot or by bike as areas become more deprived. With an average of 0.25 incidents per data zone in the least deprived areas to an average of 0.83 incidents per data zone for the most deprived areas.

Sustrans’ Bike Life Report 2019 outlined that the age groups most likely to cycle were 36 to 45 year olds and 46 to 55 year olds with 19% and 18% respectively cycling at least once a week. People over the age of 56 are not as likely to cycle regularly, this may be due to increased likelihood of mobility issues.

Research by Wheels for Wellbeing (2019) shows that physical activity also declines with age, with 42% of people aged between 75 – 84 physically inactive, and 66% of 84-year-olds are inactive, compared with 25% of the population who are inactive. As well as this most disabled people are elderly, and therefore at greater risk of developing health conditions. With rising numbers of older people (Older people make up 18% of the UK population, with expectations that this will rise to 24% by 2038) it is important that older people are encouraged to cycle (Sustrans, 2020).

Accessibility issues are more likely to affect older people than other age groups with some older people having limited mobility, hearing or vision impairments, difficulties in understanding information or accessing digital resources and difficulties in alighting to and from transport services or standing for long periods of time.

Older people and children are more vulnerable to the health risks associated with poor air quality (WHO, 2018) and traffic-related noise compared to the overall population (Halonen et al, 2015). Children are at higher risk of exposure to air pollution than adults as are more likely to spend time outside and due to their height are in closer proximity to car exhausts (UNICEF, 2018). 

Hands up Scotland Survey (2021) showed that 51.2% of school pupils travel in active way to school with 44.8%, 2.6% and 3.8% walking, wheeling and cycling respectively. Primary school pupils reported the highest level of active travel to school of all school types, at 55.3%, followed by secondary school pupils at 44.8%.

The Scottish Health Survey (2019) highlighted that 31% of children do not meet the guidelines for physical activity.

There is evidence that cycle training increases the skill and confidence of trainees and may result in increased frequency of cycling after training. However, consideration of the barriers to child cycling suggests that cycle training alone is unlikely to result in more cycling (Bikeability Trust).


Around 24% of Scotland’s population live with a long-term physical or mental condition that affects their everyday life. Disabled people have a wide variety of differing requirements and should not be considered as a single, uniform group, evidence remains that those with a disability are far less likely to travel by bicycle.

Disabled people tend to make fewer journeys than those non-disabled people (an average of 1.63 journeys per day vs 2.07) and, on average, their journeys are shorter in distance (3.2km vs 4.5km) (Transport Scotland, 2019). In addition, 39% of disabled people don’t have access to car compared to 19% of non-disabled people (Sustrans, 2020).

78% of disabled people never cycle however 28% of disabled people who don't cycle would like to start (Sustrans, 2020), key issues which can prevent the uptake include inaccessible cycling infrastructure, costs of adaptive cycles and lack of recognition that cycles can act as mobility aids for disabled people (Wheels for Wellbeing, 2020).

Feedback from disabled users of active travel infrastructure indicates that some approaches, such as “bus stop bypasses” present unique challenges in ensuring disabled people feel safe when interacting with cars and bikes. As a result, new measures introduced into the streetscape which prioritise cycles and pedestrians over cars and other motorised vehicles need to be carefully designed with the needs of disabled users in mind (Living Streets, 2021).

75% of disabled cyclists find cycling easier than walking and use their cycles as mobility aids, however, are often asked to dismount their cycle in certain areas which detracts from its use as a mobility aid (Wheels for Wellbeing, 2020).

Disabled people are significantly more likely to encounter health problems than non-disabled people.  Further to this disabled people tend to be much more likely to be socially isolated and have smaller support networks than non-disabled people (Sustrans, 2020). Research suggests that disabled people tend to be more reliant for day-to-day travel on the car, either driving or being driven. With a dependency on the car increasing sedentary living, reducing health equality and having a negative effect on the environment. 

Disabled people are more likely to be physically inactive and socially isolated than non-disabled people as such accessible transport modes are key for their overall health and wellbeing (Wheels for Wellbeing, 2020).

Pregnancy and maternity

Pregnant women are more vulnerable to the adverse effects of air pollution including an increasing risk of miscarriage as well premature births and low birth weights (Leiser et al, 2019). Increased journeys made by active travel modes will contribute to the improvement of air quality.


Though Scotland specific statistics are not available, evidence from studies of English local authorities and Greater London shows that ethnic minority groups are underrepresented among people who cycle.

Evidence from Aldred Woodcock and Goodman suggests that greater levels of cycling overall promote greater diversity among those who cycle.  Key to this is safe cycling infrastructure, which encourages uptake by those in more risk sensitive groups such as women and older people. However, increased modal share does not automatically lead to greater diversity and evidence suggests that in order to counter these trends, cycle policy and infrastructure must be specifically targeted towards underrepresented groups.

In 2019, people from all ethnic minority groups except the Indian, Chinese, White Irish and White Other groups were more likely than White British people to live in the most overall deprived 10% of neighbourhoods in England (UK Government, 2020). This may result in a greater proportion of ethnic minority groups being reliant on low-cost forms of transport such as walking, wheeling, cycling or public transport.

Religion or Belief

Over a third of the Scottish population (36.6%) do not have a stated religion and this is the largest category within the 2011 census. Next to this 32.4% of people identified the Church of Scotland as their main belief and 15.9% identified the Roman Catholic Church. There are a number of other religious minorities in Scotland, with Muslim being the largest of these at 1.5%.

The Scottish Government (2021) revealed that 52% of Muslim adults are living in relative poverty after housing costs compared to 18% of adults overall. The pay gap between Muslims and those of no religion was as high as 19.3% (Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2018). As such, this group might be more vulnerable to the costs of transport and face barriers in accessing employment, education, healthcare and other services as a result.


Though men and women are almost equally likely to travel for any purpose women are less likely to travel by bicycle and are, in general, more concerned over issues of personal safety when travelling (Transport Scotland, 2019; Cycling Scotland, 2021; Sustrans, 2018).

Only 9% of women cycle once a week and 73% of women living in Bike Life cities never ride a bicycle, compared to 21% of men cycling at least once a week (Sustrans, 2018 and 2019). Research by CoMoUK indicates that in Scotland, a higher proportion of women (68%) than men (54%) have started cycling for the first time or after a break greater than five years, as a result of a bike share scheme. Bike share schemes users have noted that 66% of users have reported benefits to their physical health and 44% reported mental health benefits.

The Scottish Government reveal that fewer women than men meet their recommended physical activity levels, and evidence from Cycling Scotland shows that overall men are twice as likely than women to travel by bicycle regularly. Sustrans elaborate that this disparity in cycling levels between the genders is likely to be more pronounced in cities which overall have a lower participation in cycling.


The social determinants of health are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. They include housing, education, employment, health services, social support, family income, communities and childhood experience. In the following section the social determinants of health are identified in relation to the scope of Cycling Framework.


People living in deprived areas in Scotland tend to live in more hazardous environments, with greater proximity to high volumes of fast-moving traffic and high levels of on-street parking and, as such, they have higher levels of exposure to road traffic risk (Quayle, 2019). The gap between premature mortality rates (deaths occurring before 75) between the most and least deprived areas have increased to its highest point in 10 years. Cycling UK reveal that people are four times more likely to die early in the most deprived areas, compared to the least. At present, people who cycle for any journey in Scotland are more likely to be male, under 55 and in the AB social grade (Higher & intermediate managerial, administrative, professional occupations) (Cycling Scotland, 2019). Sustrans confirm that this trend is also present, UK wide.

Health Related Behaviour:

The Scottish Health Survey (2019) shows that 34% of adults and 31% of children do not meet the guidelines for physical activity. Evidence from the Scottish Government indicated that physical inactivity contributes to over 2,500 premature deaths in Scotland each year, at a cost to NHS Scotland of around £94.1 million annually.

Obesity Action revealed that in 2019 2 in 3 adults and 1 in 3 children were overweight in Scotland. This can have a negative impact on both physical and mental health. Obesogenic environments inactivity and overconsumption of energy dense foods are easy, affordable and widely accepted, making an unhealthy lifestyle the default option. The Foresight Report produced for the UK Government identified that barriers such as cost, perceived danger and walkability of surrounding environment can influence the uptake of physical activity.

Barriers to cycling can affect a wide range of people but can be amplified when inequalities already exist, this can be more pronounced for specific protected characteristics such as women, older and younger people, disabled people, people from ethnic minority groups and people experiencing or at risk of deprivation.

Research from Sustrans (2019) shows that keeping physically active through interventions like cycling can reduce the risk of heart and circulatory disease by as much as 35% and risk of early death by as much as 30%. 

The NHS outline that regular physical activity and spending time outdoors can also be beneficial to people’s mental health by reducing the likelihood of experiencing depression, anger and stress. People who exercise regularly have up to a 30% lower risk of depression. Other benefits of physical activity include improving sleep, mood, self-esteem and reducing tension, stress and mental fatigue. The Scotland Bike Share Users Survey highlighted that 41% of respondents reported that mental health benefits were why they chose to use bike share schemes.

Improving cycle facilities and access can help to encourage an uptake in physical activity through using cycling as a transport mode or for recreational purposes.

Social Environment:

Social norms are likely to influence the way people behave and the transport choices they make. People in socio-economic groups D and E (semi/unskilled not employed) were less likely to cycle and identified that reasons for not cycling included safety concerns (37%), lack of cycling confidence (26%) and cost of a suitable bike (20%). 34.4% of households in Scotland have access to one or more bikes for private use this leaves 75.6% of the population without access to any bike (Cycling Scotland, 2021). 

The Scottish Government (2018) revealed that people living in deprived areas are more likely to experience social isolation, with 17% of men and 15% of women living in deprived areas reporting frequent loneliness.  Research, including Appleyard (1980), has long-since established that that the lower the number of vehicle movements on a street, the greater the number of social interactions there are.  Cycling provides a low-cost transport option which may be key to allow people from poor socio-economic backgrounds to access amenities, employment and education as well as supporting greater social interaction. It is also recognised that participating physical activity can promote social inclusion, improve health.

Physical Environment:

Deprived areas are more likely to suffer from poor air quality (Defra, 2006). Lucas et al (2019) indicates that there is potential for health inequalities to be widened by poor air quality, because people who live, work and shop adjacent to heavily trafficked roads tend to be among more disadvantaged groups. These inequalities in health can have a profound and lasting impact on children, with evidence to suggest that primary aged children living in highly polluted urban areas can have up to 5% less lung capacity than normal, putting them at risk of lung disease in adulthood and contributing to early death (Friends of the Earth, 2018).  Because of their height, children are also at higher risk of exposure to air pollution that adults (UNICEF, 2018).

There is strong relationship between deprivation and pedestrian casualties. In particular, children and young people from deprived areas were found to be involved in traffic injuries, for whom the risk was highest on main roads and on residential roads near shops and leisure services (Christie et al, 2010).  

Access to and quality of services:

People with the lowest incomes are more likely to rely on bus services than those in higher income brackets (Transport Scotland, 2021). Therefore, introducing measures aimed at reducing the number of bus services would disadvantage those on lower incomes. Bus travel is also a sustainable form of transport.

Three key issues experienced by low-income families include:

  • Cost - the cost of journeys when using public transport is especially crucial when travelling with young children, as high fares can make short journeys expensive;
  • Scheduling - inflexible timings often cause problems in terms of shift work, caring responsibilities or connecting between different forms of transport; and
  • Infrastructure and Services - multiple providers (e.g. bus companies) often operate separately in both urban and rural areas. As a result, there are significant wait times between services and extended travel durations. Switching between providers can result in multiple expenditures and this is a major concern for low-income families.

Kellogg’s (2018) estimated that 1.2 million people in the UK live in areas where access to healthy and affordable food is limited and where these choices are limited further for car-less residents. Improved cycling infrastructure supports access to healthy food by increasing ability to shop locally and supports improved access to healthcare facilities and other services that support health and wellbeing. Cycling is an affordable means to access key services and goods, and this will be a key consideration in planning cycling infrastructure.