The study stresses that cycling has many health and environmental benefits. However, few robust studies have previously evaluated the effects of well-funded intervention programmes, either in the UK or internationally.
Researchers for the new study used census data to look at the impact of town-level cycling initiatives across the six Cycling Demonstration Towns, which, via Cycling England, received local and national Government funding between 2005 and 2011. The researchers also incorporated data from the 12 Cycling Cities and Towns which were similarly funded between 2008 and 2011. Interventions included investment in cycle training, individualised travel planning and infrastructure improvements such as signage and increased numbers of cycle parking stands.
The analysis compared changes in the proportion of commuters who cycled to work in intervention towns compared with towns that received no extra cash. The study combined 1.3 million commuters in the 18 towns into a single sample and estimated the overall effects of the interventions. Overall, the proportion of people cycling to work in the intervention towns increased from 5.8 percent in 2001 to 6.8 percent in 2011. There was a significant increase in absolute numbers, and a decrease in the amount of people driving to work. Walking to work also increased.
The study said “it is encouraging to note that the increases in cycling were accompanied by decreases in driving to work. Notably, walking to work also increased somewhat in the intervention towns, suggesting the possibility for cycling initiatives to have wider beneficial effects on active travel behaviour. This was not an aim of the intervention programme, but it is possible that some intervention components did simultaneously encourage walking. For example, some of the new off-road cycling facilities (particularly greenways) seem often to have been perceived and used as shared spaces for cyclists and pedestrians, thereby providing improved walking opportunities.”
The intervention towns spent between £14 and £17 per person per year on promoting cycling, much higher than the English average of £1 per person. The All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group’s Get Britain Cycling
report, published earlier this year, recommended that per capita cycle budgets be increased to £10 per person per year, rising to £20.
Dr Anna Goodman, Research Fellow from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and lead author of the study said: “Overall, 14 of the 18 intervention towns had a higher rate of cycling in 2011 than would be expected from their cycling levels in 2001, and this research supports the international evidence that town-level interventions can be effective in increasing cycling.
“However, we saw big differences in the level of success between different towns, and the population level effects were partly driven by a few large towns such as Bristol and Brighton and Hove which saw big increases. Although this means that we can’t be sure what impact similar investment in other towns would have, our results do support the case for implementing and evaluating further town-wide cycling initiatives. Even though the changes we’ve seen are fairly modest, cities like London have shown that small increases in cycling can build over time.”
The study found that one of the best interventions in getting more people cycling, and walking, was individualised travel planning. This involves home and work visits, pointing out how much quicker cycling can be for short journeys and helping people find pleasant cycling routes to work (and not necessarily the same routes people would take in their cars).
The study also pointed out that a great deal of the increase in cycling’s modal share over the last decade has been from England’s middle classes. However, with interventions in deprived areas, such as those done in the Cycling Demonstration Towns, there could be an increase in cycling in all socio-economic groups.
“Our findings also suggest the potential for town-wide cycling initiatives to promote not only population health improvement but also health equity. In the past decade in England and Wales, cycle commuting has shown the largest increase among people living in more affluent areas, and this paper confirms this gradient for English urban areas outside London. Set against this backdrop, the intervention programme may have narrowed the socio-economic gradient in cycling relative to what would otherwise have been expected.”
The DfT has yet to endorse the study. It also still has to publish a report completed in 2012 on an analysis of the Cycling Cities and Towns, prepared by Sustrans and Transport for Quality of Life. Cycling insiders claim this report has been “suppressed."
Anna Goodman, Jenna Panter, Stephen J. Sharp, David Ogilvie
'Effectiveness and equity impacts of town-wide cycling initiatives in England: A longitudinal, controlled natural experimental study'
Social Science & Medicine