December 2012

Get Britain Cycling: APPCG Inquiry

Spokes has responded to the UK All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group’s Inquiry, “Get Britain Cycling”

Cycling in Britain makes up 1-2% of all journeys, compared to 27% in the Netherlands and 18% in Denmark.  Some European towns have more than 50% of all journeys made by bike.  The APPCG Inquiry has been set up to discover what is going wrong in Britain.

The Spokes response [pdf 940k] does not attempt a full answer to the question.   Submissions from many other cycling groups will do that.  The Cambridge Cycling Campaign and Cycling Embassy of Great Britain submissions are particularly interesting – we will give links to them and some others on our national downloads page.

Instead, the Spokes response concentrates on two isssues which throw light on the Inquiry theme but where we can make a distinctive contribution …

A. The Edinburgh experience

Against a background where cycle use in the UK (and Scotland) as a whole was fairly static, cycle use has grown consistently in Edinburgh, roughly doubling over each of the last few decades. We only have figures over the years for travel to work, but bike commuting as a % of all trips to work in Edinburgh has risen as follows…

1981 census 1%; 1991 census 2%; 2001 census 4%; 2009 Scottish Household Survey 7%.

Why has Edinburgh achieved rising cycle use when the all-Scotland and all-UK figures show cycle use more or less static over the same period??

B. Cycle usage, cycling safety and the image of cycling presented by official agencies

  • In the last few years in the UK (and Scotland and Edinburgh) serious cycling casualties have ceased their long-standing tremendous downward pattern, and flattened out or just started to rise
  • In most cases, recent rises in casualties are greater than any rise in cycle use
  • In most cases, recent rises in casualties are greater than for other road user categories, including pedestrians
  • This is happening over the same few years when cycling safety gear, notably helmets, is being extensively promoted and is becoming widespread.  Thus either such safety gear is not in fact preventing many deaths and injuries or, if it is, then cycling danger is (very surprisingly) even more out of kilter with other safety trends than the bullet points above suggests.

Conventional explanations for the new casualty patterns do not work – or, at best, provide only partial answers. ‘More casualties because more cyclists’  is clearly not the answer, given that casualties are rising faster than cycle use, and given the ‘safety in numbers’ evidence.  Traffic speeds are a serious danger, but do not explain cyclists being differentially affected recently.  Infrastructure needs to be much better to attract more potential cyclists, but it has not deteriorated, so this is not the reason for changing casualty trends.   And so on.

We do not have the answers to these difficult questions, but there is some limited evidence.  Unfortunately, many of the official and other agencies involved in promoting cycling and cycling safety will not countenance or investigate theories which do not fit existing views and which might mean different approaches to promotion.

The Inquiry provides an opportunity at the highest level to ensure that these questions do at last receive full consideration, leading either to policy changes or to research to try and identify what is happening and what needs changed.


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