100_calories

Cycle Town Blues

“When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race.”
H.G. Wells

The UK is seeing a renaissance in cycling – four million new bicycles were sold in 2010 and the market for bicycles is worth an estimated £2.15 billion[1]; Boris’s bikes[2], the London Cycle Hire scheme sponsored by Barclays (one decision the banks got right in recent years) are proving a great success since their introduction in London in July 2010 with around 20,000 journeys being made per weekday. The Great and the Good from Elle Macpherson to Sir Alan Sugar to David Cameron have been pictured on two wheels. The appeal of the high spec road bicycle as an expression of mid-life crisis has generated a new phenomenon: the MAMIL (Middle-aged Male in Lycra).

Cycling is the most efficient form of transportation – cycling can be up to five times more energy-efficient than walking, and one hundred calories can power a bicycle three miles whereas it would only power a car 280 feet[3]. This has significant benefits in terms of the cost to the user, and in reducing carbon emissions to virtually zero.

“Cycling is the most efficient form of transportation – cycling can be up to five times more energy-efficient than walking, and one hundred calories can power a bicycle three miles whereas it would only power a car 280 feet.”

The health benefits of cycling are well recognised in increasing rates of physical activity and tackling obesity and related medical conditions[4]. The risks of death and injury associated with cycling are often overstated – the chances of being killed cycling are less than walking[5]. The health benefits also offer the potential to generate significant economic benefit to the country in terms of a reduced burden on the National Health Service.

Cycling as a form of active travel can integrate physical activity into the routine of a busy day without needing to make time to visit the gym. Cycling can be undertaken by all ages and abilities and is, as the saying goes, something you never forget. Most important of all cycling is fun.

Cycling is, to quote 1066 and All That, ‘A Good Thing’, and is something that any sensible and sustainable city should promote as a priority.

“Cycling is, to quote 1066 and All That, ‘A Good Thing’, and is something that any sensible and sustainable city should promote as a priority.”

The Netherlands leads the world in promoting cycling and has a well established cycling culture and extensive networks of cycle routes. Around one in four of all daily trips is made by bicycle in the Netherlands, compared with one in fifty of all daily trips in the UK[6].

One response to the paucity of cycling for short urban trips in the UK was the Cycling Demonstration Towns project run by Cycling England, an independent, expert body, working to get more people cycling, more safely, more often supported and funded by the Department of Transport. These projects based around an initial three year programme from 2005–2008 in six towns used a range of hard infrastructure and soft promotional measures and achieved, on average, an increase year on year of 4% per annum in the number of cycle trips measured. Interestingly, the largest changes in behaviour came from the middle and older age groups (a growing sector of the UK demographic) where the health benefits of physical activity are likely to be more pronounced[7].

“Interestingly, the largest changes in behaviour came from the middle and older age groups (a growing sector of the UK demographic) where the health benefits of physical activity are likely to be more pronounced.”

Despite the clear cost benefit of cycling schemes and their comparatively low cost, cycling, like other areas of public life, has been exposed to the chill winds of austerity. Cycling England is one of the victims of the ‘bonfire of the quangos’ under the ConDem government, and will cease to exist from March 2011.

Projects funded by Cycling England are now to be ‘delivered by local groups, as part of locally determined plans.’[8] While funding will still be made available for training schemes such as Bikeability, local authority cycling schemes will be supported though a £560m Local Sustainable Transport Fund administered by the Department for Transport. This fund relates to any transport improvements that support the local economy and facilitate economic development and reduce carbon emissions, including road and bus schemes.

With the demise of Cycling England much of the momentum, resources and expertise built up over the Cycling Demonstration Town projects will be lost.  Funding for cycling officers will prove harder to come by under New Localism as local cycle groups fight for funding through the Local Sustainable Transport Fund with road capacity enhancements, bus service improvements, freight consolidation centres and park and ride proposals. These are all very laudable in themselves, but nowhere near as much of A Good Thing as cycling, and certainly not as much fun.

Phil Copsey

The views expressed are the authors own and do not represent the views of David Lock Associates.

For the avoidance of doubt the author is a MAMIL.


[1] Project Vélo 2010 Report – UK Cycling Market Study

[2] Or more correctly Transport for London’s Barclay’s Cycle Hire

[4] Numerous studies confirm the value of cycling and walking (active travel) as a contributor towards increasing rates of physical activity – a good starting point is Cavill N & Davis A, Cycling & health: what’s the evidence. Cycling England, 2007 http://www.cyclingengland.co.uk/viewer.php?fd=240

[5] Cavill & Davis, 2007 (ibid)

[6] Figure 2 – the role of walking and cycling in advancing healthy and sustainable urban areas, Tight and Govoni, published in Built Environment Vol 36 No 4

[7] Cycling England, Analysis and Synthesis of evidence on the effects of investment in the six cycling demonstration towns, November 2009

[8] Cycling England press release, 14 October 2010

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