Bike Life: Public support for protected bike lanes

By Tim Burns,
cyclists on a protected bike lane

Protected roadside cycle lane, St. Leonards Street, Edinburgh

cyclists on a protected cycle lane

Protected roadside cycle lane, Baldwin Street, Bristol

cyclists on a protected bicycle lane

Protected roadside cycle lane, Walmslow/Oxford Road, Greater Manchester

cyclists on a protected bike lane

Protected roadside cycle lane, John Dobson Street, Newcastle

cyclists on a protected bike lane

Protected roadside cycle lane, Alfred Street, Belfast

Whilst Bike Life 2017 covers a wealth of information, one of the most revealing statistics in this year’s reports is the level of public support for more protected bike routes on our streets.

In the seven cities (Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Greater Manchester, Newcastle) almost four fifths of residents (78%) support building more protected cycle lanes on roads, even when this could mean less space for other vehicles.

In addition, 64% of residents said they would cycle more if these routes were created.

What do we mean by protected routes?

Protected bike routes consist of segregated space on streets dedicated to bikes and protected by kerbs, bollards or at a raised height from the carriageway. This means road traffic doesn’t enter this space, thus making cycling safer, and importantly ensuring people on bikes feel safer. This space is also clearly separated from the pavement, thereby reducing conflict with pedestrians on our busy city streets.

Do we really need protected routes on our streets?

In Bike Life 2017 we asked 7,700 residents what provision they would find very useful to start cycling or cycle more. This is what they told us:

Unsurprisingly, there was low support for more bus lanes or painted lanes. Sharing a bus lane or the carriageway with any vehicle, especially buses and HGVs is a scary proposition for most people. There is also low levels of support for shared pavements. In a busy city environment, sharing a pavement is less dangerous but still frustrating, and can cause conflict with other users of the space.

What the public appear to really want is on-road protected routes and traffic free routes away from roads. Traffic free routes exist in most of our cities, for example old railway lines in Bristol and Edinburgh. The problem, however, is that they only exist in certain locations, do not always go where you want to go, or are not designed for large numbers of bikes, such as narrow canal paths.

This leaves only one clear option in cities and urban areas - reallocating road space to create more on-road protected cycle routes in cities.

Almost all cities in Europe that have a high proportion of people cycling also have a network of on-road protected bike routes. Space protected from vehicles also helps to normalise cycling – i.e. people from all demographics and levels of confidence are able to use bikes to get around.

If we want more people to cycle, we need to provide safe and direct routes for the journeys they make every day. Providing cycling space alongside existing road networks ensures the cycle network takes people where they want to go by bike. This is a universally applicable principle - all streets should be bike streets. At the very least any main road with high levels of vehicle use, and/or higher vehicle speeds should include a protected bicycle lane.

What is currently provided in UK cities?

The good news is that on-road segregation does exist in the UK, the most famous being London’s Superhighways, and we are building more and more of it. In the last two years, in the seven Bike Life cities we have seen on-road segregation added in Greater Manchester, Edinburgh, Belfast, Newcastle and Bristol with plans in the pipeline in Cardiff and Birmingham. However, on-road protected bike lanes are still very much in their infancy in the UK, especially compared to road space for cars.

Currently, in six of our cities where data is available, only 19 miles of protected bike lanes on roads physically separated from traffic and pedestrians exist [1]. This equates to 0.2% of the total miles of roads in the same six cities (9,351 miles in total).

What does good look like?

To make a comparison, in Copenhagen there is approximately 230 miles of cycle lanes physically separated from traffic and pedestrians along roads. This sounds like a lot, however, in reality it only takes up 7% of Copenhagen’s total street space. This has led to 41% of journeys in the city to work or education being made by bike. And if you just count Copenhagener’s journeys within the city – 62% to work and education are now made by bicycle [2].

When research suggests bicycles are up to five times more efficient than cars [3], reallocating 7% of our urban road space to bicycles makes sense.

And if you add in the benefits for our health, air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, and the local economy from more people on bikes, people in the future will wonder what took us so long to transform our cities.

Bike Life found four-fifths of residents support building more protected routes for bikes, even when it could mean less space for road traffic. So what are we waiting for?


[1] These figures exclude Birmingham where data is not collected

[2] All figures from Copenhagen Bike Account 2016

[3] For example: Litman, 2017. Evaluating Transportation Land Use Impacts

This is the second in our three-part series of Bike life blogs: 

Read Part 1 - Bike Life: Our vision for cycling in cities across the UK

Read Part 3 - Bike Life: Protected bike lanes will transform our cities

Find out more about Bike Life