Bike Life 2017: what can we expect?

By Tim Burns,
Cycling over the Gateshead Millenium Bridge in Newcastle ©2006, Sustrans / Cass Gilbert

In 2015 people told us they wanted improvements to safety and greater investment, we would expect this still to be the case in 2017

Bike Life is gearing up to report on cycling progress in seven cities for the second time in November 2017. In the run up to these reports we explore what has changed in our cities and what this might mean for cycling.

Through our Bike Life project we are collaborating with seven cities in the UK – Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Greater Manchester and Newcastle – to report every two years on progress towards making cycling an attractive and everyday means of travel.

Our Bike Life reports initially kicked off in 2015, with the 2017 Bike Life reports due to be published in November. Each set of reports is an assessment of cycling development including the infrastructure provided, travel behaviours, attitudes towards cycling and the economic, health and environmental benefits people on bikes bring to our cities.

What did Bike Life find out in 2015?

In 2015, Bike Life found a significant public appetite for cycling. Across the seven cities almost a third of people who didn’t ride a bike would like to and two-thirds of people believed that more people on bikes would make their city a better place to live and work.

This potential was held back by a lack of provision for cycling. 79% of respondents in our cities agreed that cycle safety needed to be improved, and three quarters thought more investment should be spent on cycling.

Two years have passed and our cities across the UK have been working hard to make progress on cycling. So what has happened since 2015 in these cities that is likely to have had an impact?

The world and our cities are evolving rapidly

No one can deny a great deal has changed since 2015. Back then no one anticipated Brexit would be happening, or another UK General Election in 2017.

This has and will continue to have a significant impact as the UK Government’s attention is focused on the evolving challenge ahead in exiting the EU. Other aspects have broadly stayed the same - austerity, especially in the public sector, continues to exist with further budget cuts for most local authorities over the next few years.

In England, we have seen the rise of Combined Authorities and devolution, nowhere more so than in Greater Manchester, where Andy Burnham recently appointed Chris Boardman as Walking and Cycling Commissioner.

We have also seen the launch of the first ever Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy. However this comes at the same time as dedicated funding for cycling has fallen, with a cliff edge on the horizon for Bristol, Birmingham, Newcastle and Greater Manchester as their Cycling City Ambition Grants finish in April 2018. These grants have been instrumental in many of the ambitious projects built across these cities, including cycling routes segregated from traffic and pedestrians, such as Greater Manchester’s Oxford/Wilmslow Road, John Dobson Street in Newcastle, Baldwin Street in Bristol and the two proposed Superhighways in Birmingham.

In Wales the introduction of the landmark Active Travel Act has yet to be matched with appropriate funding, meaning investment on the ground is at best patchy. Cardiff has bold ambitions encapsulated in its city plan Capital Ambition and in its draft Cycling Strategy, but up until now has had to rely upon developer contributions for much of the progress seen on cycling infrastructure in the past two years.

Belfast has completed one major Greenway in the east of the city and introduced several segregated on-street cycling routes in the city centre at Alfred Street, Durham Street and Queen Street. Plans have been drawn up for a Belfast Bicycle Network, however, with no Northern Ireland Assembly deal in sight, and therefore no government, making progress and building on these projects is extremely difficult.

Scotland is undergoing a resurgence. The recent announcement from the Scottish Government to double investment in walking and cycling to £80m per annum from 2018/19, equivalent to £15 per head, is especially welcome and is an example for the rest of the UK. In Edinburgh the city council has kept its promise of dedicating 10% of its transport budget to cycling. This investment has meant Leith Walk’s segregated cycle lane is almost finished, significant parts of the city have recently become 20mph zones and more plans are in the pipeline, including the Roseburn to Leith segregated cycle path. Edinburgh is now in a good position to continue momentum over the next few years.

What is this likely to mean for Bike Life 2017?

These trends and others will have an impact on the development of cycling in our cities. So what are we expecting to see from the Bike Life reports in 2017?

Firstly we think it’s safe to say that Bike Life is a long-term project and transforming a city takes time – even Copenhagen didn’t happen overnight and it took decades to reach its +40% cycling modal share.

We have been working hard to develop what Bike Life can tell us since 2015, including much more detail on the impact, showing the benefits from people getting on bicycles for their health, air quality, congestion and the economy.

Alongside this we have introduced new questions to better understand people’s perceptions about how cycling can solve big issues like keeping our cities moving and pollution, and what people would like more investment for cycling spent on.

The early indications of all of this is shaping up for a really exciting set of reports with a clear message from the public.

All of our cities will have made some progress towards improving cycling since 2015, many of whom have done so in challenging conditions with limited funding and resources to do so. At the same time however it is increasingly clear that expectations from the public are further ahead of what is happening on the ground. People told us they wanted improvements to safety and greater investment in 2015 and we would expect this still to be the case.

Some great schemes have been built in many of our cities over the past two years but where they exist they are still the exception rather than the norm. Now that people have seen what good infrastructure looks like they inevitably and rightly want more of it.

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