Ideas on how transport planners can improve their Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans

By Megan Streb,
women on bikes

Image creditL Livia lLzar/Sustrans.

On Tuesday evening I spoke at the launch of the Sustrans report “Bike Life Women: Reducing the Gender Gap” which focused on data around women and cycling. We discussed a range of topics, stats, and recommendations. As local authorities across England are gathering evidence and working on their Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans (LCWIPs), it seemed like a good time to share.

Most Women (and men) want to see more cycling in cities, and most want to do more cycling themselves

68% feel that their cities would be better if more people cycled—this is 2/3 of women whether or not they cycle themselves. 

12% of women on average across the Bike Life Cities (Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Greater Manchester and Newcastle) cycle at least once a week, as do 24% of men.

If we keep focusing on the UK-wide stat of 3% commuting to work by bike (ONS 2011), we ignore the changing travel patterns we’re seeing in cities.

In addition to that 12% cycling regularly, another 16% cycle occasionally. And when asked how respondents see themselves with regards to cycling, another 30% of women say they don’t cycle but would like to. That’s the majority of women who live in cities.

We need to stop this persistent myth that people in the UK don’t want to cycle

When looking to get political support and adoption for your LCWIP, get this message across early.

A wider range of their constituents cycle than politicians might realise, and even more want to start.

Women want to see more protected cycle-lanes—more on-road segregation than off-road routes

Cycling through a park is lovely, but women on the panel said that it didn’t necessarily fit in with the school run, picking up food for dinner on the way home from work, or other utility journeys they need to make.

Dr Rachel Aldred has looked at “distance decay” (ie. people being less willing to cycle as the trip gets longer) and found that it affects women and older people much more. Women want direct routes more than they want routes the wind through parks—although we would still like more of those as well.

Zoe Banks-Gross showed great examples of how infrastructure can either connect or sever communities from being able to access employment and activities in the rest of Bristol. Laura Laker from The Guardian gave brilliant examples of her friends grappling with the idea of cycling on painted lanes, and I’ve heard the same from many of my friends and family.

76% of women said that protected on-road cycleways would help them start cycling or cycle more. And it’s not just women—71% of men said the same.

76% of women and 71% of men in the Bike Life cities want to see segregated, protected on-road cycleways. How often do almost three-quarters of the population agree on something?
Use this statistic as a foundation for being bolder with your LCWIP plans. Painted lanes will not get us far enough to change how people move.

If we keep designing only for a narrow group of existing cyclists, we won’t tackle city-wide congestion, air quality, and inactivity

Currently, it’s much easier to look at commuters to plan new infrastructure by relying on the 2011 census. This ignores the almost half of current journeys—to the shops, the school run, to see friends, run errands, or for leisure, and focuses on men of working age as more of them are commuting. And traffic counts are generally done on main roads—ignoring those who choose a quieter route, or are doing a very local journey.

We know type of infrastructure women have said would make them cycle more, and that quite a lot of those women aren’t cycling regularly at the moment. This suggests that many of them won’t be included in existing cycle commuter figures or traffic counts. Transport planners should be wary of relying too much on census data, Strava maps, or popular routes for existing cyclists for the creation of their local cycle network, or they may continue to see a narrow group of users.

What can they do instead?

  • Speak to a wider pool of residents when designing their cycle network and infrastructure—including people who don’t currently cycle.
  • Borrow successful design standards from elsewhere that offer infrastructure that parents and grandparents and carers are happy to use with children in tow.
  • Widen the data they are collecting to reflect the school run at the very least—an area where schools have rich data on origins and destinations.

LCWIPs are a tremendous opportunity to have comprehensive cycling and walking networks—both are key modes of transport.

Get the planning right, and we can work towards better places for all of us.

Please note: Unless otherwise stated, all statistics are from Bike Life 2017 UK-wide report, based on surveys of representative samples of 1,000+ residents in each of the 7 Bike Life Cities.