Investing in cycling in towns and cities works

By Dr Andy Cope,

Sustrans, in partnership with Transport for Quality of Life, Cavill Associates and University of the West of England, conducted a study of phase two of the Cycling Demonstration Town (CDT) and Cycling City and Towns (CCT) programmes. In every one of the 18 towns and cities involved in the programme levels of cycling increased.

The Cycling City and Towns programme was a DfT funded programme of investment in cycling in 12 towns and cities from 2008-2011. The CCT programme involved funding a mixture of initiatives such as improvements to cycle routes, training for children in schools and marketing and promotion work.

The Cycling Demonstration Towns follow-on programme was in six towns that had received investment in 2005-2008 and again in 2008-2011. All of the towns implemented a range of wider initiatives with the potential to increase cycling levels.

Newly released findings show that cycling trips increased across both programmes overall, and also individually in all 18 towns and cities, by different amounts. From automatic count data, there was an overall increase of 29% for the six CDTs in 5.5 years (range across towns: 6% - 59%); and an overall increase of 24% for the 12 CCTs over three years (range across towns: 9% - 62%).

The annual rate of growth for the CDT and CCT programmes overall (5.3% and 8.0% respectively) is comparable to rates of growth seen in international cities which have demonstrated sustained long-term commitment to cycling.

In all 18 towns and cities, the focus of the programme was on encouraging more cycling for short ‘everyday’ urban trips – that is, those trips which when made by car contribute disproportionately to congestion. Taken overall, the annual expenditure per head of population was £17 for five-and-a-half years in the CDTs and £14 for just under three years in the CCTs. Expenditure comprised both capital (about 80% and 70% for the CCT and CDT programmes respectively) and revenue (20-30%).

Towns with a range of characteristics and baseline levels of cycling were able to deliver increases in cycle trips

The similarity of the scale of effect in the CCT and CDT programmes gives us confidence that a similar effect might be expected if a comparable investment programme took place in similar areas – that is, we can say that the results of the programme appear to be replicable.

The results vary across the towns. The analysis has not identified a clear pattern of which factors determine the extent of impact, but obvious factors that differed between the towns included the nature and extent of delivery (including the capital and revenue split), the target groups, the profile and extent of support for the initiatives that were introduced, changes in political support at different stages of the programme, baseline levels of cycling and baseline levels of car dependence, amongst other factors.

The CDT / CCT programmes took place in a context which was not ideal. Improvements in the towns were limited by political expediency; there were problems with funding uncertainty in the final year and the programme was of short duration.

Changing behavioural patterns is a long-term, difficult task and we should be realistic about what is possible within short timeframes and in a policy context which is not always fully supportive.

Both the quality of cycling provision and the levels of cycling in the CDTs and CCTs remain modest in relation to that observed in much of continental Europe.

But, despite the challenges, the evidence is clear – increasing levels of cycling in UK cities is very much possible.

See the full study and reports

Read Lynn Sloman's blog: Lessons from the Cycling City and Towns programme