The overwhelming motivator to begin cycling is to improve health according to a major EU-funded survey across North West Europe, including Belfast.
The results are published in the same week a draft plan to create 80 miles of bicycle routes in Belfast was launched for consultation by the Department for Infrastructure.
Improving health was cited as the main reason to start cycling, above saving money and time, by respondents to a workplace survey across Belgium, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland and Germany.
The survey was the first step in the €4.4m CHIPS project (Cycle Highways Innovation for Smarter People Transport and Spatial Planning) which involves Belfast working with these European partner countries over the next two years to tackle high levels of air pollution by encouraging cycling.
“ Our overall aim is to help more people try alternatives to the car to reduce the high levels of air pollution in our city. ”
Sustrans is the lead UK partner working on the project in east Belfast to reduce car traffic – the biggest cause of air pollution – and promote sustainable transport, such as cycling on the Comber Greenway to commuters.
This week has seen very high levels of air pollution across Northern Ireland, according to DAERA (Department for Agriculture, Environment & Rural Affairs), which is caused mainly by particulate matter produced by traffic emissions. Air pollution is linked to the early deaths of around 40,000 people a year in the UK, and causes problems such as heart and lung conditions.
Gordon Clarke, Sustrans Northern Ireland Director presented the findings of the CHIPS survey to the Infrastructure Committee at Stormont today.
Need for safe cycle routes
The survey asked people about the barriers to them cycling to work and found the biggest factors in Belfast were concerns about heavy traffic and erratic drivers.
It confirmed some primary assumptions: in Flanders, Belgium the main barriers are related to the lack of high quality cycle infrastructure; while the Dutch experience, where cycling is commonplace, found there were far fewer barriers compared to other countries.
Belgium respondents also found there were ‘too many cars on the road’ but ranked dangerous cycle path surfaces as the main barrier to cycling.
In Belfast, the weather, such as rain, ice and wind, was ranked as less of a barrier than the issue of ‘no direct cycle routes’ and ‘too many cars on the road’.
Pamela Grove-White, from Sustrans said: “We want to thank everyone who took part in the workplace survey. The results for Belfast confirm many of the barriers we suspected, namely safety and cycling infrastructure. Our overall aim is to help more people try alternatives to the car to reduce the high levels of air pollution in our city.”
With these barriers in mind the CHIPS partners met in Belfast in December to start to design behavioural change campaigns to encourage more people to consider cycling to work.