As a wave of UK cities take action on motor vehicles to meet climate targets, our Bike Life report shows public support to reduce car use and make it easier for people to cycle.
Over half of residents (58%) in UK major urban areas support more investment in cycling, compared to 42% for driving.
The Bike Life report, published by the charity Sustrans and 12 major cities and urban areas, found more than one in two (55%) of residents agreed with the statement that there are too many people driving in their area.
Overall, the public supports measures to reduce motor vehicle use. 59% of residents agree that restricting through-traffic on local residential streets would make their area a better place to live and work.
And 56% support the idea of charging more polluting vehicles (including private cars) entering city centres if the financial proceeds were used to help fund public transport, walking and cycling services.
Reducing transport emissions through cycling
The report highlights cycling as one of the best ways to reduce transport emissions in cities and calls for a step-change in investment for zero-emission modes of transport, such as walking and cycling for everyday journeys.
Road transport accounts for 27% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, of which the main source is private motor vehicles.
Last month, the UK Government announced plans to bring forward the ban on sales of new diesel and petrol vehicles by five years to 2035, to help curb the climate crisis and reach a net-zero emission economy by 2050.
Yet existing plans lack meaningful investment for walking and cycling. Modelling shows we will still need to reduce motor vehicle use by up to 60% by 2030 to achieve carbon targets.
What the report reveals
The Bike Life report, which is the UK’s largest assessment of cycling in cities, includes an independent survey of 16,923 adult residents, aged 16 and over, on their travel habits and satisfaction as well as data on the health, economic and environmental benefits of cycling in each city.
The report also revealed:
- Cycling trips across the 12 cities saved up to 160,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions last year. Cycling took 270,000 cars off UK roads each day.
- Only 28% of residents think cycling safety in their city is good.
- Three-quarters (77%) of respondents think more cycle tracks physically separated from traffic and pedestrians would help them to start cycling or cycle more.
- More than two-thirds (68%) of respondents support building cycle tracks, even when this would mean less room for other road traffic.
Currently, across 11 of the cities and urban areas, there are only 50 miles of protected cycle tracks serving a total population of 9 million (to compare, Copenhagen, with its population of 1.3 million, boasts 237 miles of cycle tracks).
Daisy Narayanan, Director of Urbanism at Sustrans said:
“The climate crisis is the greatest environmental and health challenge of the 21st century.
"With road transport being one of the major sources of greenhouse gasses and air pollutants, it’s time we end car-centric planning which has shaped our cities and towns for decades and reprioritise our streets towards people.
“Many cities are taking action to reduce car trips and make it more convenient for people to walk and cycle. Our report shows the public is supportive of these plans.
“Ahead of crucial climate talks at COP26 in Glasgow, we urge the UK Government to show leadership and make a step-change in investment for cycling and walking, including protected cycle lanes, and adopt policies to support more people to switch from driving to walking and cycling for shorter journeys.
"This will help cities and towns to reduce car use and meet the national obligations under the Climate Change Act.”
Reducing car use to improve our cities
Reducing car use can be done quickly and cheaply and help improve cities for everyone.
For example, Ghent closed certain streets overnight in 2017 and reduced the proportion of journeys by car in 2018 by 16%.
At the same time, the proportion of journeys cycled increased by 13%. Cities including Birmingham, York and Brighton currently have proposals to follow a similar model.
Birmingham City Council is currently consulting on its draft Birmingham Transport Plan. This proposes discouraging through trips by private vehicles and creating an environment where walking, cycling and public transport are the main means of getting around.
Cllr Waseem Zaffar MBE, Birmingham’s Cabinet Member for Transport & Environment said:
“As a city, we have been over-reliant on private cars for too long. The more journeys people take by walking and cycling, the more we will improve air quality and our health, and the more we will reduce congestion.
"We need to fundamentally change the way people and goods move around the city, which involves redressing the balance and building a future in which the car is no longer seen asking.”
The benefits of urban cycling
Chris Boardman, walking and cycling commissioner for Greater Manchester commented on the report and the benefits of urban cycling:
“The main thing holding people back is the lack of safe, attractive space to cycle, which is why we designed a 1,800-mile cycling and walking network to span Greater Manchester and connect every community.
"The benefits from enabling people to leave the car at home are potentially enormous but we can’t deliver the country’s biggest urban cycling and walking network without the Government’s backing.
“Last month, we took our detailed plan to Government and asked them for the sustained investment required to fully deliver this transformational project so we can reap the huge benefits in health, congestion reduction and improved air quality.
"It’s an investment that will save the region billions. I think the real question, is not whether the Government will back us, but can they afford not to? We're currently awaiting their response."