England's first six Cycling Demonstration Towns - Aylesbury, Brighton & Hove, Darlington, Derby, Exeter and Lancaster - have shown an increase of 27% in cycling levels in the past five years, according to a recently released report.
The above figure is based on automatic cycle counters located on various traffic-free trails in the towns, and compares rates between 2005 and 2009. A huge range of increases on the monitored trails was reported, between 2.5% and 57%.
Darlington showed the largest and most consistent increase in cycling levels, followed by Exeter, whilst Aylesbury and Derby showed the lowest increases.
Data for traffic-free cycling paths in non-Cycling Demonstration Towns was used for comparative purposes and suggested that annual cycling growth in use of the paths was around three times higher in CDT towns than in towns without the cash injection, although the report admits more data is needed.
Manual on-road counts showed an average increase of 4% - with only half the towns showing an actual increase. Other survey methods included counts of parked bikes, household and workplace surveys plus surveys in schools, especially those where Sustrans' Bike It programme was in operation.
The Bike It programmes in CDTs showed some very high rates of increase in cycling to schools. The analysis suggested though, that half of the increase came from a switch from walking to cycling and more pupils also changed from bus to cycling than from car to cycling.
One of the report's main conclusions was that "a well-defined and well-promoted dense network of routes can stimulate notable growth in cycling" and that such "high quality well-connected routes carry considerable volumes of cycle traffic."
Concerns that increased levels of cycling by the inexperienced would lead to greater accident levels seem to be unfounded from the brief data collected in four of the six towns. Three of these showed no significant statistical variation whilst one (Lancaster) showed a significant reduction.
The towns received about £10 per head of population per year to invest in cycling over a three year period - but that has since been extended to five years, with a scheme end date of 2011. The national average for local council cycling investment is around £1 per head per year.
In 2008 the six towns were joined by 11 other CDTs and one 'Cycling City' - Bristol.