Official figures released yesterday suggest that the numbers of people cycling regularly is falling, prompting campaigners to claim the government is failing to support cycling and make it safer.
Department for Transport and Sport England figures claimed the number of people cycling at least once a month has declined from 15.3 percent in the year up to October 2012 to 14.7 percent in the same period last year. It’s a blow to politicians and campaigners who want everyday cycling to reach continental levels, and backs up a market research survey earlier this week that showed that bike sales were slowing.
According to the DfT statistical report – now in its third year – more people are cycling for fun rather utilitarian cycling, such as commuting or going to the shops. It does offer a glimmer of hope, however; where cycling infrastructure and support has been prioritised, levels are rising.
The report stated: “Over the three years, 13 percent of authorities increased cycling levels consistently, while 20 percent declined consistently. There is some indication that those authorities with higher levels of cycling also saw higher increases in cycling in the last year.”
Claire Francis, head of policy at Sustrans, the sustainable transport charity, labelled the report damning.
She said: “It is a damning reflection on road safety in the UK that cycling levels have decreased over the last year, but the few areas where numbers have increased show that when decision makers put their minds and resources into increasing cycling, real progress can be made.
“Whether women and children feel able to get on their bikes is a litmus test for how safe our roads really are for cycling; we must strive to reach a point where everyone, aged 8 to 80 and regardless of gender, feels safe enough to cycle on our roads.”
Cycling charity the CTC described the figures as “worrying” and urged cyclists to write to their local politicians under its national Space for Cycling campaign and demand they take action to improve cycling conditions seriously.
Chris Peck, CTC campaigner, said: “Figures released by DfT earlier today very worryingly suggest that cycle use appears to be falling in many parts of England – which is likely to be a direct result of councils across the country failing to provide space for cycling. Thousands of people have already written to their councillors calling for space for cycling on main roads and reduced speeds and through traffic on residential streets.”
The figures, which are based on a 160,000 sample base, also revealed that three percent of adults cycle at least five times a week and twice as many men as women cycle to work. Cambridge and Oxford were flagbearers for everyday cycling: 49 percent and 34 percent of the population cycled at least once a week.
Despite the large sample, the report acknowledged that because levels of cycling are so low in the general population, some of the data may not be robust.