Surprise: traffic is the biggest barrier to cycling

Transport for Greater Manchester ran an online survey about cycling. In amongst a stack of questions about parking, they asked what, of all of the variables that are within TfGM’s control, the biggest barrier to cycling (or cycling more) is. It was hardly controlled and scientific, being promoted through online word of mouth, but it might still be of interest.

The results are in, and guess what?

It was hardly worth bothering. One more repeat result to add to the great stack of surveys and studies that found the same.

12 thoughts on “Surprise: traffic is the biggest barrier to cycling”

  1. Most people don’t cycle because there are easier ways to get around which they can afford and involve less physical effort.

    That has always been the case since the bicycle was invented.

    Survey results such as these can be dismissed as irrelevant and untrue.

    As soon as motor cars became affordable, many people abandonded bikes and bought cars. How does this fit in with a population which claims it doesn’t cycle because of too much motor traffic? Surely they would have never bought cars in the first place, even though they could afford them, preferring instead to continue cycling.

    1. The vast majority of London journeys are not by car. But those cars that are on the road, and (more importantly) the commercial vehicles, are more than enough to discourage everybody from cycling, no matter how much they complain about train fare hikes or overcrowded buses.

    2. Ed you have clearly never been to the Netherlands, many people own cars there but the excellent provision of cycling facilities mean that the bicycle is a very normal means of transport, particularly in cities, as well as much more pleasant. All of which makes dutch cities very liveable.

  2. But if you fast forward to many urban environments today, you’ll find that the motor car isn’t the easiest way to get around, but people are forced to stay in their cars or on public transport due to the traffic on the roads which they’d have to mix with on a bicycle. In London for example, it is far faster and easier to get around town by bicycle than motor vehicle, but 60% people won’t cycle due to the fear of the roads.

    This is clearly shown in urban environments like Amsterdam or Copenhagen, where 30%+ of all journeys are by bicycle simply because motor traffic has been constricted and provisions have been made to make cycling safe and easy.

    It’s also odd to dismiss the linked surveys and research as untrue without providing any evidence.

  3. Here’s another one for your stack, Joe – TfL’s Analysis of Cycling Potential. I don’t think any of the cycling blogs have covered it yet, though please do correct me if I’m wrong. The “no, really?” bit is on page 45:

    For all groups, including frequent cyclists, safety was
    the most significant barrier to cycling in general and for specific trips.

  4. The Manchester survey apparently only asked cyclists. That means that about 98% if the population was ignored, which does make it useless for conclusions on cycling policy. The TfL survey question mentioned by Hex, also seems to be aimed at cyclists, but it is hard to check because there is no specific table reference.

    Ed hits the nail on the head when he says that “As soon as motor cars became affordable, many people abandonded bikes and bought cars.” Surprisingly little research is done on why non-cyclists don’t cycle. However, I would bet that the best single predictor of non-cycling is car ownership.

    Even if it is correct that lack of cycle infrastructure, and nothing else, deters people from cycling, that does not mean that provision of cycle infrastructure will cause people to cycle. This article of faith has yet to be substantiated by research.

    Campaigns for cycle infrastructure which attribute mythical powers, and ignore the logic of provision at specific locations, will contribute to results like those in the first video at this post by Mark Wagenbuur at David Hembrow’s blog. It shows a completely unnecessary upgrade of an adequate cycle path, built solely to help justify the adjoining ring road, and its associated urban-edge development. It is not a good alternative for the existing cycle lanes and paths, because it is longer,and more exposed. That is what happens, when you ask local government to “build cycle paths please”, without any concern for logic, planning, or ethics.

  5. Rubbish! provision of good cycling infrastructure DOES lead people to cycle, if you need evidence go to ANY dutch town or city. there isn’t some peculiar ‘dutch gene’ that makes them ride their bikes so much, it’s because cycling there is easy, safe and pleasant, and in urban areas faster than car use, not to mention free and providing exercise.
    Must go now, am meeting a friend in Dam Square on my bike, and it’s great because I can have a few drinks without worrying about whether I would be over the drink/drive limit, no worrying about train/metro times and no shelling out for a taxi. Transport planning in the UK is myopic in the extreme.

    1. If cycling in the Netherlands is “easy safe and pleasant”, and in urban areas faster than car use, and free, and it provides exercise, then why are 76% of total passenger-kilometres accounted for by car travel? And if all the Dutch “ride their bikes so much”, then who is driving those cars?

      Implicit fallacy: “many people ride bikes in the Netherlands, therefore everybody in the Netherlands rides a bike”.

      Implicit false premise and fallacy: “everybody in the Netherlands rides a bike, therefore that is caused by the cycle infrastructure”.

  6. Lack of cycling infrastructure is a very significant obstacle preventing people from cycling. Proper cycling infrastructure is required, though not necessarily sufficient, to get people cycling.

    There’s plenty of world wide research concluding cycling infrastructure increases cycling and/or cycling safety.

    1. Could you quote the research that shows a causal relationship between provision of cycling infrastructure and “increasing cycling”.

  7. I looked at the research quotes at Cyclechat. Most are about the safety issue (are there more accidents after segregation, or not). Some simply posit that cycle infrastructure increases cycling. What is left is this:

    Dill and Carr, 2003: correlation, no causation demonstrated.

    Jensen, 2008. Impressive ‘20% increase’ in bike/moped mileage, but where was that, and how was it measured?

    Jensen and Jensen, 2007. Copenhagen, cycle paths increase cycling by 18%-20%. Impressive, but does not say how much was abstracted from parallel routes after cycle path construction.

    Lusk, 2011. More bike traffic on roads with bike tracks, than on roads without them, but that is not the same as an ‘increase in cycling’.

    Pucher, 2001. Correlation, no causation stated.

    Pucher, Dill, Handy, 2010. “increases in number of cyclists after bike lanes installed.” Where? How much is abstraction from parallel routes?

    Wilmink and Hartman, 1987. Delft, “significant increase in bicycle use” after better cycling network, but the report actually says that was an increase in trips, by the same number of cyclists. Quote says ‘40% cycle use’, but current national statistics say 27% of trips.

    Yang, 2010. Does not separate infrastructure from other cycle-promoting measures, and does not attribute causation.

    That is all very meagre. The example of Delft is interesting, since it has probably the best cycle infrastructure of all the places quoted. It is a university city with a historic centre unsuited to car traffic, which ought to favour cycling. Nevertheless, the figures here indicate that the car is beating the bike, even as the bike infrastructure improves (table 2.4).

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