Rachel Aldred, University of Westminster
10 February 2017/Categories: PTRC News
Like walking, cycling is regularly hailed as a ‘miracle pill’ equivalent. Most of us don’t get enough physical activity, which is linked to conditions from diabetes to depression.
We don’t, in general, have time, money and/or motivation to ‘exercise’ daily, and our jobs are often sedentary, so cycling to work is perfect. We can get exercise without even trying. And society benefits: cycling doesn’t produce air or noise pollution or CO2. Compared to driving it’s very space-efficient – a boon for congested towns and cities.
There’s huge potential for cycling. The Propensity to Cycle Tool (www.pct.bike) has shown that if English commuters were as likely as the Dutch to cycle trips of a particular length and hilliness, cycling would be mainstream (nearly one in five commutes), rather than marginal (one in thirty). This would be transformational for our health, and for our cities, towns and countryside.
But we don’t cycle. Cycling is too easily dismissed. Still – despite twenty-five years of government saying ‘we will increase cycling’, generally to little effect – it’s seen as the preserve of ‘enthusiasts’ at best, ‘Lycra Louts’ at worst.
While very few of us cycle generally, among those who do cycling is hugely unequal. And people who could benefit most from cycling are least likely to cycle. Men cycle a lot more than women, for instance, yet it’s women who have lower car access, lower incomes, and more chained and escort trips – and so greater need for cheap door-to-door transport. Older people are the least likely to cycle but would reap the largest health gains.
In the UK we’ve tended to assume these inequalities are natural – of course ‘the cyclist’ is a fit young-ish man, happy to mix it with HGVs (as shown on the cover of Cycle Infrastructure Design, incidentally). But it’s not. In the Netherlands, women cycle a higher proportion of trips than do men, while after young adulthood the proportion of trips cycled tends to increase with age.
In the Netherlands, adapted bikes carrying disabled riders are common, while here even in relatively cycle-enlightened cities, planning still struggles to cope with anything that isn’t a bicycle. For instance, most London bus stops are now accessible to disabled passengers, yet there exists no comparable programme to remove barriers from cycle routes. Many still block non-standard bikes and often wheelchairs, too, despite the Equality Act.