What stops people from cycling?

UNDERSTANDING walking and cycling

A three year study led by Professor Pooley from Lancaster University examines why people do not walk or cycle more. The UK, like other Anglo-Saxon countries, struggles to increase cycling participation beyond about 1.5% of all trips (2010), despite increased investment in the promotion of cycling since 2005 and the efforts of Cycle Demonstration Towns. The research wanted to answer how walking and cycling could be part of everyday routines of families and individuals and interact with other transport modes. How were decisions about walking and cycling routes made and did individuals construct an identity of themselves and others as cyclists or walkers?

The paper is based on 1500 questionnaires and interviews in four cities. One of them (Lancaster) was a Cycling Demonstration Town where attitudes to cycling were marginally better than in the others (Worcester, Leicester, Leeds).

The main obstacles cited by people who currently do not use bicycles for transport are:

–          Safety

–          Too difficult to fit into the household routine

–          Cycling and walking seen as abnormal

If places are well connected and it is easy to travel by bike or on foot between them, then levels of walking and cycling should increase, and if the physical environment is perceived as potentially dangerous for any reason, then will either avoid what they perceive as risky locations or will travel in the security of their car

“The research reported here suggests that assuming trips (in the UK) could be undertaken by bike or on foot just because they are short is a rather simplistic approach that fails to fully understand the nature of the problem. A purely distance based understanding of the problem ignores difficulties caused by the physical environment, complex household interactions and a perception that walking and cycling are not normal.

The study makes policy suggestions:


Policy goal Main responsibility Example policy measures
Create a safe physical environment for pedestrians and cyclists where most people feel comfortable either walking or cycling. Local Authorities, voluntary and community agencies Fully segregated cycle paths Restrictions on vehicle speeds and accessPavement widening

Effective pavement mainte­nance and cleaning

Encourage motorists to be more aware of the vulnerability of pedestrians and cyclists and thus reduce perceptions of risk associated with active travel National Government Adopt ‘strict’ liability for motorists as is found in much of continental Europe
Reduce trip distances in urban areas by providing more retail, social and educational facilities close to residential areas, and facilitate access to such services. Local Authorities, private businesses, voluntary and community agencies Restrict out-of-town retail developmentsStrict land-use planning control Encourage development of neighbourhood and community-based facilities Provide cycle parking and storage facilities
Create a social and economic environment in which active travel (walking or cycling) is seen as achievable by most people for short trips in urban areas National Government, Local Authorities, employers, voluntary and community agencies More flexible working hours for parents of young childrenFamily-friendly welfare policies Community-based schemes for child care, school transport etc. Cycle storage facilities in all homes
Promote the normality of walking and cycling Local Authorities, National Government, voluntary and community agencies, media, employers, educators Campaigns to demonstrate that walking and cycling are not only for super-fit specialists but are to some degree possible for most people for some journeys

The study is also discussed on the Lancaster University News website

About Heinrich

Promoting everyday cycling