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Cycle rates at a standstill—how can we encourage people to cycle more?

The publication of the Local Area Walking and Cycling Statistics last week showed a very slight fall in the number of adults cycling at least once a month in 2014/15. While the decrease is small at only 0.3% we wondered why the change wasn’t in the other direction given the well-publicised benefits to cycling?

Of course we all know that cycling is good for your health and environmentally friendly. Cycling regularly also confers less obvious health benefits such as sleeping more deeply and reducing the risk of heart disease. The health benefits are so great that a report by British Cycling has found that if levels of cycling in the UK rose to those in Denmark, the UK would save the NHS £17 billion within 20 years.

If the benefits are so great, why aren’t adoption rates increasing?

The most cited barrier to cycling is concern over safety (both real and perceived). 64% of respondents agreed with the statement ‘it is too dangerous for me to cycle on the road’ in the most recent British Social Attitudes Survey in 2014. These respondents were aged 18+, but the same fears prevent cycling in 11-17 year olds. In 2015, the road safety charity Brake found that 47% of those surveyed stated their parent’s worries prevented them from cycling more.

These concerns are not unsubstantiated. While the number of cyclists killed in 2015 was the lowest figure on record, the number of cyclists seriously injured is the second highest on record since 1997.

To increase cycling rates, we need to improve safety and change perceptions.

The Netherlands has the highest cycling rate in the word. Using cycles may be embedded in Dutch culture, but there are other, more tangible, things we can learn from the Netherlands. For example, there is a law that holds drivers financially responsible for accidents with cyclists. There has also been continued investment in infrastructure—Amsterdam has more than 400km of bike lanes.

It follows that investing in cycling infrastructure will help people to feel safe when cycling and so will encourage greater participation. This investment should be both in cycle paths themselves and technology to improve existing paths and help cycles to share the road with cars.

One way to improve existing paths is to enhance the pathway lighting so that use doesn’t drop off in the evening and winter months. Installing SolarLite Active Road Studs along cycle paths can greatly increase feelings of safety in low light.

For example, our installation along the Union Canal towpath in Edinburgh used this technology to encourage greater use by cyclists and pedestrian. This received fantastic feedback such as: “Brightens path up, massively improved and safer, less likely to go in canal”.

Other Clearview solutions are designed to improve cyclist safety on the roads when cycle paths aren’t an option. Our M100BR Radar Bicycle Detector, has been designed to detect the presence of a bicycle and differentiate it from other forms of traffic. This means that cyclists are visible to the traffic signal controller and their presence can be taken into account when phasing the changing of the traffic signals at lights. Doing this helps to make cyclists feel safer and part of the traffic.

An installation of the M100BR in Bournemouth achieved just this by making cyclists visible to the junction. The traffic signal control system received a demand call when a cyclist was detected at the junction. This resulted in a signal that gave cyclist priority to join the road. Cyclists are no longer experiencing prolonged waiting times at the junction, and so are not tempted to take unnecessary risks such as cutting the corner.

Clearly there is much that can be done both by financing new and updating existing infrastructure. Research suggests that the main barrier to cycling is concern over safety and so anything that can be done to make cyclists feel safer is welcome.

Email or call us +44(0)1869 362800 to find out how we can help you to improve safety and encourage more people to get on their bikes.

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