According to the latest figures from the Department for Transport (DfT), pedal cycles travelled 3.5 billion miles on roads in 2016, 6.3 per cent further than in the previous year, and over a third more than 20 years ago. However, the year also represented an all-time high for motor vehicle traffic.
Cycling reached a similar level to 2014, which was the highest figure since 1987, but less than a quarter of the 14.7 billion miles ridden in 1949. The lowest annual cycle mileage on Great Britain’s roads was seen in 1973, at 2.3 billion miles.
In its report, the DfT refers to National Travel Survey (NTS) data which indicates that average cycle mileage per person per year rose by 37 per cent between 2002 and 2015 (including both people who cycle and those who do not). When only considering those who cycled at least once a week, the average distance grew at a similar rate.
The report therefore suggests that people who cycle have been cycling further, but the proportion of people cycling has not changed significantly. NTS figures on cycling frequency appear to back this up, showing that the proportion of people cycling at least once a week stayed roughly constant between 2003 and 2015.
The DfT road traffic statistics report the activity of cyclists on public highways and on cycle paths and footpaths adjacent to them. Four-fifths of road cycle miles ridden in 2016 were on minor roads, but the largest proportional increases in cycle traffic were on ‘A’ roads.
Set against this, motor vehicle traffic hit 323.7 billion vehicle miles travelled – a record level. BikeBiz reports that car use was up by 2.2 percent year on year, while light commercial vehicle (van) use is growing quicker still, up 4.7 per cent.
In September, the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) described the increase in van traffic as a ‘ticking accident time bomb,’ pointing out that no additional test or qualification is required to drive one. The organisation also cited statistics indicating that van drivers are almost twice as likely as car drivers to use hand-held mobile phones at the wheel.