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Economy boosted by biggest ever increase in UK cycling

Sustrans figures claim 40 million extra journeys on cycle network last year

Millions of extra bike journeys were made last year on the UK's National Cycle Network, thanks in part to to rising petrol prices and higher fares on public transport, according to a new study that claimed Britain had seen the biggest ever increase in cycling.

A Sustrans report, Cycling Revolution, published today claims that about 40 million more cycling trips were made last year than 2010 – an 18 per cent increase – taking the total to 256 million.

The figures, released to coincide with the beginning of Bike Week, represent an estimated 3.3 million people using the network - 300,0000 more than the year before.

Sustrans, who are campaigning for government investment into greatly improved cycle facilities in the UK, claim that the impact in financial terms of the cycling renaissance is £442 million in healthcare costs.

The figures, published in The Times, also claim that if all journeys made on the network in 2011 had been made by car, an additional 760,363 tonnes of carbon dioxide would have been emitted at a cost of £40 million to the economy.

Sustrans workers, who counted users on the marked routes, spoke to cyclists and asked them about their motivation to cycle.

Many cited high fuel prices and fare increases, along with being able to beat traffic jams, but a lot of women cyclists said they wanted to get fitter.

The national network was launched 17 years ago and now extends to 13,600 miles of signed routes with a third on traffic-free paths and the rest following quieter lanes or traffic-calmed roads.

Chief executive Malcolm Shepherd said: "Cycling and walking are the answers to our rising petrol prices and expanding waistlines, but we need safe routes to feel comfortable travelling by bike and foot.

"People across the country are crying out for routes where they can get off roads and make safe, healthy, cheap and green journeys. It's time the Government had the foresight to properly fund cycling and walking."

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paulfg42 | 12 years ago

I've recently bought a new bike and just about every shop I went into was busy at all times of the day. I asked a few assistants about them being so busy at a time of general recession in retail trades and they all mentioned fuel prices aa a motivation for customers.

So the Sustrans claim sound quite reasonable to me.

Campag_10 | 12 years ago

It's pretty clear from observation that more people are cycling. Riding around central London this week, I would say it's approaching a tipping point in the capital.

Sustrans routes have been criticised by hardcore roadies because they are too slow, too crowded and too compromised. However, traffic-free cycling is one of many valuable components in the campaign to get more people cycling more often.

People can form habits and develop confidence on Sustrans routes, and many will be more ambitious in venturing onto the public highway by using their bikes for longer and maybe more critical journeys.

Sarah Barth | 12 years ago

Why is it irrelevant to ask cyclists why they are cycling? There is an increase in users on the Network - it surely makes sense to know who and why; that way better planning lies.

I said that 'many cited' fuel and fare costs - is there any reason to think that's not true? It might not be the only, or even the direct reason for more cycling, but if people say it is, then maybe it is.

What do you put the increase in cycling down to?

Spangly Shiny | 12 years ago

I feel that the connection made between fuel and fare costs and the increased use of Sustrans routes is spurious. One does not, of necessity lead to the other. Agreed that where a person's commute includes a Sustrans route the argument can be made, however that is not true of the vast majority of routes.
My reading of the article is that paragraphs 6 and 7, where Sustrans route users were polled is irrelevant to the increase in cycle usage generally.

Sarah Barth | 12 years ago

Hi there Manglier, thanks for your comments.

I don't think the claim that cyclists cited fares and fuel costs as a reason to get on their bikes is false; here's a quote from the Sustrans report:

“Also the current price of petrol has
influenced my decision to move
from using my car to a bike as the
cost of fuel is taking up a large
proportion of the family budget."

And as for your question about commuting:

"A quarter of all journeys on the Network in 2011 were
to, or for, work."

You can read the report for yourself here:

And finally, on a personal level, I ride my bike to work (partly on a nice quiet Sustrans route) in large part because I can't afford to spend £1600 a year on a travelcard. Plus, what I save, I can spend on bikes  1

Spangly Shiny | 12 years ago

Why do I get the feeling that this is a snow job? Asking cyclists on the marked Sustrans routes about their motivation is one thing, claiming that it is high fuel and fare prices is, I thing a stretch too far.
I mean just how many people regularly use Sustrans routes purely for commuting or general transport?
People cycling on the marked routes are generally not using them instead of using public/private transport, they are on there because they want to ride and the network is convenient and generally quiet.
Now if Ms Barth had written that a greater number of cycling commuters claimed higher fuel/fare prices as their reason for taking to two wheels, that is at least believable.
This is poor journalism and a feeble attempt at pro cycling spin. We don't need it, and I certainly don't want it.

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