Cycling has been in long term decline in Britain. Cycle traffic declined from 23 to 5billion passenger kilometres between 1952 and 2006, though there is some evidence of a slight increase since the late 1990s (DfT, 2007a). Between 1995/7 and 2006 the number of trips per person made by bicycle fell by around 20% and the average distance travelled by 9% (DfT 2007a). The proportion of people cycling to work in Britain fell from 3.8% in 1981 to 3.0% in 2006 (DfT, 2007a).
Cycling in countries such as the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark is typically perceived as a good example of what can be achieved in terms of quantity and status. However, it was not always the case (Pucher and Buehler, 2008), as levels fell considerably between 1950 to 1975 in all three countries. It was only through changes in transport and planning policy in the mid 1970s and beyond that the current success story was generated.
In the UK walking accounted for 35% of all trips in 1975/76, but this fell to 24% in 2006 (DfT, 2007a). This decline is mirrored in the USA where between 1975 and 1995 walking’s share of urban trips fell from 9.3% to only 5.5% (Pucher and Dijkstra, 2000). While the proportion of trips in both cases has fallen, walking is still an important mode of transport and in the UK it accounts for 80% of all trips under 1 mile (DfT, 2003). By its very nature walking is something that virtually everyone does though households without a car walk on average 65% further than those with a car. Nearly 30 years ago Hillman and Whalley (1979) concluded that: “in both transport policy and practice, it [walking] has been overlooked or at the least, has been inadequately recognised”. This may in part have been due to a feeling that walking “will take care of itself” (Litman, 2003) and that walking is a benign mode of transport in the sense of having few adverse impacts. Pucher and Dijkstra (2000) report that transport and land use policies have made walking “less feasible, less convenient, and more dangerous”. Formidable obstacles to walking remain such as low density sprawl generating long trip distances, narrow or non-existent footways, inadequate crossing facilities and the growth of motorised traffic. Funding for walking and cycling provision in the UK is a negligible percentage of total transport funding by government,
It is not yet clear that there is any long term vision and consistent strategy to promote a step change in the way in which walking and cycling are perceived and the roles they play.