Monday 16 November 2009

How successful are the Six Cycle Demonstration Towns?

Results from an evaluation of the original six Cycle Demonstration Towns (Aylesbury, Brighton & Hove, Darlington, Derby, Exeter and Lancaster) show that they are working. The survey found a 27 per cent increase in the number of cycle trips as well as strong evidence of new cyclists taking to the road and demonstrable health benefits.

Phillip Darnton, Chairman of Cycling England, added: “This is fantastic news for our demonstration programme. Cycling England and the Department for Transport set out in 2005 with six cycling towns to show that investing in cycling can deliver real impact – in tackling congestion and pollution, and improving health.

“The results from the original six towns, and the promise shown by the new wave of 11 additional cycling towns and one cycling city alongside other cycling demonstration projects such as the Peak District National Park, give us great confidence we can make a real difference to the travel culture of the UK.”

Analysis and synthesis of evidence on the effects of investment in six Cycling Demonstration Towns is an interesting report. Strip away the spin and the most interesting sentence, I think, is this one, which accepts the possibility that

growth in cycling in the towns may have been ‘patchy’, with quite rapid growth on some routes, and little or no growth on others.

Room for more research. The report does not describe new infrastructure or what exactly it is that is encouraging or suppressing cycling. In fact the 27 per cent figure only applies to cycle counts

sited in traffic-free locations.

Cycling on segregated facilities free of traffic appears to be significantly more popular than cycling on roads shared with motor traffic.

What’s more

Three towns showed an increase in cycling levels as measured by manual counts (between +6% and +13% per year); while one town showed a mixed picture (Lancaster with Morecambe, with +3% per year in Lancaster and -5% per year in Morecambe); and two towns showed a decline in cycle activity (between -2% and -5% per year)

Not entirely a stunning success, then.

As with London, most of the attention is focused on cycle counts, not on modal share. I don’t know the Cycle Demonstration Towns, so I can’t comment on local conditions there. I do know the London Borough of Waltham Forest, which boasts that

These most recent cycle counts from 1998 – 2006 show an 83% increase over the 8 year period.

Let me take one example of this success cited by the Council:

Hale End Road E17

(This is a strategic cycle route, linking Highams Park and Walthamstow.)

7am - 7pm counts

1998 64

2002 82

2006 101

It’s not clear to me if these figures measure cycling in just one direction or both ways (because if two-way you obviously risk counting the same cyclist twice, particularly in the case of commuters). But irrespective of that, these are scarcely very impressive figures. How many cars were driven along Hale End Road during the course of those 12 hours? We don’t know because no one bothers to measure motor traffic with cycle traffic, with a view to comparing them. Yet motor traffic has undoubtedly increased along Hale End Road over those years.

If you look at the material put out by the London Borough of Waltham Forest, you would think that cycling was a rip-roaring success in this borough, with a very rosy future. But you can only allow yourself to be fooled by this if you ignore modal share, which is risible and likely to remain so.

My own feelings at present are pretty much summed up by Westfield Wanderer, who writes:

My instinct suggests that driving standards are continually falling and life on the road is getting more hazardous for everyone (including car drivers) because of the ever increasing aggression and unnecessary risk-taking by a large and increasing minority of drivers. Maybe I’m getting old and feeling more vulnerable but I foresee the time when my cycling days will come to an end (hopefully with me still alive) except for car-assisted trips to offroad routes.

I don’t see any real sign of the will to invest capital, both political and fiscal, to move to a Northern European style cycle culture in Britain. Those of us who love our cycling will soon have to decide to either call it day on the bike on the road or “do a Hembrow” and move away.