UK Cycling to school doubled in 2008

How’d they do this without huge infrastructure improvements? Read on and find out . . .

29.04.2009
The number of pupils cycling to class every day rose from 4 per cent to 8 per cent (out of 19,000 pupils surveyed) in ‘Bike It’ schools during 2008. Sustrans calls on Government to recognise this success and increase their support to help Sustrans double the number of children they reach over the next two years. Cycling to school is vital in reducing congestion and tackling childhood obesity.

In its annual Bike It Project Review released today, Sustainable transport charity Sustrans also confirms that pupils cycling at least once a week rose dramatically from 14 per cent to 26 per cent as a direct result of Bike It’s work to create a cycling culture in UK schools.

Paul Osborne, Sustrans Director of School Travel says, “The Bike It project continues to lead the way as one of the UK’s most successful projects bringing about change in the travel behaviour of young people. Our fourth annual report shows clearly how much the 440 schools (and 89,000 children) we have worked with across England and Wales value the enthusiastic, hands-on support and popular activities delivered by our creative team of 43 dedicated Bike It Officers.

“A striking 49% of pupils say they would prefer to cycle to school. Their schools not only report less traffic but also say they see many more pupils being far more physically active. With the evidence so plain, I must call on Transport, Education and Health Ministers across the nations of the UK to look carefully at what we have achieved and to give Sustrans the financial resources and support it needs to ensure every school child can take part in Bike It.” Echoing this message, Chair of the Transport Select Committee, Louise Ellman MP says, “The Bike It report shows that Sustrans has found a tried and tested method for getting many more children and young people to take up cycling for their school journey. The project is beginning to show the benefits of cross government working with new funding coming from the health service. I hope that ministers can look seriously at the recommendations made in the committee’s School Travel report and recognise that Bike It offers a model for future work across the country to reduce school travel congestion.”

Bike It is a nationwide scheme, managed by sustainable transport charity Sustrans. It has been operating across England for four years and expanded into Wales in 2008. Alongside the environmental gain the positive health benefits are also being recognised by several primary care trusts in England.

Bike It Officers each support around 12 schools for a year or more to create a cycling culture within their community. They work closely with local authority staff, help organise cycle training, deliver new bike sheds, contribute to classroom work and provide information about safe routes to schools.

Bike It receives funding from Cycling England, the Department for Transport, Bike Hub the cycle industry levy, the Big Lottery Fund’s Well-being Programme, the Welsh Assembly Government, Transport for London, various partner local authorities and several primary care trusts.

The Bike It Project Review can be downloaded here

NOTES
• Sustrans is the UK’s leading sustainable transport charity. Its vision is a world in which people choose to travel in ways that benefit their health and the environment. It is achieving this through innovative but practical solutions to the UK’s transport challenges
• Sustrans offer a free information line for staff, parent and teachers who are interesting in promoting cycling and walking in their school.
• Over the 2007/08 academic year there was a doubling of cycling levels in schools taking part in the Bike It programme
• Bike It is core funded by the cycle industry, comprising both bicycle manufacturers and retailers, through the Bike Hub.
• Throughout 2009 Sustrans is also encouraging more women to cycle. Our website www.bikebelles.org.uk offers advice on what to wear, where to go, how to do it and showcases a women’s panel who are sharing ideas and experience. Sustrans will also be organising female-friendly cycle rides in the summer. The thoughts and concerns of women, gathered throughout this year, will be used to inform proposals to Government on how to help more women get about on bikes, to the benefit of their health, the environment and, ultimately, our economy.
• Cycling England is the expert body set up by Government to promote cycling nationally. Further information about Cycling England can be found at www.cyclingengland.co.uk

16 replies
  1. andrewp
    andrewp says:

    Yes. Yes. Yes. No massive amounts spent on infrastructure here. Just direct involvement in training and encouraging.

    Plant the seed early ….

  2. Kevin Love
    Kevin Love says:

    Certainly a move in the right direction, which is to be applauded. However, going from 4% to 8% is only a first step in the goal of going to 92%.

    Here is a video of children going to school (and adults going to work) where almost all children cycle or walk to school.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WTzfEWzDpVw&feature=channel

    My vision for the future of the USA looks a lot like this. OK, it looks exactly like this.

  3. Keri
    Keri says:

    Kevin,

    What is your strategy? What are the steps toward achieving your long-range goals? How do you intend to overcome toy-bike syndrome and the bad facility design that comes from lack of cultural respect for cycling, cyclists and the bike as a viable mode of transportation? How about the vast distances of travel within American cities? How ’bout that most American would still drive a car if you built a trail from their house to their office, because it’s climate-controlled and it takes less effort?

    How are you going to frame all this?

    You do realize you have to completely change cultural attitudes before you can even begin?

    The European countries you admire already had a respect for cycling and a mode share that was exponentially higher than American cities BEFORE they built the infrastructure. They also had a far higher environmental consciousness, a greater emphasis on community values vs individualism, an effective public transit system, more compact cities…

    How are you going to get there from here?

    It’s one thing to have a vision, it’s another to have a REALISTIC strategy for making it happen. Otherwise it’s just a hallucination… or hot air.

  4. Kevin Love
    Kevin Love says:

    Kari,

    Thank you for your eight questions. I’ll try to answer them one at a time in a series of posts. Here is the first one. You asked:

    “How are you going to get there from here?”

    Kevin’s answer:

    The same way it happened in Northern Europe.

    In the 1960’s and early 1970’s, countries like Holland, Germany and Denmark were in the grip of car culture. Bicycling was in sharp decline and both local and national governments saw cars as the future of transport.

    As I previously mentioned, things hit rock bottom when even the Amsterdam city council adopted as form of vehicular cycling. From:

    http://www.fietsberaad.nl/library/repository/bestanden/The%20Dutch%20Bicycle%20Master%20Plan%201999.pdf

    “… virtually no bicycle paths and lanes of any significance were constructed in the Amsterdam city centre in the 1960’s. The Amsterdam city council and its Traffic Committee were against an (absolute) separation of the various modes of traffic on the basis of practical arguments (”no room”) as well as policy considerations (”traffic participants have equal rights”).”

    This was, of course, a formula for failure and that failure is exactly what happened.

    So what changed? How did they get from there to the present bike mode share?

    Two things. The first was a dedicated and persistent group of bike advocates. Who were largely ignored and spent a huge amount of time getting small gains until the second item came along: The 1973 Oil Embargo.

    Suddenly, the government realized that it was not such a bright idea to have their economy and transportation system held hostage by hostile foreign powers. And the bike advocates were right there with their ideas for comprehensive change. Now government were listening. Now governments set goals and targets for achieving bicycle use and put in place the laws, policies and infrastructure to make it happen. And it did.

    It is my opinion that a similar process can lead to success in the North American context. What the precipitating crisis will be, I do not know. Peak oil is inevitable in a few years, but I really do not think that it will be necessary to wait for years. It could come overnight if there is a revolution in Saudi Arabia. Or if political instability stops oil exports from any one of the following five countries:

    Saudi Arabia
    Nigeria
    Iran
    Iraq
    Russia

    Note that Venezuela is not on the list – oil markets could withstand losing that supply.

    Of those five countries, do you really want to bet that none of them, not one, will have political instability that disrupts its oil exports?

    Russia has already done things like cut off the export to Ukraine of natural gas – in the middle of the winter. That’s nasty.

    So my formula for success is this:

    Keep fighting for small gains now. This achieves gains and gets cyclists organized for an inevitable crisis when large-scale, comprehensive change can be implemented.

    To use a Dutch military metaphor, right now is like the winter of 1944-45. Throughout Holland, Canadian and German soldiers fought vicious trench battles (like the Scheldt) in which thousands of lives were lost for very small territorial gains. While this was going on, brilliant generals like Simmonds and Crerar were using those battles to position and prepare themselves for the inevitable coming spring weather. In which they would launch the final offensive to liberate all of The Netherlands and thrust into the German heartland to end the war.

    Right now, cycling advocates are spending tremendous efforts for small gains. But fear not. Spring is coming. Our trench warfare now turns us into well-organized political veterans who are able to take advantage of the next inevitable crisis to achieve the comprehensive gains of a breakthrough victory and liberation for our streets and cities.

  5. Kevin Love
    Kevin Love says:

    Three more of Keri’s questions:

    “How ’bout that most American would still drive a car if you built a trail from their house to their office, because it’s climate-controlled and it takes less effort?

    How are you going to frame all this?

    You do realize you have to completely change cultural attitudes before you can even begin?”

    I agree, of course, about the necessity of changing cultural attitudes. But I disagree that the attitudes must change before we can even begin.

    To quote former US President Lyndon Baines Johnson:

    “When you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will inevitably follow.”

    Pro-bicycle cultural change didn’t happen in Northern Europe until the 1973 Oil Embargo. Before then, the culture was rather anti-bicycle. To quote from:

    http://www.fietsberaad.nl/library/repository/bestanden/The%20Dutch%20Bicycle%20Master%20Plan%201999.pdf

    From p. 31:

    “Until the early 1970’s, attention to bicycle traffic was minimal. The prosperity expectations were such that with the foreseeable future bicycle traffic would decrease, certainly for commuting, to a negligable share compared to car traffic.”

    Our present transportation system is incredibly fragile, with any number of events sending US gasoline prices overnight to levels unaffordable by ordinary people. That is if gasoline is even available at all – we can trust governments to make sure than any limited supply goes to their military and other government users first.

    That kind of crisis will drive cultural change. The kind of cultural change where driving a car is now “unpatriotic” as well as being selfish and irresponsible.

  6. Keri
    Keri says:

    Kevin,

    The 73 oil embargo actually illustrates a huge difference in culture between the US and Europe. We had a president in the 70s who tried to take us in the right direction to reduce our dependency on oil. That president was voted out of office and replaced by one who systematically eliminated all of the forward-thinking policies his predecessor put in place.

    More so now than then, the mechanisms for controlling the political process and framing issues to a broad audience are owned by self-interested corporations.

    Although ridership was declining in Europe it was still significantly higher than here. Attitudes toward non-motorized transportation were never as hostile as they are here.

    I’ve done a fair amount of cycling in Italy (including downtown Rome) where there are very few bike facilities. Motorists there don’t have any where near the sense of exclusive ownership of the road as they do here. Riding on narrow rural roads, I was treated with respect (possibly even reverence)… much different from here, where rural rednecks try to scare us off the road with their 4000 lb vehicles, for no reason other than hatred.

    Anticipating a huge increase in fuel prices which would force a change in attitude, an investment in mass transit and a subsequent decrease in motoring, wouldn’t the roads then be even better for us to ride on? Would we really need to spend billions on separate facilities? Maybe it would be better to spend it on rail and other transit systems which would accommodate a larger portion of the population. When you consider the distances we have to travel within our metro areas (look at a map of a typical US metro at the same scale as a map of Amsterdam), there is a significant segment of the population which will be unwilling or unable to travel those distances by bike.

    In the US, I foresee the fossil-fuel car culture changing to an alternative-fuel car culture long before it changes to a bicycling culture.

    Even in Holland and Denmark, cyclists don’t go everywhere on segregated facilities. They use roads, too. Due to our huge spacial differences and extensive road networks, that would be the case here, even more so.

    Building stuff to get cyclist out of the way doesn’t help overcome the destructive thinking associated with the speed-dominant mentality of car-centric culture. It actually reinforces it.

  7. Kevin Love
    Kevin Love says:

    Keri asked:

    “How do you intend to overcome toy-bike syndrome and the bad facility design that comes from lack of cultural respect for cycling, cyclists and the bike as a viable mode of transportation?”

    Kevin’s answer:

    Although I believe that breakthrough gains will be rapidly achieved in the inevitable short-term future crisis, that doesn’t mean that right now we should not do anything. The gains that cycle advocates are achieving in North America are real and helping get cyclists organized to take advantage of future crisis opportunities.

    Let me give some examples from places I’ve been and lived in.

    I was born in California. But I have few memories of living there. When I was but a toddler my family moved to Madison, Wisconsin where I grew up. As a young adult I moved to Toronto where I have lived ever since.

    There are cities in California, most notably Davis, where Northern Euopean levels of cycling have been achieved. This took a lot of hard work by visionary leaders and cycle advocates.

    When I was going to high school there, Madison was not very bike-friendly. Myself and my friends rode our bikes to school every day, but we definitely saw the future for ourselves as car drivers. My father was regarded as somewhat strange for cycling to work.

    Today, Madison is totally different. Cultural attitudes have changed, cycling is mainstream and some very limited supportive infrastructure has been put in place. Best of all, the city council (Madison Common Council) has adopted an exciting program of sharp improvement for the future. This includes putting in place the necessary steps for “platinum” certification by the League of American Bicyclists. Details may be found on the city’s official website at:

    http://www.cityofmadison.com/trafficEngineering/bicyclingPlatinum.cfm

    Similarily, Toronto has undergone a significant rejection of car culture. One big milestone on the way was the huge fight over 26 years from 1945 to June 1971 over whether or not to install an American-style car expressway system. The final decision was made to reject such a system, but to build public transit instead. However, bicycles were not a major part of the outcome in 1971.

    What has changed since 1971 is not the steady phasing out of car infrastructure (the City is about to tear down part of the bits of expressway that was built), but seeing the alternative as not only public transit but bicycles as well. There has been excellent bicycle progress in roads, parking, combatting bike theft and many other areas.

    There also have been many stumbles along way. Mistakes ranging from bike lanes that are so bad that riding in the middle of the bike lane is the most dangerous position on the road (door zone), to well-meaning but profoundly damaging official propaganda to promote bicycle helmets.

    Mistakes is how we learn, and I would put Toronto now about in the middle between Northern European cities and cities in the USA. I now live in the Riding of Toronto Centre. A Riding is the electoral district that elects a Member of Parliament. The population of Toronto Centre is 121,407 and the commuting mode share is:

    Transit – 38%
    Walking and cycling – 34%
    Cars – 26%

    For more details about how the City is planning to increase the bike mode share, see:

    http://www.toronto.ca/cycling/bikeplan/

    One of the most exciting new initiatives is a Paris-style bike sharing program.

    Conclusion: There are many examples of successful bicycle promotion in North America, and I have been fortunate enough to live in many of them. These examples, from California to Madison, Wisconsin to Toronto, show ways of moving forward right now.

  8. Keri
    Keri says:

    One other significant difference. The Europeans approached the bicycle infrastructure from a transportation perspective. I suspect they never had a huge toy-bike culture like we do here. The large advocacy funding sources here pay lip-service to transportation, but they still have more interest in toy bicycles because that’s where their sales are. They don’t use infrastructure to solve transportation problems, they use it to attract recreational cyclists. Many of our rail trails actually increase motoring as people drive to them with their bikes on the back of their SUVs.

    Overcoming that mentality is hard enough without the biggest advocacy organizations promoting it. Did European advocates have this obstacle?

  9. Keri
    Keri says:

    There also have been many stumbles along way. Mistakes ranging from bike lanes that are so bad that riding in the middle of the bike lane is the most dangerous position on the road (door zone), to well-meaning but profoundly damaging official propaganda to promote bicycle helmets.

    On this we agree 100%!

  10. Kevin Love
    Kevin Love says:

    Keri wrote:

    “The 73 oil embargo actually illustrates a huge difference in culture between the US and Europe.”

    Kevin’s comment:

    In my opinion, this was largely driven by geology. In 1973 the USA imported only 28% of its oil and it was possible for the usual suspects to chant “drill baby, drill” as an alternative to meaningful change.

    At that time, Northern Europe imported 100% of its oil, so this was impossible. North Sea oil only dates from six years later in 1979.

    Today, US oil imports are almost 2/3 of consumption, rendering the transportation system highly vulnerable.

    Keri asked:

    “Anticipating a huge increase in fuel prices which would force a change in attitude, an investment in mass transit and a subsequent decrease in motoring, wouldn’t the roads then be even better for us to ride on?”

    Kevin’s answer:

    Yes.

    Keri asked:

    “Would we really need to spend billions on separate facilities?”

    Kevin’s answer:

    Yes. For about three reasons.

    First, even when gas prices are unaffordable to ordinary people, there will still be a substantial minority of wealthy people who will be willing to pay for it. Ironically enough, ordinary people will be unwilling to pay billions of dollars to maintain separate car facilities (expressways) which they are no longer able to use. So in many urban areas, car traffic will actually increase on local roads when gasoline is unaffordable to ordinary people. But ordinary people still have to get around. So we will still have separate facilities. Instead of separate car facilities we will have separate bicycle facilities.

    Second, rail public transit cannot run to everyone’s home. Even in rail-dense cities like Paris, there is the “one kilometer problem.” This is the issue of getting one kilometer from home to the Paris subway station. Bicycles are ideal for that.

    Third, bicycles do not coexist well with busses and streetcars. I would not want my children cycling in a bus lane. Too dangerous.

  11. Kevin Love
    Kevin Love says:

    Keri wrote:

    “In the US, I foresee the fossil-fuel car culture changing to an alternative-fuel car culture long before it changes to a bicycling culture.”

    Kevin’s comment:

    The only problem is that there does not currently exist an alternative-fuel car technology that is scalable to mass use. This in spite of spending 100’s of billions of dollars on research.

    Hydrogen? In spite of billions of dollars sunk into this, the technology flopped. The cost of producing a hydrogen vehicle is completely unaffordable. Hydrogen advocates keep saying “just pump in a few more billions of dollars in research and we’ll find the magic bullet.” I remain skeptical.

    Electric cars? In spite of billions of dollars in research, they have limited range and high cost. There may be a niche for low-speed electric vehicles like the Zenn car, or high-cost electric vehicles like the Tesla for the rich. Electric vehicle advocates say that if they only get a truckload of billions of dollars for battery research they can come up with a “magic” battery that is affordable and gives more than the 30 mile (if I never use the A/C) range of the Zenn. I don’t believe in magic.

    Biofuels? Even the current small amount of biofuel production took enough food away from people to eat that it caused major problems. Which led to a lot of these programs being dumped. Once again, the advocates say that with untold billions in research some “magic” plant can be developed that will solve all problems. I still don’t believe in magic.

    It could be that maybe there is some magic “star trek” technology out there that a few hundreds of billions of dollars in research will discover. But right now, there is no alternative fuel technology that works on a mass scale.

  12. Kevin Love
    Kevin Love says:

    Keri wrote about Europe:

    “I suspect they never had a huge toy-bike culture like we do here.”

    Kevin’s comment:
    I don’t have any hard facts to back this up, but I suspect that the Dutch toy-bike culture is much larger than in the USA. I saw a lot of racing, off-roading, stunt jumping, cycle tourism, trick riding and non-standard bicycles like unicycles, velomobiles and recumbents that were used purely as toys.

    And I have no problems with that. I approve of having fun. I see fun cycling and utility cycling as being two separate but complementary uses. Of course, it is important to emphasise the utility part when doing advocacy.

    Interestingly enough, the City of Toronto has separate budgets for utility and recreational cycling. Recreational cycling is funded by Parks and Recreation. Utility cycling is Transportation.

    Obviously there is some crossover. Many of the Parks cycle paths are useful commuter routes. But from an advocacy point of view, transportation is where it is at. Toronto didn’t just commit to $70 million in additional capital improvements for us to have fun.

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