14 March 2017

What is England’s cycling potential?

What is England’s cycling potential?

A new tool funded by the Department for Transport shows that nearly one in five people in England would cycle to work if cycling was given more investment. This is based on a scenario where English people were as likely as the Dutch to cycle trips of similar length and distance.

Cycling potential can be defined as the level of cycling that could be expected under four different scenarios in the future using census data about travel to work. It assesses which of these journeys could be switched to cycling, based on journey length and hilliness. These scenarios help planners understand which areas and routes have the highest potential for cycling under four sets of assumptions:

  1. Government target which assumes that cycling levels double nationally and uses trip distance and hilliness to predict which trips would switch
  2. Gender equality in which women have the same propensity to cycle as men
  3. Go Dutch draws Dutch Travel Survey data to estimate cycling levels if England acquired Dutch cycling infrastructure and culture (adjusted for distance and hilliness)
  4. Ebikes uses additional data on how ebike ownership encourages longer trips and overcomes hilliness.

Key findings

  • Currently, only 3% of commuters cycle all the way to work in England.
  • If English people became as likely to cycle as Dutch people, 18% would cycle to work - a six fold increase.
  • In the Go Dutch scenario every local authority would see at least one in fifteen commuters cycling to work.
  • Under the ebikes scenario, 26% of commuters would cycle all the way to work.
  • The local authority with the highest cycling potential was Kingston upon Hull.
  • Under the Go Dutch scenario, English local authorities could see an average health economic benefit of £5 million per county.

The tool also allows users to explore the health benefits and reductions in carbon dioxide emissions that would occur under the different conditions.

The Implications for policy are:

  • with the right infrastructure and policy, there is substantial potential for cycling across English local authorities
  • while all areas could see large health benefits and CO2 savings, these vary by area: more car dependent areas will see the biggest CO2 savings per person
  • in hillier and more rural areas, achieving high cycling levels may involve much greater use of ebikes as well as improving cycling conditions
  • as well as showing the national-level potential, the tool can help planners identify areas and routes within local areas for priority investment

For more information, visit the Propensity to Cycle website