Andrew Gilligan had a blog post on the Telegraph site yesterday headlined ‘Cycling growth in London tails off’, in which he argues that
The latest figures for cycling levels on the Transport for London Route Network (TLRN), London’s TfL-controlled main roads, are given in the depths of a paper to the TfL board… They show that the previously stellar growth of cycling in London under both Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson has ended, maybe even gone into reverse. Cycling on TLRN roads is actually forecast to fall this financial year for the first time since 2001/2.
The document Gilligan refers to is a rather dry TfL quarterly progress report, for the second quarter of the 2012/13 year. The previous quarterly progress reports (also referred to by Gilligan) can be found here. The most important point is that TfL are now predicting that the cycling levels on the TLRN for the current year, from April 2012 to March 2013, will actually be lower than the previous 12 month period.
Obviously the weather last summer – rather wetter than usual – may have played a part in suppressing demand. This is a point Gilligan makes, while also arguing that this is unlikely to be the only explanation. It is particularly noteworthy that the Olympics saw the highest ever numbers of people cycling to work (19% higher than the equivalent 2 week period in 2011), suggesting that the decline outside of the Olympic period over 2012 may be even more marked than these figures imply.
The GLA have a detailed month-by-month breakdown of cycle flows on the TLRN since the year 2000, which might give some more context to what’s going on. Here’s the familiar (and increasingly spiky) pattern since 2000, showing the yearly fluctuations in cycling, and the general upward trend.
This is an indexed graph – all figures are presented relative to March 2000, as 100. I’ve added a trendline to this same graph.
I wouldn’t place too much faith on this line – I think there’s too much noise in the seasonal variation for it to really stand up to scrutiny – but it does correspond to some things we already know, particularly a steeper rate of uptake in 2005 in response to the 7/7 attacks. It also shows the tailing off in 2012, referenced by Gilligan.
We can also present this data relative to the same monthly period in the previous year (this particular GLA data only starts in 2004, for some reason).
Obviously if cycling is growing year on year, the red line will be above 0%. This was generally the case until 2012. Adding a trendline again (with the previous caveat) -
That drop-off to the right is why Transport for London are predicting the cycling rates on the TLRN will be lower than in 2011/12.
In more detail, focusing on just the last few years (01_09/10 is the first month of the 09/10 year, i.e. April 2009) -
Something is plainly happening to growth in cycling on the TLRN, close to or below zero since the start of 2012, with a brief spike in the autumn. The picture is certainly far more complicated than the steady year-on-year growth of nearly 10% that was occurring during the first decade of the millennium. This can’t be put down entirely to weather, not just because of the Olympic boom, but also because previous summers were also relatively wet. The year 2007, for instance, was a washout, and this doesn’t appear to have affected the rate of growth at that time.
Are we reaching the limit of the number of people willing to cycle on the roads that tend to have heavier and faster volumes of motor traffic – the roads controlled by Transport for London? That might explain why growth is tailing off, and I think it’s a plausible explanation, among others. It certainly corresponds with TfL evidence unearthed by Jim at Drawing Rings Around the World, who wrote yesterday that
only 28% of occasional cyclists in London think busy roads are safe, compared to a majority who think quiet roads are safe. That may sound obvious to some, but to me it shows illustrates two important points:
- Most people don’t think cycling itself is unsafe, just cycling in heavy traffic.
- Busy roads are more likely to have cycling ‘infrastructure’ such as advisory cycle lanes, but they don’t seem to have much impact on safety perceptions. This suggests we need better infrastructure, a la the Netherlands.
The TfL Travel in London report that contains this evidence also shows that people are lengthening their cycle trips to avoid busy roads like the TLRN, as Jim points out. Perhaps more people newer to cycling are just avoiding the TLRN as much as they can, and the numbers of people confident enough to cycle on these roads is staying relatively constant, or even falling. The picture will obviously become clearer with more data – I think it’s too early to start making definitive statements – but it does appear that growth on these roads can no longer be relied upon, or taken for granted.