London’s enormous cycling potential

Back in 2010, Transport for London published an Analysis of Cycling Potential. – an assessment of many trips could be cycled by Londoners, but weren’t being cycled now. It was quite a conservative analysis (as will be described below) but even so it found that 4.3 million trips per day were potentially cyclable by Londoners, which amounted to 23% of all trips, and 35% of all trips by ‘mechanised modes’ (cars, taxis or public transport).

Now that report has been updated, released in March this year with a less restrictive assessment of what kinds of trips can’t be cycled. This new report has found that 8.17 million daily trips could be cycled by Londoners – that’s 41% of all trips, and 62% of all trips  made by motorised modes.

It should also be noted that this figure doesn’t include those trips that are already cycled, and those trips that are currently being walked.

On the left we see the total number of daily trips made by Londoners; the red bars are ‘deducted’ from that total, and are formed of ‘already cycled’ trips, trips that are walked, and some 5 million trips made by mechanised modes that, according to this analysis, can’t be cycled.

How has this 8.17 million figure been arrived at? It’s worth looking first at which trips were excluded under the 2010 analysis.

Significantly, any night-time trip was completely excluded, as was any trip by a person with a disability, any person under five or over 64, and any trips longer than about 5 miles, or that involved a heavy or bulky load, or any trip that took 20% longer to travel by cycle than by the previous mode.

Quite properly, these filters have been completely changed for the 2016 analysis; those changes account for the enormous increase in the number of potentially cyclable trips.

Notably –

  • The ‘encumbrance’ filter has been adjusted – bulky or heavy loads can now be cycled, with only ‘heavy work equipment’ or pushchairs excluded.
  • The ‘trip length’ filter stays the same, but has been increased from 8km to 10km for commuting trips
  • The ‘journey time’ filter has been removed altogether, mainly on the grounds that cycling journey time is reliable, so the potential extra time required to cycle can be deducted.
  • The age filter has been adapted to be distance-based; age no longer excludes trips altogether, but there is a recognition that older and younger people will not be so willing or able to cycle longer distances. It’s notable that trips by under 5s are still completely excluded though.
  • The ‘time of travel’ filter has been removed completely – trips at any time of day should properly be cyclable.
  • Likewise the ‘disability’ filter has also been removed completely – disability should not be a barrier to cycling.
  • Finally, a ‘trip chaining’ filter has been added– to include cycle stages forming part of longer trips.

There’s an acknowledgement these filters may still actually underestimate potential, particularly the distance filter. But it’s worth observing that the majority of ‘potentially cyclable’ trips are not very long, in any case.

Screen Shot 2017-07-20 at 13.58.35.jpgMore than half (55%) of all potentially cyclable trips are less than 3km (1.9 miles). 80% are less than 5km (3 miles), which the analysis says could be cycled in less than 20 minutes by most people. This amounts to 6.47 million trips, which is a third of all the trips Londoners make. To repeat, these figures don’t even include all the walking trips Londoners make; add those in and we find that 64% of all trips Londoners make are either already walked, or could be easily cycled in twenty minutes. London might be a large city, but a large proportion of the trips its residents make are relatively short and easily walkable and cyclable.

But what does all this ‘potential’ amount to in practice? What difference could it make? There’s a good amount of detail in the report on where ‘potentially cyclable’ trips are being made, who is making them, and how they are making them.


58% of these potential trips are trips that are currently made by car – this is 4.7 million daily trips, or around a quarter of all the trips Londoners make every day.

The rest is mainly composed of bus trips – 29% of the potentially cyclable trips are made by bus. The report also looks at these modes from the opposite perspective – how many trips by each mode are potentially cyclable.

A full two-thirds of all car trips Londoners make are potentially cyclable under the terms of this analysis – there is clearly enormous scope for reducing the amount of pollution, congestion, and improving public health, across the capital, provided cycling is designed and planned for, to enable these trips. In addition over 80% of current bus trips are cyclable. Given that 40% of London bus trips are completely free for the user – that is to say, subsidised – there is clear potential for reducing both costs and pressure on the London bus network too.

How about where these potentially cyclable trips are located? The report reveals, perhaps unsurprisingly, that the most potential is in outer London. 54.7% of all the ‘potentially cyclable’ trips are made within outer London.

But there are still enormous numbers of trips within inner London alone – 24.4% of all the potentially cyclable trips. There are well over a million daily trips by private motor traffic in inner London that could be cycled, and the report also notes that

While the overall number of potentially cyclable trips across central London and parts of inner London is lower than in outer London, there is a high density of trips in these areas. Combined with the number of potentially cyclable stages, this shows why interventions in the heart of the city are important to increase cycling.

To give some indication of the importance of inner London, even if we just look at Westminster alone, there are 600,000 daily trips that either start or end in that borough that could potentially be cycled.

While inner London does perform slightly better than outer London in terms of cycling modal share, only 9% of potentially cyclable trips in inner London are actually being cycled – the figure is, of course, even worse for outer London (4%). Given the recent controversy over the desperately poor new Five Ways proposal, it’s worth flagging here that Croydon has 400,000 potentially cyclable trips by residents that aren’t being cycled at the moment – the largest potential of any London borough.


Finally, it’s worth looking at what kinds of trips would potentially be cycled, and who would be making them.

The report shows that the vast majority of potentially cyclable trips would actually be cycled by females.

This isn’t actually all that surprising, given that it aligns with the kind of cycling share we see in countries where cycling isn’t suppressed by conditions, like the Netherlands, where trips by women outnumber those by men. As for ages, this graph also shows that around one-quarter of all potentially cyclable trips are by those under 16 or over 65. The number of potentially cyclable trips by children under 16 is approximately double the number of all trips currently cycled in London.

Cycling potential is evenly distributed across ethnicity, age, gender and income – for instance, it almost exactly aligns with the current ethnic profile of London. In other words, the report shows clearly that ‘cycling’ is not something that is intrinsically limited to any particular age, gender, ethnicity or class – it is only limited by current conditions. Unlocking this enormous potential has to involve tackling these conditions, because

The most significant barrier to realising this potential is that most cyclable trips are made by people that do not cycle at all

The kinds of trips that could potentially be cycled would also be much more evenly distributed by purpose.

As can be seen from this graph, commuting is disproportionately represented among current cycling trips – a full 28% of all trips. But under potentially cyclable trips, the figure drops to 17%, just 1 in 6 of all trips. This is why we need to move on from just catering for commuting trips, and developing networks that work for all types of trips. To take just one example, 82% of all trips for education purposes are potentially cyclable.

Indeed, the report notes that

Much of the potential identified is different to current cycling behaviour – only 2.54 million of the potentially cyclable trips are similar to current cycling trips

In other words, the kinds of ordinary day-to-day trips that are seen in Dutch towns and cities are grossly underrepresented in London.

Now of course not all of these 8.17 million trips – or 41% of total London trips – will necessarily end up actually being cycled, even if London does have a Dutch-quality comprehensive network built across it overnight. This study is only a measure of potential, and even if a trip is potentially cyclable, people may opt to use other modes of transport. So this won’t translate directly into a 41% mode share.

However, there are strong reasons for thinking that London could have a mode share approaching this kind of figure. For one thing, in addition to these 8.17 million trips, there are 1.55 million ‘stages’ (parts of trips) that could be cycled as part of a longer journey by other modes. These are mostly made by bus or underground. That’s a total of 9.71 million trips and stages that could potentially be cycled. Secondly, as already mentioned, this report also (quite rightly) excludes walking trips, but it’s reasonable to assume that a reasonable amount of longer walking trips would be transferred to cycling. And finally, these figures only cover Londoner residents – they don’t cover people who travel into London – so again will likely underestimate cycling potential, particularly in inner London.

In summary, this is a fascinating report that deserves to have a serious influence on transport policy in London, and indeed across urban areas in the United Kingdom, which are of course much more car-dominated than London. If there is such enormous potential in a city that has relatively low car share (at least compared to the rest of the UK), then it is surely even greater in other UK urban areas. Indeed, the potential for the largest shifts away from driving is already acknowledged to be greater away from London.

I’ve only covered some of the highlights here, so it’s worth digging into this report yourself!

This entry was posted in Cycling policy, Infrastructure, London, Transport for London. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to London’s enormous cycling potential

  1. Paul Luton says:

    For people 65-79 trips of greater than 5km are treated as uncycleable ! As someone in that range happy to cycle rather more than 10x that distance I would suggest that the number of potentially cycleable trips has been underestimated.

    • USbike says:

      And even more so if e-bikes are taken into consideration. These are becoming more and more popular, especially among the elderly people here in the Netherlands. While there are some negative aspects about e-bikes that you wouldn’t get with traditional bikes (environmentally for instance), I’d still take people using these over scooters or cars any day.

    • Mark Williams says:

      As someone in the 5–64 range happy to cycle more than 10‍ ‍× the 10 km, albeit not for two-way commuting, I think you are almost certainly correct. Indeed, having a different ‘cyclable’ distance for commutes and for that to be greater than non-commutes is immediately doubly suspicious. Surely if a two hour commute by other modes is considered acceptable in London, then why not the same criteria for cycling potential? Likewise if you haven’t got to do a day’s work sandwiched between two commutes, then why is it not considered that a much larger proportion of the day is available for cycling? My longest regular, but infrequent, journey is over 250 km and takes between 11 and 12 hours. Indeed, very many of my existing cycle journeys are considered ‘not cyclable’ under various combinations of the 2010 and 2017 filters.

      For the section of the report:

      Much of the potential identified is different to current cycling behaviour – only 2.54 million of the potentially cyclable trips are similar to current cycling trips

      …I draw a different conclusion to the post author. To me; this is an admission that the model is basically useless (policy based evidence making?) even for assessing potential, its outputs cannot be trusted and the report is not worth the paper it’s printed on or the wages of whoever wrote it. If TFL want to come up with an artificially low figure to justify London’s continued suppression of cycling levels; why didn’t they just include a tolerance threshold for mixing with criminally and dangerously operated motor vehicles, private and public, on its crap ‘shared’ carriageways—assuming all that to be invariant?

  2. dr2chase says:

    If 80% of bus trips are cycleable and anything near that happens, what happens to the utility of buses? To realize cost savings, fewer buses would run, which makes bus transit less useful and waits become much longer. Or would entire lines be eliminated instead?

    • It’s certainly an interesting issue. A large proportion (40%) of bus trips are subsidised – effectively, TfL and the boroughs pay for free bus travel for children and the elderly – so if these trips are cycled instead, they would be a net cost saving, at least to TfL/boroughs, rather than the bus companies.

      Another way of looking at it is in the context of London’s growing population – shifting people away from buses is actually a good way of reducing pressure on the system.

      Of course numbers actually shifting away from buses would probably prompt a reassessment of how buses operate – I’m certainly not an expert but there is probably potential for consolidating and streamlining existing routes to make them more efficient and attractive.

      • Lucy M says:

        Plus 50% of children choose cycling as their preferred mode of transport to school. I don’t know the percentage of children who would choose bus but I’d guess a far smaller proportion.
        So spending to make roads usable for children to cycle could be justified by the potential savings made on bus subsidies.

    • Jitensha Oni says:

      Doesn’t that depend how many of the traditional red double-deckers one is willing to sacrifice? There could be a few of those running about for tradition’s sake, but with reduced demand, perhaps a lot of bus trips could be serviced using smaller, more economical buses without impacting timetables, much. However, I suspect we’re going to have plenty of time to work this out.

  3. Clive Durdle says:

    I am a disabled cyclist. My cargo trike can carry 100 kg plus me. I don’t have e assist.

    I am puzzled by the strange assumptions these surveys make.

    Cycles can solve last mile logistic issues and thus also reduce vans, but there is no mention of this.

    Why don’t we start somewhere else? Copenhagen has 40,000 cargo bikes, that is half million scaled to london and with proper planning million becomes feasible, leading to cars and vans becoming rare in towns and cities

  4. Clive Durdle says:

    It is not either or! I want a fully integrated system! Today I have used my cargo trike, trains and buses. Reduce cars and vans on road yes, integrate them properly, for example freedom to take cargo trikes on trains!

    The other missing ingredient is trams!

  5. Pingback: London’s enormous cycling potential | As Easy As Riding A Bike

  6. Antony OBrien says:

    I think its setting the bar too high to look at the ‘dutch model’. We seem to pick a country for whatever we are trying to do that is ‘ number 1 and critique ourselves against that’. Hey Chinese children do Maths the best, why are we so bad. We need to look at the median and then in countries with similar infrastructure restrictions. For example, trains, we should look at a country like Italy, long and narrow, not a square like France. For cycling we need to look at countries with similar non urban areas, narrow roads, long distances to office/retail, and at cities with London/Manchester/Birmingham issues, not tiny cities, Amsterdam, or huge ones like Berlin but with a third of Londons population. Its unrealistic and therefore unhelpful. Id love London to have segregated routes for all journeys but we have to work within the confines of an ancient city that has some urban motorways ploughing through it. Our model should be our own not some pie in the sky ideal.

    • Clive Durdle says:

      Just ridden my cargo trike through the local park thinking about who might cycle. My cargo trike can replace all baby buggies and Parma, all people pulling shopping trolleys and carrying shopping, many older people struggling to get around with walking sticks.

      Look around. Copenhagen has 40000 cargo bikes, equivalent to half million for London, and that is without serious planning of these logistic problems.

      Are people unaware we really need to do something about chunks of Antarctica breaking off?

    • congokid says:

      Yes, let’s aim for average and we might just get to mediocrity. You forget that’s the policy we’ve been following for the past 50 years as far as cycling is concerned.

    • When this size of cities issue comes up, as it frequently does, I always ask whoever is putting it forward why city size matters in respect of cycling. I also ask what is the transition level, i.e. when does a city become too big for cycling, 1 million, 2 million, 4 million, 6 million, 10 million? I’ve collected several explanations which are that it is ‘obvious that it does matter’ and some choice insults, but no sustainable reasons why it should matter. Can you explain why you believe it matters?
      BTW, there seems to be a slight contradiction in your argument. The population of Birmingham is c. 1.1 million while that of Amsterdam is c. 850 thousand which is certainly not sufficiently miniscule enough to justify calling it tiny in comparison to Birmingham.
      I also dispute your assertion that to set the Netherlands as our model is pie in the sky; I see it as facts on the ground that reflect the policy choices made by governments.

      • dr2chase says:

        I don’t see how it’s possible to have too much population for cycling. Too little density combined with too much area, yes, but not too much population.

        Greater London has more people than the entire nation of Denmark, crammed into 1/27th the area. Or half the population of Netherlands, in 1/26th the area. Any cycling that is practical in Denmark is practical in Denmark compressed to 1/27th of its size, and the same holds true for Netherlands.

        What density and population work against is driving, because driving is so space-inefficient. A lane of road can move about 1800 cars per hour (one every two seconds) perhaps 2000, and maximum capacity occurs at a speed between 30 and 35mph. A full-width lane has quadruple that capacity or more for bicycle traffic, and this has even been observed on videos at intersections in London (e.g. ).

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