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.
- 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.
More 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!