Living Jackson

Benefits of cycling
Changing the policy mindset on cycling

Changing the policy mindset on cycling


The opening in May 2016 of a new separated
cycle track right up to the Houses of Parliament symbolises hope for a change in cycling policy and planning in the UK. Cycling is two per cent of trips in the UK, whereas in high-cycling European countries it can be 25 per cent. For several decades now UK transport policy
has aimed to increase cycling, but we’ve mostly been unsuccessful. My name is Rachel Aldred, and my research
has helped push cycling up the policy agenda. I became interested in transport during my
PhD, when I spent a lot of time walking around an area of London divided by transport infrastructure. I became fascinated by the ways that transport connects communities, but also separates them. Our hostile roads particularly exclude women,
older people, disabled people and children from cycling. My research has sought to understand
why we’ve largely failed to increase and diversify cycling, and to contribute to changing
this. Historically cycling policy has focused on encouraging people to cycle, rather than
changing a road environment that’s frequently scary and intimidating. My work has helped shift perceptions among
policymakers, as well as clearly establishing the kind of streets we need to make cycling
a mass mode of transport. It’s contributed to the appearance for the first time of high-quality
cycling infrastructure in London and other parts of the UK, with proper provision for
cycling as a grown-up mode of transport. You see parents, you see children, you see
students – I’ve seen more older people on these roads than I ever would have thought
I’d see cycling in central London. The protection just lets everyone come in and ride as they
see fit. ESRC funding for the Cycling Cultures research
project was crucial for this impact. As part of this research I’ve established networks
with policymakers and practitioners, and regularly work with transport authorities across the
UK. For us as a tiny organisation, which is doing
very specialist work – suddenly we’ve been able to ourselves get a much broader
perspective and a much broader understanding, but also gain a lot more influence. An ESRC-funded seminar series on modelling
has helped me engage further with city planners, shaping transport modelling and making it
more cycling-friendly. Modelling is crucial for planning interventions, and its limitations
have often blocked cycling and walking schemes. I think we’ve now got a much better understanding
around barriers to cycling and perceptions of safety. That had a huge impact in terms
of the policy aspirations of TfL. So it’s the early research that Rachel has been involved
with and her campaigning that has really driven us forward, and taken us to a new level in
terms of our standards and our infrastructure. My recent work on near misses in cycling has
started to shift the debate around this issue. Traditionally road safety hasn’t used near
misses as an early warning sign, unlike in air and rail transport. Now police services
are starting to collect and analyse data on near misses, which are used to target enforcement
activities and plan infrastructure changes. Generally I’m keen to link cycling to liveable
cities and neighbourhoods. As a human-scale mode of transport, cycling, like walking, should be part of transforming our cities for people.

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