Over on BikeHub.co.uk I’ve published an article on a new YouGov survey, commissioned by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. The RoSPA press release states that the overwhelming majority of people in Britain would support greater provision for people on bicycles. The research was done online over two days at the end of February and involved 2,169 people, 58 percent of whom said they never ever cycle. 40 percent said no amount of road safety campaigns, slower motorists or separated cycle infrastructure would encourage them to ride bicycles.
I asked RoSPA for the YouGuv survey questions and results, and here they are.
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While there are most definitely more women riding bicycles now than 15 years ago – British Cycling is ahead of the curve here with Breeze rides and other initiatives – there still aren’t enough women on bikes. Famously, in the Netherlands, the gender split is 51 percent women to 49 percent men.
And there aren’t enough women in the cycle industry, either. This is not for the want of trying. At an industry event yesterday Isla Rowntree of Islabikes told me she can’t attract women job-seekers for love nor money. Islabikes is a childrens’ bicycle brand not a testosterone-fuelled roadie company yet for every 50 job seekers answering Islabike adverts 50 will be men, said Isla.
On job adverts some other bicycle companies have been known not to state they are bicycle companies – but once their cover is blown the number of women applicants drops away.
The photographs on this gallery show that there are women cyclists – in civvies – battling against the crappy cycling conditions (the pix were all shot in London on the same day) but, clearly, there would a whole lot more if the hostile road conditions weren’t quite so hostile.
This is a point made by researchers led by cycle advocate and University of Westminster academic Dr Rachel Aldred. The research found that growing cycling levels have not been accompanied by greater age and gender diversity.
The researchers first looked at the relationship between cycling levels and gender balance in all English and Welsh local authorities, using the 2001 and 2011 Census data. In both years there was a clear relationship: areas where cycling levels were higher, such as Cambridge, had a greater proportion of female cyclists. By contrast in areas with very low cycling levels, the gender ratio was extremely unequal, with men up to 14 times more likely to cycle to work than women.
The research was carried out for the Economic and Social Research Council, and was part of a project led by the Centre for Diet and Activity Research and the National Institute for Health Research. According to a press release from ESRC Inner London is one of cycling’s success stories in that cycle commuting rose from 3.8 percent to 7.2 percent of workers from 2001 to 2011. However, gender disparities remain, with men continuing to be around 50 percent more likely to cycle to work than women.
Dr Aldred said:
“We know from the Netherlands and Denmark that women and older people will cycle, if the conditions are right. But these results show that UK policy-makers cannot assume that if cycling grows it will inevitably become more diverse. This has not happened and so we should be targeting policy towards currently under-represented groups.
In particular, evidence shows that women have particularly strong preferences for cycle infrastructure fully separated from motor traffic.”
Why hasn’t the UK got Dutch-style cycle networks in every town, city and village? Partly it’s down to culture: the Netherlands has had 100+ years of bicycle-based national identification. This is so strong that the Dutch bike – the omafiets, or granny bike, a Dutch national icon – is deemed to be peculiar to the Netherlands when, in fact, it’s English. Because the bicycle was adopted as a symbol of Dutch national identity from about 1910 it was far easier for politicians and planners to pay for and design bicycle path networks when, in the 1970s, there was a groundswell of support to rein back the car, which was starting to clutter up Dutch cities.
The current call from many British cycle campaigners to ‘Go Dutch’ echoes similar calls from cycle campaigners in the 1970s
The oil crisis of 1973 sent shockwaves around the world. Use of cars dropped; use of bicycles rose. There was a boom in bike sales in the early 1970s – from a low point of selling just 164,000 adult bicycles at the end of the 1960s the market jumped to 600,000 sales a year by the mid-1970s.
In the Netherlands, recognition that reliance on Middle Eastern oil was not sustainable resulted in a metric ton of cycleways to make an already bike-mad nation into an even bikier one. In the UK there was the same desire for change, the same desire to seize the moment and rein back the car. As we all know, not a lot changed.
But it wasn’t for the want of trying. All Change to Bikes was an umbrella initiative aimed at getting UK planners and politicians to see what their counterparts in the Netherlands had seen. The organisations signed up to the joint aims of All Change to Bikes included CTC, the Council for the Protection of Rural England, the Civic Trust, the trade and industry’s British Cycling Bureau, and the British Cycling Federation, and others. All Change to Bikes was run by Friends of the Earth, and some of those involved in the campaign went on to other roles in cycle advocacy, here and in the US.
The aims included the desire to “reallocate existing road space to create priority routes by local authorities for cyclists and pedestrians” and there should be a “network of priority routes linking all destinations (e.g. schools, shops, offices, factories and places of entertainment) and access to the countryside.”
Some people may be surprised to find CTC on that list of subscribing bodies. There’s a belief in some quarters that CTC has always opposed any form of “segregation” of bicycles from motor traffic. This is not wholly the case and CTC’s policy documents demonstrate the actual official views. In the 1970s, Stevenage’s Dutch-style cycleways system changed the CTC’s mind on segregation. Policy document after policy document show that the CTC actively welcomed and applauded the cycleways work done by Eric Claxton, chief designer of this New Town.
CTC urged other towns and cities to follow suit. Peterborough, Cambridge, Nottingham and Portsmouth trialled some Claxton-style cycleways, but not enough were put in place to make much difference.
Despite CTC’s championing of “cycleways” and other Dutch-style interventions, the UK’s car-centric planners and politicians went out of their way to ignore the use of bicycles. In a 1981 article in New Scientist, Mick Hamer used the example of the Netherlands to show what we, in Britain, were missing. Hamer, author of Wheels Within Wheels of 1974, an examination of the motor lobby’s caustic influence on British politics, was effusive in his praise of Dutch cycleways but, clearly, his editors at New Scientist weren’t so convinced. “For years, cyclists have been telling us they need cycle tracks,” wrote the New Scientist editors, but then went on to list the standard perceived evils perpetrated by cyclists, including riding on pavements (the magazine, in passing and with no comment, admitted drivers were guilty of this sin, too).
Hamer’s article is a read-it-and-weep one because it could have been written yesterday. Click to read it in full.
The history of cycle advocacy from the 1970s until today will be the subject of my new book, Bike Boom.
The Kickstarter for Bike Boom runs until March 17th 2016. Please consider pledging for first-edition rewards and more.