The future has two wheels

The future has two wheels

We’ve all seen the headlines about our overweight, out of shape population, and the damage that air pollutions can cause. From lung disease to diabetes, we are facing a looming public health crisis if we fail to stimulate behavioural change. 

Getting people out of their cars and into public transport, walking, and cycling will not only make us a healthier society – it will also bring significant economic benefits, as demonstrated by case studies from around the world. In New York City, for example, after a dedicated cycling lane was introduced to a Manhattan shopping street, retail sales increased by up to 49%, while a cost-benefit analysis on cycling infrastructure in Copenhagen concluded that cars cost society and private individuals six times more than cycling. Translated to the UK market, Danish levels of cycling would save the NHS £17 bn within 20 years.

According to figures from national cycling charity the Cyclists’ Touring Club (CTC), if cycle use increases from less than 2% of all journeys (current levels) to 10% by 2025 and 25% by 2050, the cumulative benefits would be worth £248bn between 2015 and 2050 for England – yielding annual benefits in 2050 worth £42bn in today’s money. 

There are common themes among the countries that have been most successful in implementing new cycling infrastructure strategies: political commitment, flexibility in design, and – according to a comparative study carried out for Transport for London – a cultural acceptance of the notion that cycling is “an entirely legitimate, desirable, every day, ‘grown up’ mode of transport, worthy of investment.”

It is only recently that the same level of investment has begun to emerge here in Britain. As of 2015, the Department for Transport has funnelled £146.5 million into cycling schemes around the country; including £24.3 million in Birmingham alone, where PBA’s transport planners have been instrumental in transforming the landscape in preparation for a two-wheeled revolution.

As we discussed recently in our Birmingham Cycle Revolution workshop at the Academy of Urbanism Annual Congress, Birmingham City Council has taken a strong leadership role in its vision for cycling, with an aim of having 5% of all trips in the city to be made by bike by 2023 and to double this again to 10% by 2033. 

PBA is supporting this goal through its contribution to the design of cycle schemes in the city, including new cycle lanes, paths, and parking facilities – and we have worked with other local authorities on similar strategies, with cycle networks established in Cambridge, Croydon and Brighton, and a new cycle hire scheme in Reading.

There are certainly challenges ahead: in order for cycling schemes to become fully entrenched in public life, the public need reassurances about cycling safety and about the reliability and usability of cycle-specific lanes, junctions and road signals.

But these are concerns already being addressed through technological innovation – for example, improved sightlines and detection systems in HGV cabs will help protect cyclists in busy urban centres, especially in London, and there are high levels of public support for a redesign of the roundabouts where repeat accidents take place.

And figures show that the use of bikes as transport is increasing. The numbers still aren’t huge, but cycling traffic has risen year-on-year since 2008, and in 2014, the number of miles cycled altogether in the UK (3.25 billion) was 3.8% higher than in 2013 (more than either motorcycles or buses).

This revolution is already on a roll – and we are proud to play a part in it.

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