Cycling grew more than other transport types over the pandemic, data shows

Latest Department for Transport figures show that cycling continued its rise in 2021, but may have now fallen away

Cyclists in London
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Cycling continued to grow in 2021 as other forms of transport fell, new data from the Department of Transport has shown.

A new Road Traffic Estimates document (opens in new tab), published on Wednesday, shows that while cycling decreased between the peak of lockdown in 2020 and lessened measures in 2021, it remained above 2019 levels by 15.7%.

Against the increasing use of bicycles was a 15.8% decrease in car and taxi use in 2021, plus nearly a quarter off the rate of bus and coach use last year.

The DfT document says: "Although all motor vehicle types saw an increase between 2020 and 2021, overall traffic levels remained below pre-pandemic levels in 2019. Car and motorcycle traffic saw the biggest increases, but still remained below pre-pandemic levels by -15.8% and -5.2%, respectively. 

"Although van and lorry traffic experienced smaller increases in vehicle miles between 2020 and 2021, they rose above pre-pandemic levels by 1.7% and 1.6%, respectively. Conversely, pedal cycle traffic levels decreased between 2020 and 2021, but remained above 2019 levels by 15.7%."

However, activity in England has now fallen back to pre-pandemic levels, government statistics have also shown. 

According to the latest National Travel Survey, published on Wednesday by the Department for Transport, the average person in England made just 2% of all their trips by cycling in 2021.

The study also revealed that the average number of trips made by bicycle dropped to 15 per person last year, down from 20 in 2020. 

Sarah Mitchell, chief executive of Cycling UK, said in a statement: “It’s sadly no surprise that last year those cycling levels dropped, as some short-sighted councils began pulling out the protected lanes which kept people safe, and traffic levels rose again."

Transport figures

(Image credit: DfT)

The DfT statistics show that historically, cycling fell rapidly during the 1950s and 1960s during the boom of car ownership, before stabilising and then growing throughout the 21st century so far.

"In 2020, there was a 46.1% increase on the 2019 levels to 5.3 billion cycle miles," the document says. "In 2021, pedal cycle levels dropped by 20.8% on the 2020 levels to 4.2 billion cycle miles but remain above 2019 levels (by 15.7%)."

"Monthly pedal cycle traffic levels in 2021 were higher than the equivalent months in 2019, except in October 2021," it continues. "The highest levels of traffic were seen in March and April. During these months, traffic levels were 41% and 35% higher than the equivalent month in 2019, respectively."

As the roads were generally quieter, for motorised traffic anyway, provisional figures show that road fatalities fell in 2020 and 2021.

"Provisional figures for 2021 estimated that there were 1,560 reported road deaths, a reduction of 12% compared to the 2017 - 2019 average," the latest document says. "In comparison to 2020, there were increases in casualties of all severities in 2021, though pedal cyclists showed a reduction in fatalities (-20%)."

Earlier this month, the National Travel Survey showed that cars accounted for 59% of all trips, making them the most popular choice of transport in 2021.

Sally Copley, executive director of external affairs at walking and cycling charity Sustrans, said at the time: “It’s simple. Today’s data shows that if we want more people to walk, wheel and cycle, then the way we get around must be safe, accessible and appealing.

“During the pandemic, when there were fewer cars on the road, the public took to their bikes. It’s sad to see this return to expensive and pollutant car-use, especially as the urgency for alternatives has only increased, alongside the cost-of-living.” 

Are you someone who took up cycling during the pandemic and has continued or now stopped? Get in touch - adam.becket@futurenet.com

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