Study shows lack of infrastructure biggest thing holding people back from cycling

In Melbourne study, over half said they owned a bike, but only one in five cycled once a week

Cycling in city
(Image credit: Getty Images)

An Australian study has shown that a lack of cycling infrastructure that separates cyclists from motor traffic is the biggest reason behind people not cycling.

Research for the Journal of Transport & Health, commissioned by The Conversation, which was based on a survey of 3,999 people in Melbourne, shows that most participants owned a bike (57%), but only one in five (20%) rode a bike once a week.

The authors of the study used 'Geller types', which separate people into four categories of cyclist: 'Strong and Fearless', 'Enthused and Confident', 'Interested but Concerned', and 'No Way No How'.

They explained: "Interested but Concerned participants are those that would ride a bike if protected infrastructure were provided."

78% of respondents to the study put themselves into this group, which demonstrates "a high latent demand for bike riding if protected bicycling infrastructure were provided".

The authors argue: "The provision of separated bicycling infrastructure is important for both the safety and support of low risk bicycling environments to maintain and encourage participation. Most people in this study were interested in riding a bike if infrastructure were provided that physically separated them from motor vehicle traffic. 

"While painted bike lanes are a lower cost alternative to providing bicycling infrastructure, these do not constitute physically separated bicycling infrastructure. Research conducted in Melbourne that measured passing distances between motor vehicles and bikes identified more close, and potentially unsafe, passes when a person riding a bike was travelling in a painted bike lane compared to on-road."

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The study concluded: "As indicated by the findings of this study, removing interactions with motor vehicles through a physically separated bicycle lane could substantially increase participation in bike riding in Melbourne, while maintaining the safety of vulnerable road-users."

Some cycle lanes in the UK have been ripped up after they were put in place during the pandemic to encourage active travel, including one in Kensington and Chelsea.

In 2020, during the height of the first lockdown, Boris Johnson said that he would usher in a “golden age” for cycling: £2 billion was promised, with £250 million of that forming part of an emergency “active travel” fund to be used by councils to build “protected space for cycling”.

However, much of cycling infrastructure in the UK exists as painted lanes on roads, including many of the 'pop-up' lanes introduced during the pandemic, as the study says is the case in Melbourne.

The research also looked at the disparities between genders in cycling, with their survey finding that a "higher proportion of men than women in the sample owned a bike (63% vs. 52%), rode a bike at least once per week (28% vs. 12%) and rode a bike solely for transport (8.3% vs. 5.9%)". Women were also more likely to say they were part of the No Way No How group of cyclists.

The authors write: "Women are often under-represented in bike riding campaigns and popular culture due to lower participation, and the perspective of bike riding being a male-dominated activity. Despite low participation, over two thirds of women in this study were interested in riding a bike and over half owned a bike. 

"Importantly, many existing bike riding environments are often designed for the needs and confidence levels of men without disabilities. Infrastructure that enables women to ride a bike includes off-road paths, and bike-infrastructure that is physically separated from motor-vehicle traffic. 

"In future urban planning and research, it is vital that a lack of participation is not seen as a lack of interest in bike riding. Given that the findings of this study demonstrated high bike riding interest in women, understanding the specific barriers to riding a bike for women is needed to increase participation."

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Adam Becket
Senior news and features writer

Adam is Cycling Weekly’s senior news and feature writer – his greatest love is road racing but as long as he is cycling on tarmac, he's happy. Before joining Cycling Weekly he spent two years writing for Procycling, where he interviewed riders and wrote about racing, speaking to people as varied as Demi Vollering to Philippe Gilbert. Before cycling took over his professional life, he covered ecclesiastical matters at the world’s largest Anglican newspaper and politics at Business Insider. Don't ask how that is related to cycling.