As a result of social distancing rules in place since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, many cities have expanded cycling programs to support travel by bike. In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has recently announced the launch of a £2bn ‘cycling revolution’ to combat the country’s obesity problem. The plan will include thousands of miles of new bicycle lanes, cycle training for those who want it, and bicycle repair vouchers for the public. To gain insight into how popular these policies may be, Redfield & Wilton Strategies asked London residents whether they travel by bike. We found that over a third, 35%, of Londoners use bicycles to travel around London.
There is a relatively significant division in bike usage depending on gender and age. Over two out of every five (41%) men cycle, compared to less than a third of women (29%). Young people are much more likely to cycle than older generations. Over half of those aged 18-24 years-old travel by bike, but this number decreases notably after age 44, where only a quarter use bikes.
Moreover, of those who do travel around London on bikes, we found that a strong plurality (42%) do so multiple times a week, while almost a quarter (24%) cycle daily.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, street traffic in the capital has diminished significantly, as Londoners worked remotely from home. Despite the easing of lockdown, public transport is currently operating at 30% of pre-coronavirus levels. Concerns about using public transport have resulted in a surge in bike usage – in May and June alone, a record-breaking two million ‘Boris Bikes’ were hired.
At this stage, roughly equal numbers of Londoners believe that cycling is safe (36%) and unsafe (37%). We again see a gender split, with more men feeling confident that cycling is safe (42%) than women (32%). A clear plurality (43%) of women believe that cycling is unsafe, compared to less than a third (32%) of men, perhaps explaining why fewer women have been cycling than men.
Young people also tend to feel safer cycling in the city, with over half (53%) of 18-to-24-year-olds saying it is safe, compared to only 23% who disagree. By contrast, nearly half (49%) of those over 44 years-old see cycling as unsafe. It is likely that more young people are traveling by bike because they consider it safe, or their experiences on the road have provided evidence that the activity is safe. The tendency for young people to use bikes may also be related to the limited rates of car ownership within this age group – a majority (53%) of 18-to-24-year-olds do not own cars. Overall, a significant minority (44%) of Londoners do not have a car.
Since some Londoners worry about the safety of cycling, many may choose to walk instead. We found that a majority (56%) of respondents do support making the majority of streets in central London pedestrian-only, with only 17% disagreeing.
Among young people, 64% of 18-to-24-year-olds agree that most streets in central London should be made pedestrian-only. More pedestrian walkways would decrease traffic fears and improve safety for cyclists as well. Nevertheless, pedestrianized zones could disrupt the commutes of many who travel using private vehicles, while it is unclear how authorities could ensure that delivery drivers could continue to operate effectively and service the city’s commercial hub.
Altogether, a large proportion of the London public, especially younger people, cycle regularly. Despite significant investment in creating protected cycling lanes in the capital, a slight plurality of Londoners do continue to consider that the activity is unsafe, suggesting there is room for further improvement in the layout of cycling infrastructure.