This article was published in 2016, in Newsletter 124.
Anyone who has been riding on the cycle track beside the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway will know that as a wide, smooth, traffic-free route into Cambridge it is exemplary.
It seems intuitive that this is the kind of infrastructure we need to encourage people to cycle. But has the Guided Busway actually increased cycling, or is it just a facility for existing cyclists to take a different route?
A recent study concludes that the Busway has increased cycle commuting among those who live near it. Even better, the increase came from those who were previously less active.
The study followed 469 adult commuters who lived within 30km of Cambridge, and worked in areas which could be reached by the Busway. Median distance from home to work was 8km.
Participants were assessed by survey the year before and after the Guided Busway opened in August 2011. The majority of participants (88%) had at least one car in the household.
For active commuting, the definition of an effect was limited to a substantial change of ±50 minutes/week (equivalent to a change of at least 5 minutes/trip, assuming a 5-day working week), redefining smaller changes as ‘no change’.
Exposure to the Busway was associated with a significantly greater likelihood of an increase in weekly cycle commuting time. As an example, participants living 4km from the Busway were 34% more likely to have increased their cycle commuting time than those living 9km away. Among those who reported more cycle commuting after the Busway opened compared to before, the mean increase was 86.6 minutes per week, or more than half the recommended weekly activity. This was against a background of reduced physical activity among participants as a whole compared to before the Busway opened.
The study notes that cycling infrastructure in Cambridge is worse and less consistent than in other European countries, and ‘it is therefore important to have shown that improving transport infrastructure can foster change’.
The study was focused on health outcomes: ‘These findings provide new evidence to support reconfiguring transport systems as part of public health improvement strategies.’
Outside the scope of the study are other potential benefits: transporting people by space-efficient methods into a crowded city, without increasing local pollution. Cycling is quiet, while exposure to traffic noise has a known effect on health. Providing cycle infrastructure is much cheaper than building roads, even before taking into account the societal costs of inactivity which are reduced by regular cycling. The evidence is mounting that enabling cycling should be a key component of any health and transport strategy.
The paper, Impact of New Transport Infrastructure on Walking, Cycling, and Physical Activity, is available at http://www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797(15)006224/abstract
A companion study, not summarised here, focuses on modal shift, trip frequency and distance travelled to work in the context of the Guided Busway: Changes in mode of travel to work: a natural experimental study of new transport infrastructure http://www.ijbnpa.org/content/12/1/81