Just how far do cyclists cycle?

This article was published in 2008, in Newsletter 76.

As someone who first examined travel survey data over 35 years ago, I’ve been concerned how little genuine data on cycle trips is available in or around Cambridge.

When I moved to Cambridge some 20 years ago I was amazed that a major origin and destination survey did not include cyclists. Even some recent surveys for the Transport Innovation Fund, where some motorists were stopped and questioned, as were some bus passengers, failed to get data from cyclists.

Pie chart

I’m just one of the many of people that I know cycle more than 8 km (5 miles) to work each day from a ‘necklace’ village. More seriously, several recent transport assessments for new developments assume that people like me don’t exist. In fact, they assume that no trips of more than 5 km are made by bike, allocating such trips to ‘bus’ or ‘car’. In fact some have even also applied the ‘modal split’ of Bar Hill to all Cambridge fringe developments.

The Cycling Campaign and others have questioned such assumptions which are clearly wrong, and lead to over-provision for motorists, and under-provision for cyclists.

I knew that some raw data on cycle-to-work trips had been collected as part of ‘Travel to Work’ surveys undertaken by the Cambridgeshire Travel for Work (TfW) Partnership*, but that it had not been processed in a suitable way to answer my question (How far do cyclists cycle?) in a detailed way.

TfW has now processed data from the 2007 survey. Of a sample of some 1,500 trips, 32% are under 2 km, but more interestingly 22% are over 5 km.

Transport consultants should try to remember that this is Cambridge where over 25% of ‘to work’ trips are by bike and that some 20,000 cycle trips cross the river Cam each day (even out of University term) and that 6,000 trips cross the ‘City boundary’. I’m sure that any transport modelling exercise that ignores the longest 20% of trips by one major mode should be considered very suspect.

The Travel for Work partnership has produced estimates of over 22% of cycle trips to work being over 5 km and 9% being over 8 km. These figures may seem small but the longer cycle trips have a greater effect on reducing congestion (fewer motor vehicle miles in a congested area). This means that if higher numbers of longer trips are made by bike than are estimated, the need for, and hence cost of, many road improvements predicted by traffic planners would be unnecessary.

Finally it is good to have proof that my cycle-to-work trip, and those of many friends, are not imaginary, but recorded in real statistics. It is more than a little worrying that many transport planners imagine so many car trips will occur, and demand that unnecessary multi-lane junctions are constructed. Or will this just be another case of ‘expectation realisation’?

Many thanks to the Cambridgeshire Travel for Work Partnership for this data. The Cycling Campaign is a member of the TfW Steering Group.

Jim Chisholm

*Cambridgeshire Travel for Work Partnership. TfW provides travel solutions for Cambridgeshire employers and developers. The officers help employers prepare and implement effective travel initiatives that ease transport and access problems associated with existing sites or new business developments. For more information, visit: www.tfw.org.uk