As London Councils are challenged to further increase higher rates of cycling in their boroughs, their efforts are supported by initiatives from London’s central government.
London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan and the GLA, in an effort to reduce pressure on roads and public transport has set a target to reduce car journeys by 3 million per day by 2041.
The Mayor’s plan envisions 80 per cent of journeys will be made by public transport, walking or cycling, with enough cycling infrastructure in place to provide 70 per cent of Londoners with access to a safe cycle route within 400 metres of their home.
Transport for London (TfL) and London Councils are investing heavily into cycling infrastructure programmes to support these targets and generally agree cycling offers significant upside to alleviate road traffic issues by increasing cycle journeys over cars, while also creating ‘greener’ transport options that support clean air initiatives.
Along with more dedicated cycle routes, bicycle hire schemes, cycle parking facilities and education, London Councils have been tasked to deliver sufficient numbers of cycle skills training programmes to their communities to increase overall cycle journeys in their boroughs.
But is it enough? Will investment in these initiatives, along with improvements in cycling infrastructure, result in a modal shift in increased cycling journeys within London’s respective boroughs?
Some Councils, such as Lambeth, Southwark and Hackney are driving higher rates of cycling activity through increased course levels, promotions and events. But Boroughs are also under intense pressure to provide evidence their investment in cycle skills training programs results in greater cycle journeys. There are success stories. Sutton Council’s three year investment in their Smarter Travel program increased cycling by 75%.
A recent survey from Cycle Confident provided statistics supporting this to be the case. The survey was directed at 1539 adults living in one of 12 London boroughs who had taken a Cycle Skills training session from Cycle Confident in the last 7 years.
In answer to the key question of whether cycle skills training increased activity, 69 per cent of respondents stated their personal cycling activity increased after cycle instruction.
A follow on question provided further insights into cycling habits with 69 per cent stating their cycling activity increased between 1x more per month (11.44%), 2-3x per month (17.6%) to as much as 4x more per week (10.75%).
When asked if providing more Cycle Skills training would result in more people cycling in their area, 85.4% agreed with this question.
Respondents also agreed overwhelmingly when asked if they would like their Borough to provide more Cycle Skills training courses, with 88 per cent in the affirmative. This high number may be in response to concerns of budding cyclists who wish to cycle more but are put off by a number of factors, such as fear of busy roads or lack of cycling infrastructure.
The majority of London councils offer two free sessions per adult. However converting a new cyclist with basic skills learned in entry-level cycle training classes, to one who can confidently ride in busy London traffic, is a real challenge.
David Showell, MD of Cycle Confident says “Converting weekend leisure cyclists into weekday riders making local journeys or commuting to work is key to delivering modal shift in London’s Boroughs.”
Showell went on to say, “Cycle instruction is key. It delivers a good foundation to begin a lifelong cycling journey. But adults and children also need to be able to practice their new skills and build confidence before moving onto London’s busy roads.
Helen Hayes, MP of Dulwich and West Norwood, who recently took a cycle skills training course stated “The key to encouraging more Londoners to use cycling for every day travel is in my view both delivering significant investment in infrastructure to make our roads safer, and continuing free access to high quality training to give people the skills and confidence to cycle safely. I would never have felt confident enough to take my bike out on the road without the training I took part in, which made a huge difference.”
This seeming lack of confidence can be seen in the question regarding why more Londoners don’t cycle in their areas and addresses the issue of personal safety. While cyclists are willing to invest in further lessons with a view to increasing their cycling activity, 78 per cent said the reasons they didn’t cycle more was due to three key issues; 1) fear of cycling on busy roads, 56%; 2) lack of cycle lanes and quiet ways, 21%; and 3) not having sufficient cycle skills to ride with confidence on roads, 17%.
In answer to what type of cycling was preferred, 63% of respondents use their bicycle for leisure activities. This would assume many leisure cyclists ride their bikes during weekends, in parks, on bikes paths or quiet roads, rather than in traffic. In order to convert this group to commuter cycling, advanced, on-road training needs to be combined with further investment in cycling infrastructure to make sustainable gains in modal shift.
With TfL’s continued investment in London’s cycling initiatives, even modest increases in cycling activity, for example, from 2% to 5% are doable. This growth target is not just UK centric. Other European countries are also heavily supporting initiatives to increase cycling journeys.
France currently has a modal breakdown where on average, 2% of journeys take place by bike, but the head of their National Bicycle Council believes that 14-17% of all journeys is a realistic target.
Some UK and European cities have far higher rates of journeys by bike regardless of rain, cold or hilly terrain. For instance, the UK has its share of rain but Cambridge (100,000 inhabitants) enjoys 27% of journeys made by bike, with Oxford at 17%. In London during rush hour, it’s estimated 32% of all road users are cyclists.
Parma, Italy (176,000 inhabitants) at 19%, is as high as Amsterdam for cycling journeys. Västerås, Sweden (115,000 inhabitants) which is very cold in winter has 33% while Basel, Switzerland, (230,000 inhabitants), 23%.
The safety of a cyclist depends on a number of factors: their visibility to larger road users such as automobiles, motorist behaviour, unbroken road surface, clear signage, and separation from vehicles.
While cyclists are more vulnerable than heavier road users, physical and mental aptitude plays a part in their cycling experience. Good judgement, ability to anticipate problems before they occur, road sense and mastery of the bicycle such as balance and agility, play a great part in the cyclist having a safe journey. The delivery of National Standard Cycle Training as a foundation course is a key component to their continued safety.
Cycle Confident has played an integral part in London’s transformation into a burgeoning cycling city. As the leader in London’s Cycle Skills training sector for 10 years, Cycle Confident has trained over 75,000 children, 46,000 adults, and 15,000 HGV drivers as part of its remit to London’s Boroughs.
It continues to invest in its tech platform to deliver robust reporting back to its clients’ and uses data analysis to react quickly to Council client’s changing needs while delivering quality customer service to its retail customers.
In the near future Cycle Confident will be announcing new initiatives in Balance Bike Teacher Training (BBTT) and continues to develop new training programs to add to London’s growing reputation as a cycling-friendly city.
George Osborne’s promise at the end of last year to stick with the government’s £300 million commitment to cycling will have been a huge relief to training managers, safety campaigners and environmentalists across the UK. But how should local authority road safety officers and transport managers view the news?
Well, the Chancellor’s Spending Review pledge doesn’t represent a windfall because there’s no new money on top. Neither is it the policy back-pedal that some feared. Instead, it buys ‘breathing space’ for the cycle training sector … time that must be used wisely.
Concerns over cuts to funding should be viewed as a warning shot across the back wheels. Even though funding may be generally secure for now, who knows when cuts may come – or when pressures from other services could eat into cycle training budgets at local authorities? In that scenario, pitching for funding could become intense as competition for cash gets tougher and the qualifications more stringent.
As any ambitious cyclist knows, the key to success (and avoiding pain later) is to get into training. And – with future budgets in mind – that’s also true for anyone at a local authority involved in delivering cycle training.
Now’s the time to sharpen up
The best response from council cycle training teams is to use early 2016 to strengthen their programmes by embedding industry best practice. As part of this, they should sharpen their ability to pitch for funds, whenever any opportunity arises. This is a priority.
So how can council teams build a stronger business case – turning an ‘average’ funding application into a compelling one? Here are a set of actions that can make the difference.
Five ways to win more funding
#1 Build your submission with rock-solid data
Qualitative data is helpful but the economics tend to get decided on numbers. It’s important you’ve kept records of previous sessions – and can prove you did exactly what was asked, such as the numbers trained and how you delivered excellent value for money at your local authority. Also show that, going forward, your whole strategy is based on hard data and key performance indicators, such as low drop-out levels, costs staying within budget and successful outcomes.
#2 Demonstrate that demand for cycle training is growing
If the public demands more training, then decision-makers will often be swayed. Public surveys are influential – like this one from Manchester which reports on most people’s wish that cycling spending would quadruple. At a simpler level, can you show how quickly your training places are filled in your borough? Do you have any feedback results showing customer satisfaction and how many trainees are willing to recommend your sessions to their friends? Are there ways you can prove demand for what you want to offer?
#3 Show your training is ‘inclusive’, reaching every demographic
Again, data helps here – if you can show that your local authority training attracts people from every gender, age range and background. You can also demonstrate your plans for widening the appeal of training, perhaps showing flexibility and innovation in terms of times, locations and themed activities.
#4 Have your submissions on stand-by
Don’t simply work towards the big opportunities. Have projects and submissions lined up already in case internal funds become available suddenly – for example, at the end of the financial year where under-spends can be addressed.
#5 Think long term
Having a long-term strategy is vital to avoid a ‘boom and bust’ approach to cycle training. Relationships with funding organisations and a clear understanding of how you’re meeting underlying changes in demand will give you a greater sense of purpose and authority. You want your expertise, confidence and sense of mission to shine through in your submissions.
Funding is never guaranteed but these five tactics will help, especially if your council has a knowledgeable cycle training partner at your side. The best partners will already have the processes in place to capture and use data effectively – and even help you to craft your funding submissions, based on their industry-wide experience of ‘what works’.
Get further help – and download the free eBook today
If you work for a local authority, then it’s worth downloading your free copy of the e-book Cycle training: Switching into top gear. Funding is one of many areas touched upon in the guide, which includes a checklist as to whether you’re following best practice in every area of cycle training. It’s ideal if you want to use today’s ‘breathing space’ to improve everything you do, so you’re ready for anything.
What do we want out of 2016? How about getting fitter, saving money, spending less time stuck in traffic jams and reducing our carbon footprint? With cycling, it’s all possible … you could call it the grand slam of New Year’s resolutions! But what’s stopping thousands of people from leaving their homes on a shiny new bike … perhaps for the first time in years?
If you’re a local authority road safety officer or transport manager, then you may be concerned about why cycling hasn’t already taken off the way it might have done. After all, you’ve got the wind behind you, in terms of economic, health and environmental plus points.
So what’s going on – and how can your efforts coax more cyclists to pedal confidently onto their local streets?
A while back, the government’s British Social Attitudes survey discovered that 67% of non-cyclists thought that cycling was too dangerous. Even 18-24 year olds – the adults with the most energy allegedly – were highly cautious, with almost half expressing major concern.
Fewer injuries than gardening
Those emotions can be pretty entrenched, even when the facts say something different. CTC, the national cycling charity, believes that traffic volumes, speeds and other factors can make cycling feel and look more dangerous than it actually is. In fact, CTC reports that people are more likely to be injured playing tennis, using a rowing machine … or gardening.
So how can individuals get past their fears – and what can council teams do to help them on their way?
London has been leading by example. More people are now riding bikes than at any point since records began – with numbers growing at 5% in a year. Over 600,000 cycle journeys are made every day. Behind these impressive figures is an exciting story that’s continuing in many London boroughs.
Confidence-building is key
Many of these London councils are focusing on training for everyday bike owners of all ages – to build each person’s confidence, ability and road sense, so they overcome their fears and have a great cycling experience. And when you look closely, you can see a correlation between the heartening upsurge in cycling in the capital and the behind-the-scenes training that’s been gathering pace. In 2010/11, fewer than 500 adults and children received training across half a dozen or so London boroughs. Roll on to 2015/16 and that number is on course to hit 18,000 people being trained per year.
Every tiny details matters
But these forward-looking boroughs don’t simply stick up the posters and then put out the cones. Successful cycle training doesn’t work like that. It’s about all the tiny details that make every training session exceptional. This takes energy, planning, saddlebags of imagination – and usually some outside expertise and resources from a thoughtful cycle training partner.
The London experience shows that attention to detail really matters, from how to target specific groups and come up with fresh ideas, to making it easy for people to find out about sessions – and place a booking. If people enjoy the end-to-end experience, they won’t just be cycling regularly – they’ll encourage their friends and family. Used wisely, social media can play a part in that too.
Practical policies, ongoing funding, quality of service, innovative ideas and giving great value can all be achieved when local authorities apply best practice consistently. But what does best practice look like? Road Safety Officers can get the answers by contacting us for a free copy of Cycle Training: Switching into Top Gear, the best practice guide. As well as touching on the highly positive UK cycling scene, the eBook charts the phenomenal success of London and provides a checklist so UK local authorities can rate themselves and work towards best practice.
The start of a new year is a great time to review the cycle training provision in your area. The eBook helps you to identify the gaps in the cycle training provision in your local authority area – and suggests how you can have your best year yet.