“If you want mass cycling, don’t design for those who cycle now – design for those who don’t cycle yet.” This is an important guiding principle for emerging cycling cities and countries across the world. But here in Northern Ireland, even those who are prepared to put up with poor cycling provision and dangerous roads have sent a clear message to our politicians – it’s all about the infrastructure.
Northern Ireland’s Department for Infrastructure has released additional tables from its annual Travel Survey for Northern Ireland 2012-14 report. For the first time in 2012 statisticians began to ask people about their attitudes to cycling, walking and public transport – with personal safety and things which might encourage more active travel the focus.
Just over one quarter of people in Northern Ireland (26% of respondents) said they had cycled in the last 12 months (which is very approximately 450,000 people). Of these:
- 15% (about 67,000) cycle every day
- 47% (about 210,000) cycle at least once a week
- 71% (about 320,000) cycle at least once a month
However the image of people who cycle on our current roads as a “hard-core”, happy to put up with dangerous conditions come what may, isn’t borne out by the concerns put forward in this survey.
“The most frequently stated incentive that would encourage them to cycle more often was more cycle lanes (38%), followed by safer cycling routes (31%), cycle lanes separated from roads (30%), more pleasant cycling routes (27%) and motorists who are more considerate to cyclists (27%).”
Indeed, 10 of the top 12 responses related to lack of high-quality cycling infrastructure and the associated requirement to share space with vehicles.
Just 20% of people who already cycle stated that “better weather” would encourage them to cycle more, which was only the 7th biggest concern. This leads to an interesting comparison with the walking survey where “better weather” was the top answer at 25%.
Almost a quarter of pedestrians wouldn’t be encouraged to walk any more often, compared to just 8% of people who cycle. We have clear barriers to people starting to cycle, and it seems even those who already cycle could be doing it more as well.
When asked about situations that make people feel unsafe when cycling, sharing the road with other vehicles was again the biggest issue by far. The top four responses were:
- 55% heavy traffic e.g rush hour traffic
- 50% motorists driving without consideration of cyclists
- 44% buses or lorries
- 38% traffic travelling above the speed limit
A paltry 5% of regular cyclists “always feel safe on the road” while 3% prefer to always stay off the road altogether (presumably with many sticking to the footpath) as a response to the perception of danger.
With the release of the Belfast Bicycle Network Plan later this month expected to include some future reliance on bus lanes to link cycling routes, the Department should pause to consider that even 44% of the “hard-core” current cyclists are put off sharing the road with buses and lorries.
If we get more dedicated cycle routes, without need to share space with cars, lorries & buses, more folk will cycle pic.twitter.com/eO2FnjhDrT
— NI Greenways (@nigreenways) September 7, 2016
One last depressing statistic mocks those who see bus lanes and cycle lanes as the cause of gridlock in places like Belfast. 84% of workers in Northern Ireland (about 800,000 people over the 2012-14 period) travelled to work by car/van. Of those workers, a staggering 79% (about 630,000) drove to work on their own, with no-one else in the vehicle e.g. children being dropped off at school on the way into work or adults sharing the journey into work.
— Brent Toderian (@BrentToderian) August 27, 2016
Too many vehicles on our roads inhabited by too few people seems to be a glaringly obvious problem. It’s also a great opportunity if we can improve public transport, make walking more pleasant and address the clear need and demand for cycling infrastructure investment.