National cycling investment evaluated by transport experts

Issue date: 22 June 2009

A group of cyclists Transport experts at the University of the West of England are investigating the effectiveness of investment in cycling through the Cycling City and Towns (CCT) programme that is currently underway across England.

Unprecedented levels of spending on cycling in the UK are currently being focused on eighteen towns and cities. This includes six existing towns and twelve new towns and cities which were announced in 2008, including Bristol, England's first 'Cycling City'. The investment is being used to fund a mixture of initiatives such as improvements to cycle routes, training for children in schools through the Bikeability programme and marketing and promotion work.

Dr Kiron Chatterjee and Professor Graham Parkhurst from UWE's Centre for Transport and Society are involved in designing and conducting research which will evaluate the impacts of the CCT programme over its entire remit. This will focus on the twelve new areas but build on research and evaluation of the existing six towns. Kiron and Graham are part of a team led by AECOM, and also including the Tavistock Institute, that has been commissioned by the Department for Transport and Cycling England to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the investment. The evaluation is being undertaken alongside a monitoring study (led by Sustrans Research and Monitoring unit) which will measure change in cycling levels in each of the CCTs, and feed into the wider evaluation.

Dr Chatterjee explains, “This is a wonderful opportunity. Not only is it the largest investment programme in cycling ever seen in the UK but there is the opportunity with this research to thoroughly investigate the programme's impacts and identify what works best to increase cycling. It's especially exciting given that we are based in Bristol, which is the national Cycling City. We are looking to measure and understand the impact in each of the towns and cities receiving funding through repeated surveys with a random sample of households.

“The project will span almost four years. We will investigate the extent of cycling activity at the outset of the funding stream to each town and city and measure how the initiatives undertaken impact on the travel choices in each community. The initial baseline study will take place this July to September.

“Cycling is uncommon amongst the general population in most parts of the UK, for example it might surprise many to learn that only 5% people cycle at all during a typical week. As it is quite a rare activity we need to survey a large group of people to enable us to pick up accurate indicators of changes in behaviour resulting from the CCT investment. For some people cycling is a weekday activity, getting to work or school, but for others it is something they do at weekends, so we will use travel diaries to observe what people do on different days of the week.

“Alongside the survey, we will be conducting in-depth interviews. This will involve placing cycling initiatives into the context of people's lives by asking questions about when and if they learned to cycle in the past and if cycling is a realistic possibility given the lifestyles that they currently lead. We will seek to understand how the programme has changed the way people perceive cycling and in what ways it has succeeded, or not, in breaking down barriers to cycling.”

The CCT programme investment is timely in the wider context of climate change, possible habit change brought about by the recession and in terms of the health benefits of regular physical activity. In the study Dr Chatterjee and Professor Parkhurst will be involving UWE researchers with expertise in health economics (Dr Jane Powell) and child health (Professor Elizabeth Towner). This project is an excellent example of the new kind of research that will integrate different research disciplines from across the university under the umbrella of the recently established Institute for Sustainability, Health and the Environment. Ultimately, the study should show whether investment in cycling comparable to that in other parts of Europe can lead to a similar outcome where cycling becomes the norm for short journeys about town.

The Cycling City and Towns (CCT) programme, which is being delivered by Cycling England, is a major new approach to town-wide investment in cycling. To find out more see

For further transport related stories, see:

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