How to Encourage Cycling and Reduce Car Dependency in UK Suburbs?

April 4, 2024

Cycling is an efficient and flexible mode of transport ideal for short to medium-length journeys. It’s a healthy, low-cost, and environmentally friendly way to travel. In the UK, however, the culture of car dependency is deeply entrenched, particularly in suburban areas. It’s time to reimagine our urban landscapes and transport policies to encourage cycling and reduce reliance on cars.

The State of Cycling in the UK

To begin, let’s take a look at the current state of cycling in the UK. Although it is increasing in popularity, cycling still accounts for a small fraction of all journeys made. According to the National Travel Survey, just 1.7% of all journeys in England in 2019 were made by bicycle. In contrast, the car was used for 61% of all trips.

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The reasons for this disparity are rooted in various factors, including infrastructure, urban planning, and cultural attitudes towards cycling. The cycle network in the UK is often fragmented and underdeveloped, and many people are discouraged from cycling due to concerns about safety. Meanwhile, car-centric urban planning and housing design have made car use more convenient and ingrained in people’s daily lives.

Prioritising Cycling in Transport Policy

For cycling to become a more viable and appealing option for everyday travel, it needs to be prioritised in transport policy. The government has a crucial role to play in this. In recent years, there has been increased recognition of the benefits of cycling at the policy level, with various schemes launched to promote cycling.

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For instance, the Department for Transport’s cycling and walking investment strategy aims to double cycling levels by 2025. This is a positive step, but there is a need for more ambitious, sustained efforts. Policies should not only encourage people to cycle but should also address the barriers that discourage people from doing so.

This could involve, for instance, implementing traffic calming measures, reducing speed limits in residential areas, and establishing low traffic neighbourhoods. In addition, policy should also incentivise the use of public transport, walking, and cycling over car use. This could be done through measures such as congestion charging, parking restrictions, and higher fuel taxes.

Improving Cycling Infrastructure

Infrastructure is another key element in encouraging cycling and reducing car dependency. Currently, the cycling infrastructure in many UK suburbs is inadequate, making cycling inconvenient, unpleasant, and often dangerous. To address this, local authorities need to invest in high-quality, safe, and convenient cycling infrastructure.

This includes dedicated cycle lanes, segregated from motor traffic, and well-maintained cycle routes that connect key destinations like workplaces, schools, and shopping centres. Infrastructure also means secure, accessible bike parking facilities, and integration with public transport networks to enable multi-modal travel.

Investment in infrastructure should be accompanied by investment in maintenance. Potholes, poor surfacing, and inadequate lighting can all deter people from cycling and should be promptly addressed. Additionally, infrastructure should be designed with the needs of all cyclists in mind – from confident, experienced cyclists to novices, children and older adults.

Changing Attitudes Towards Cycling

Alongside policy and infrastructure changes, there’s also a need to shift cultural attitudes towards cycling. In the UK, cycling is often viewed as a niche activity, suitable only for the athletic, the adventurous, or those without any other transport options. To challenge this perception, cycling needs to be normalised and promoted as an everyday mode of transport.

This could be achieved through a range of initiatives, from marketing campaigns showcasing the benefits of cycling, to cycling training and education programmes in schools and workplaces. Public events like car-free days or community bike rides can also help to raise the profile of cycling and create a more positive, inclusive cycling culture.

Rethinking Urban Planning and Housing Design

Finally, urban planning and housing design play a critical role in encouraging cycling and reducing car dependency. For too long, these have been dominated by the needs of the car, leading to sprawling, low-density suburbs where car travel is often the only viable option.

To reverse this, planners and developers need to adopt a more sustainable, people-centric approach. This means designing neighbourhoods that are compact, mixed-use and walkable, with good access to local amenities and public transport. It means ensuring new housing developments include safe, convenient cycle routes and sufficient bike storage facilities. And it means prioritising pedestrian and cycle access over car access in the design and layout of streets and public spaces.

By making these changes, we can create an environment where cycling is not just possible, but is the most convenient and attractive choice for everyday travel. In doing so, we can help to break the cycle of car dependency, improve public health and wellbeing, and create more sustainable, liveable cities and suburbs.

Enhancing Road Safety and Public Perception

A critical aspect often overlooked in the discussion of cycling is road safety and public perception. In the UK, one of the major barriers to the uptake of cycling is the fear of traffic-related accidents. Unfortunately, this fear is not completely unfounded as riding a bike can be dangerous particularly in urban areas where the volume of motor traffic is high.

Therefore, improving road safety for cyclists is a task that must sit at the top of the priority list for local authorities. While developing dedicated cycle lanes is a step in the right direction, it is also essential to enforce strict traffic laws that protect the safety of cyclists. This can be achieved by implementing stringent penalties for traffic violations that endanger cyclists.

Furthermore, the perception of cycling as a risky form of transportation must be tackled. Public campaigns highlighting the safety measures in place and the health benefits of cycling could help in reshaping this perception. Schools can also play a crucial role in changing the narrative by incorporating bicycle safety into their curriculum. The goal should be to foster a culture where cycling is perceived as a safe, normal and convenient mode of transport.

Strengthening Public Transport Connection

In tandem with encouraging cycling, there is a need to strengthen public transport connections in the UK. A well-integrated public transport system can drastically reduce car dependency, even in the suburbs. It is not realistic or practical for everyone to cycle for every journey. But making public transport a viable, convenient and reliable alternative can shift more people away from cars and towards more sustainable modes of transport.

Local authorities should focus on improving the frequency, reliability and coverage of public transport services in suburban areas. This would involve investing in new bus routes, improving train services and ensuring that public transport links are well connected.

Additionally, integrating cycling and public transport is key. This means providing adequate bike parking at transport hubs, allowing bikes on trains and buses, and ensuring that cycle routes connect to public transport stops.

Conclusion

To sum up, transitioning from a car-dependent culture to one that embraces cycling and public transport is a complex task that requires a multi-faceted approach. However, with concerted effort from local government, planners, and the public, it is an achievable goal.

By prioritising cycling in transport policy, improving cycling infrastructure, altering attitudes towards cycling, enhancing road safety, and strengthening public transport connections, the UK can foster a culture of active travel. This will not only help meet environmental and housing targets but also create healthier, liveable urban areas and suburbs.

It is time to reinvent the wheel – or rather, to get back on it. The future of transportation lies in sustainable, active modes of travel like cycling and walking. A shift in this direction is not just beneficial – it’s essential for the health of our planet and future generations.

The journey may be long, but every pedal stroke brings us one step closer to a more sustainable and healthy future. Let’s ride towards it together.