Barriers to Investing in Cycling

We contributed to a survey from Dr Rachel Aldred at Westminster University on Barriers to Investing in Cycling. The initial report has interesting, and disturbing, findings that will help focus campaigning objectives. Further work is being done by Rachel and her team. The Barriers survey is part of the DfT-funded Propensity to Cycle Tool project ( The PCT is an open-source free online tool that contributes to the evidence base for cycle planning in England. It’s one of the resources highlighted on our Useful Information for Neighbourhood Campaigns

Executive Summary

413 stakeholders (from a sample of 1,733) filled in an online survey on barriers to investing in cycling. The largest single group of respondents were officers (e.g. for local authorities or local enterprise partnerships), while others included consultants, academics, business stakeholders, and advocates. Respondents were based in, or had experience from, regions across England.

From a list of eight pre-defined barriers, the top three selected were financial/funding problems, followed by lack of political leadership, and lack of support within the transport authority. By contrast, public, media and business opposition were seen as less problematic. Many detailed examples were given of barriers and of attempts made (often unsuccessfully) to overcome them. Car culture/car dominance, within organisations and society at large, was the most common user- defined barrier, with other issues raised including bidding processes.

Respondents were asked about a series of possible enabling factors that could help (or had helped) overcome such barriers, and overwhelmingly choose either ring-fenced, long-term funding for cycling or high-level political support as their top enabler. Views on whether the situation was improving were mixed. Nearly half thought the situation was not changing or getting worse, while around a third thought it was getting easier to invest in cycling. People based in governmental organisations in London were over twice as likely to be optimistic as those based outside London.

There is a useful table summarising examples of barriers of the eight barriers identified with a couple of examples given by participants. All of these can be recognised from the situation in Bristol, but we’re still in a much better place than most other cities in the UK, other than London.



Financial/funding barriers

CCAG funding only confirmed on an in-year basis. Lack of funding certainty into future financial years preventing contractual commitments being made to schemes extending over more than one financial year.

Changes to funding and grants from central government makes it increasingly unpredictable, therefore it cannot be relied upon to deliver long-term, cohesive projects. In order to overcome this, S106 funding agreements have been drawn up between the authority and developers, whereby for each new house, a contribution is made to fund sustainable transport initiatives. This has helped overcome the problem as it is now possible to forecast the funding towards the future, and invest in some larger projects; however is dependent on the building of new homes.

Lack of political leadership

Politicians are only prepared to support cycling schemes if they don’t impact on other transport routes. They feel under pressure to ease congestion on the roads and so are reluctant to support cycling schemes that reallocate road space to cyclists rather than cars. In [], some [funded] routes were watered down so much from a political level that the schemes became pointless.

The [] network originally had political leadership, but soon after the cabinet member involved left the council, work came to a halt. Her first replacement held the position for a short time during which she showed great interest, to be replaced by someone who took little interest in the project. When this occurred, [] Cycling Campaign got no support from councillors on the cycling forum.

Lack of support within transport authority

Focus is on motor vehicles, most of the engineers drive to work and there is a culture of improving car speed and volume rather than decrease it. The culture is the car. The authority would rather status quo and an easy job rather than experiment and change which might bring with it difficulties from the public who are resistant to change.

[A] level of silo working that leaves no relevant dept. with the responsibility or authority to push improvements through. A few officers with personal motivation try to get some things going almost as side projects to their main work but generally run out of time or motivation when support fails to come.

Transport planning tools

Transport planning tools such as ARCADY and LINSIG completely ignore cycling, I do not think tools like VISSIM have even been used locally and there seems no will to challenge developer-provided transport assessments which contain basic errors on cycling levels or current infrastructure.

Economic transport appraisal models do not adequately factor in the benefits of cycling (and other sustainable modes). In London, in building the case for the investment in cycling and securing the £913m for our business plan for cycling we had to take a different approach – traditional BCRs were not going to cut it. The models did not accurately capture cycling and the values of time could not be applied in the same way (and indeed the modelling meant a possible disbenefit to other traffic which was far greater due to the limitations of models). We included far more qualitative information within the case including the economic benefits (cycle cafes, new shops, events), demand by residents for housing with cycle parking and other infrastructure, the value businesses put on car-free and improved urban realm areas, and modelling of health (which is available, but could be better) and the comparison of how much it costs per trip to invest in cycling compared to other modes – this demonstrated comparative value for money when limited budgets and a growing population. This wasn’t easy, but investment grew massively.

Public opposition

Part of our business cases include a section on whether we have local community support for our proposals (under the banner of localism). I have run many consultations and there is always going to be a spectrum of views and this is difficult to present to a funder in a positive way. Funders get nervous at any local opposition. Ultimately we tend to make compromises to get the scheme through but then the scheme often does not have the desired effect

I was recently involved with a small scheme to create a ‘missing link’ in a local traffic free network. This was blocked by residents, despite support from ward councillor. Small majority opposed the scheme and an on-road alternative chosen. LA was not willing to press on with traffic free route, which also links two schools and a train station.

Lack of technical expertise

Lack of knowledge and interest among very senior transport officers about full or light segregation and MfS [Manual for Streets] or MfS2. Still using DMRB [Design Manual for Roads and Bridges] for corner radii and side road junctions and traffic signals.

Our local authority consistently builds substandard cycling infrastructure on the basis that it ‘matches’ pre-existing provision. For instance ~0.7m wide cycle lanes on a busy road. There is no expertise on how to build high-quality cycling infrastructure – if and when anything is built, cycling is simply lumped in with walking on the footway.

Local media opposition

Local media tend to look for negative notes to attract readership. They tend to be small editorial and journalist teams that do not follow stories though in as much detail. The result is that they tend to report negatively and with factual mistakes. This puts massive pressure on local politicians. Cycling is even more adversely affected as cycling schemes are rare and misunderstood. In deprived communities they are seen as infrastructure for the “well-off”; in well off communities it is seen as an attack on car usage or car ownership. Negative local press puts local councillors under huge pressure and as a result they tend to be very risk adverse towards cycling schemes which leads to lack of support for local investment in cycling. Local press has been negative [] even in places where the local community is in favour. This has made the cabinet approval process for schemes and consultation extremely difficult. As a result it will be challenging to spend the money allocated which will compromise future investment.

Our local media engages in nothing short of inflammatory click bait articles which are guaranteed to produce large numbers of comments. I don’t always believe the media is hostile but they create a hostile environment. This is presumably because they are more than aware that any cycling story generates a large amount of Facebook or Twitter noise which in turn can be used as a hook for advertisers in what is a difficult world for local papers. Some of our local media pages, especially [], border on the hateful. This prompts commenters to almost incriminate themselves “When I see a cyclist at night I put my full beam on, I hate them” or “I give them no room when I pass them, pay tax first” both are real comments and sadly are all too frequent.

Business opposition

Often [opposition from] small businesses for whom parking, loading and vehicle access are highly-valued. I think this is largely due to their own driving experience rather than that of their customers or delivery drivers. If business is doing alright any change is a risk / big uncertainty that causes worry and stress.

There are several projects in place in [] to improve cycling and pedestrian routes in the city with infrastructure changes proposed that would impact on existing car parking bays. On each occasion many businesses express concerns that this will negatively effect their business if people can no longer park directly outside. They seem to overestimate how many customers arrive by car and use the parking outside. They don’t seem to be aware of the benefits that a cycling and walking friendly environment will have on their street and the potential increase in customers it could bring (and that pedestrians are reported to spend more than those that arrive by car – see Living Streets’ Pedestrian Pound report). In one of the projects they are doing extensive consultation with businesses (and residents) to ask them what they’d like to see and conducting trials of improvements before committing to any permanent infrastructure changes.