For as long as I can remember, cyclists and government alike in the UK have claimed that cycling is on the up. The expression often used is to say that it is "booming". However, this is wishful thinking. The chart above shows the number of trips per person per year by different modes in the UK from the mid 1990s to (nearly) the present day. The data which is comes from is in this table:
I blogged about this same table a few weeks back because spurious claims were being made that cycling was getting safer in Britain because of a rise in the cycling rate. Based on the information you see here, some people have claimed that there was a "17% increase" between 2007 and 2008. However, this is a mis-reading of the statistics. There will always be some noise, and this figure for cycling has been bouncing around between 14 and 17 for the last ten years.
If cycling is really to "boom" in Britain it's very obvious what needs to happen with campaigning. Campaigners must stop being exciting about tiny changes in numbers from one year to the next and stop forgetting that small increases are easily wiped out by small decreases either in different years or in different places. Look closely at any figures like this and there will always be some up and down movement. This creeps into all and any collection of figures. Small changes year on year become apparent even if there isn't a real change. This is especially true when you're looking at small sample sizes and very small figures, such as the 1.6% cycling rate of the UK (and the even lower rates in some other English speaking countries). There is only a real trend when the same thing is seen for many years, and the differences seen are outside the bounds of error.
Two years later, Joe Dunkley produced the graph on the right as part of an excellent summary of each date since the 1970s when a British minister told the public that cycling was "booming".
Update July 2012
Joe's done more work and discovered that London's recent "boom" may well be in part due to their having redefined what a cyclist is. For a real "boom", actual progress in infrastructure is needed, not just a public relations exercise based on cooking the books.
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If you like this blog please support us so we can continue. We sell quality bicycle components and organize cycling holidays:
A cyclist in a cycling family living in the capital of the cycling province of the world's greatest cycling country.
I was born in the UK, lived for over 8 years in New Zealand and have lived in the Netherlands since 2007.
I organise cycling infrastructure study tours, run an online bicycle shop, arrange cycling holidays and write a popular blog about cycling.
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