Monday 7 November 2011

How "Bikeability" and "Cycling Proficiency" have failed British cyclists.

Bikeability is the current form of cycle training in the UK. It is now almost the only thing to do with cycling which is funded by the British government, and it has become a small industry with "Bikeability registered providers" offering services around the country.

Bikeability is described by the British government as being "cycling proficiency' for the 21st Century!". They say that this training "gives you the skills and confidence to cycle in modern road conditions".

British children preparing for battle - photo courtesy of Bikeability website.
In a recent press release announcing more funding for Bikeability, it further claimed that “This Government is strongly committed to cycling – it is a crucial part of building a healthy and sustainable transport network for the future. That is why we have provided £11m of funding this year for the Bikeability programme, which not only promotes the benefits of cycling as a healthy and enjoyable way of getting around, but enables children to do it safely and confidently.”. They also say that it "promotes a healthy life style choice and ensures that the children are safer when cycling on our busy roads.”

However, once again the British public are again being sold short. Sadly, the truth is that "modern road conditions" in the UK still look remarkably similar to 40 year old road conditions in the Netherlands.

The same Dutch street in the 21st century.
Not much like Britain any more.
1960s Dutch street scene.
Very like Britain now.
Not only is training not nearly enough to reverse a long term decline. In fact, it's not enough to make any measurable difference at all. Peter Miller made these graphs a few weeks back which show that while walking to school is on the decrease and driving continues to increase, "cycling is lost in the noise at the bottom".

While conditions remain as they are on Britain's roads, cycling for most people will not progress further than the very first achievement in Bikeability level 1, which reads: "Get on your bike, start cycling, then stop and get off".

Where did the training emphasis come from ?
According to the CTC, they proposed "cycling proficiency" in 1936. However, not until 1948 did the government "endorse RoSPA to roll out CP".

Cars vs. bikes in the UK
In other words, the whole history of cycle-training in Britain has been over a period while cycling declined.

The decline of cycling in Britain
It is often not appreciated just how popular cycling once was in the UK. In 1949, no less than a third of the total distance travelled on the roads in the UK was by bike: 23.6 billion vehicle km vs. 46.5 billion km for all motor vehicles combined. Just 20.3 billion vehicles km were by private car and taxi. i.e. more distance was covered each year by bike than by car. This is a remarkable level of cycle usage, and something that no nation, including the Netherlands, can claim today.

Cars vs. bikes in the UK (zoomed)
In 1959, after ten years of cycling proficiency, this was down to 13.6 billion vehicle km by bike and 104.2 billion km for other vehicles. In this initial period of cycle-training, the absolute distance travelled by bike had more than halved and proportionately it had reduced to a third of what it was. As time went on, cycling declined even more.

An enthusiast: Ten years ago with my eldest
daughter "ready for battle" on Britain's roads.
It is quite fair and accurate to say that cycle training, in all its forms, has not only failed to do anything at all to increase cycling rates in the UK, but it has also failed to do enough to stem a very rapid decline.

What we are left with in the UK now is an almost total lack of cycling a few people due to economic reasons and a keen group of enthusiasts. These are the people who have stopped cycling from declining to zero. In Britain I was one of them and of course I trained my children to cycle as safely as possible under the circumstances.

What caused the decline ?
I am, of course, not saying that cycle-training caused a decline in cycling. That's not the case at all. Rather, as cars became more affordable they displaced bikes from Britain's roads. Due to a lack of good subjectively safe conditions for cycling, driving became the least bad option for most people. It costs a lot to drive in the UK. It is often reported that a high percentage of the income of people on low salaries goes into the petrol tanks of their cars. However, people continue to drive despite of this cost. It's not a positive choice, but a reaction from people who don't see that they have a choice. Driving in the rush-hour is a source of stress, not pleasure. However, other alternatives including cycling are worse.

If not only training, then what ?
After 62 years of the same approach producing the same results in Britain, it is time for a change in policy. The only sensible approach is to copy the Netherlands as this is the country where cycling has most successfully resisted the rise of motoring, and even risen once again after the reasons for the decline were noted and action was taken.

Infrastructural change is needed to make cycling desirable. Obviously starting sooner rather than later would be best, and therefore it would be best if recent calls for change were listened to, rather than waiting for another thirty years to pass.

Once the infrastructure is in place, training can then come into its own. The efforts of people who train cyclists will no longer be wasted.

In my view, cycle training, especially of children, is valuable. However, it is only a small part of what is required. It can't result in a higher cycling rate unless conditions are changed such that cycling becomes a desirable activity. Governments which want to increase cycling cannot rely merely on training. They have to invest in cycling infrastructure. The evidence shows that on its own, attempting to train cyclists to cope with ever degrading road conditions simply does not increase cycling rates.

I took a course as a cycle trainer in the
UK and was given this badge. Sadly
this was not a high quality course.
Of course, some people will question the cost of providing proper cycling infrastructure. The best infrastructure in the world costs about €30 per person per year. This is not a large amount out of the nation's budget. If Britain could achieve just ten percent of journeys by bike, far fewer than in recent history, the payback would be much larger than the cost. The extent of the infrastructure required is no more overwhelming than in the Netherlands. Britain isn't nearly so huge and spread out as some people think. In fact, the population density of England is comparable with that of the Netherlands and the population density even of relatively sparsely populated Wales is comparable with that of the Dutch province of Drenthe, where we live.

Britain's transport budget next year is 22.4 billion pounds or around 420 euros per person per year from central government (this is not the total spent). Building decent infrastructure for people to cycle in the UK is easily affordable, but Britain seemingly prefers to spend money on such things as ever larger ships for the navy, trying to rejuvenate the same rather antique military aircraft not just once, but twice. Britain's defence budget is one of the largest in the world. For next year is over 47 billion pounds, is approximately €880 euros per person per year. That's substantially more than the total amount of money than leaves the country each year.

Wasteful projects such as these, and an over-reliance on imported fuel for motorized transport, are the means by which Britain has achieved a cumulative deficit three times as large as that of Greece. Cycling is part of the solution to the country's financial problems.

I was initially prompted to write this after reading the response by a cycle trainer, Londonneur to a post by David Arditti on the Movement for Liveable London. Cycle trainers in the UK work very hard at what they do. However, one should never confuse "working hard" with "achieving results". Cycle training can help a few nervous but keen individuals to cycle in a hostile environment. However, it's not something which scales to support the entire population in cycling for a significant proportion of all journeys. To achieve this requires cycling to be an efficient and safe means of transport. Changing the streets to increase subjective safety and give cyclists more direct routes is the way to achieve this.

All figures were published by the DfT.


colinut said...

Excellent article as usual, David. The only thing I'm wary of is the suggestion to 'copy' the Dutch. It's this exact notion that puts the British public off the idea of cycling. They say "cycling is for the Dutch not for us" and "we don't copy anyone". The desperation in doing whatever it takes to remain "different" (whatever the cost) is unfortunately at the core of British culture...

christhebull said...

@colinut - perhaps it might be good to say that we are "re-importing" a proper cycling culture? The so called "Dutch bicycle" is really just an evolution of the traditional English Roadster.

I do however think it is worth pointing out that the cycle training received in the Netherlands is far more comprehensive than that which I ever received (I was expected to do nothing more than make various turns (with signals and shoulder checks) at a small T junction, and my question about filter arrows on traffic signals was dismissed because I "wasn't going to ride on those sorts of roads", despite it being impossible for me to legally avoid such traffic lights).

The difference is that the Dutch government understand the need for training but also its limitations and they do not try to prove Einstein's definition of insanity wrong.

Charles Martin said...

colinut may be getting to the heart of the problem in Britain. It can't just be a matter of building infrastructure. I know I've mentioned this before, but even where there is good infrastructure, the British still prefer to use their cars. I was once more back in my home town of Stevenage last weekend. Although not perfect, I would assert that the cycle path system in Stevenage is at least very good - yet I saw virtually no one on the cycle paths, and the adjacent (but physically separated) roads were crammed with cars. As colinut hints, there has to be a psychological aspect to this.

Anonymous said...

While obviously Bike Ability has its flaws, it should be viewed as a short term solution to a long term problem.

In other words, a quick fix in order to fill the gaps in infrastructure.

Think of it like a nicotine patch for a smoker. It can help in the short-term, but in the long run, you must give up the smoking.

ndru said...

Good post David.
@Charles Marting - which is why it's important to start building the infra along the desire lines which means that people who already cycle get a fantastic and safe experience.

Fonant said...

@Charles - sadly the cycle "facilities" in Stevenage and Milton Keynes are often used as examples of poor cycle infrastructure. Which is partly why nobody uses them. As far as I'm aware there is no Dutch-style cycling infrastructure in the UK that makes it easy to cycle around an entire town.

But you are correct in that high-quality cycle infrastructure isn't enough on its own. You need both carrot and stick: the Dutch provide very nice cycle routes completely free of motor vehicles, and they also block roads for through motor traffic so cars have to go much further to get to places.

When it's quicker and more pleasant to go by bike, people will go by bike. While it's quicker and more pleasant to go by car, people will go by car.

Sadly, as David points out, cycle training does almost nothing to affect the decisions made between "go by car" vs. "go by bike". Cycle training is probably a Good Thing, but it's never going to get 40% of the UK population onto their bikes for local transport.

Charles Martin said...

Someone will have to explain to me in what way the cycle facilities in Stevenage and Milton Keynes are poor. I lived for 22 years in Stevenage and worked for a year in Milton Keynes, so I am very familiar with both systems. They are not the same, by the way. Stevenage has cycle paths that mainly run parallel to the main roads, whereas Milton Keynes has cycle paths that run from neighbourhood to neighbourhood without reference to the route that cars take. I can cycle (on the cycle paths) around the entire town in both places, especially in Milton Keynes. In Stevenage, many residential roads do not have cycle paths, but David has pointed out that not all roads in the Netherlands have cycle paths, nor do they need them. In Stevenage, in addition to the cycle paths that run parallel to the main roads (sometimes along both sides), there is the former network of roads that existed before the new town was built. These were closed to motor traffic and became cycle paths. So, in the same style as Milton Keynes, I can cycle from one neighbourhood to another without going where the cars do. From my flat in Stevenage, I used to cycle three miles every day to the railway station entirely on cycle paths. I never had a job actually in Stevenage, but if I did I could easily have cycled to any of the businesses in the two industrial areas, again entirely on cycle paths. To go shopping in the town centre, I used the cycle paths all the way. It was only in latter years that they banned cycling in the (pedestrianised) town centre, which was certainly a retrograde step. At all the major junctions (actually, roundabouts) in Stevenage, the cycle path dips under the road, so I rarely had any conflict with motor vehicles. The cycle path surfaces were not perfect, but punctures were very rare, so they couldn't have been that bad. And yet - and yet - as I have said before, I had this wonderful system almost entirely to myself. There's a deep-seated psychological aversion to using bicycles in Britain. We've got to understand this and overcome it before we can make any progress. By the way, where are these references that cite Stevenage and Milton Keynes as poor examples of cycle infrastructure? I want to read them.

David Hembrow said...

Charles: I've never cycled in Stevenage, but I have cycling a little in MK. It's not the same as the Netherlands.

Milton Keynes is really designed for driving, not for cycling. Melvin M. Webber, the urban designer described as "the father of the city", pioneered thinking about "cities of the future, adapted for the age of telecommunications and mass automotive mobility". He apparently later regretted this and became interested in public transport, but that was too late for Milton Keynes.

I found that navigation was difficult, the paths took routes with a minimum of concern over social safety, they gave way when they meet roads, had sharp bends with no sight lines, so-so maintenance, and they didn't necessarily take me to where I wanted to go.

The cycle-paths in Milton Keynes are not completely unusable, and indeed some people do use them. However, I think they'd be used a lot more were they better designed, and also if the city was not built in such a way that it so strongly encouraged driving for all journeys. I don't remember that it was especially convenient to visit shops by bike, for instance. I don't know about schools.

BTW, any comparison between roads in the Netherlands without cycle-paths and roads in the UK without cycle-paths is probably misleading. Dutch roads without cycle-paths almost invariably have 30 km/h or lower speed limits and are designed to prioritize cycling.

Downfader said...

I've said before and I'm happy to say again - I was and am happy to share the roads. The trouble comes from others here who are not, or fear to do so because of the attitudes of British Motorists.

Cycle training is the only thing we really have. Subsequent government administrations have been both foolish and derisory towards cycling. At best they say "We support cycling!" Whilst simultaneously doing nothing much about encouraging it.

I have also said before: the Sky Rides over here have shown there is a demand for cycling, those that took park have shown that the demand has changed towards motor-traffic free routes.

I do fear that in the coming years there will be a smack-in-the-face effect as people suddenly realise they cant afford fuel, the health issues will rise up and traffic will lock up in some horrific congestion issues.

Whether those remaining cyclists will be happy to help also remains to be seen, given attitudes.

We're already seeing questions raised about the M5 and M6 motorway crashes.

Only time will tell. This could be a long way off before we see real change.

Charles Martin said...

David - People have read enough from me about Stevenage, so I'll understand if you don't publish this, but I wanted to say that the earliest residential roads in Stevenage new town were never designed for cars. I'll dig out chapter and verse from the Stevenage Development Corporation's "autobiography" to support this. People were never supposed to need cars. The problem with these roads is that they haven't been changed along Netherlands lines now that the residents all have cars. In the later-built neighbourhoods, the streets were built "back to front": by that time, the authorities accepted that residents would have cars, but they faced the fronts of the houses onto grass strips with a path running down the middle, with cars sent around the back in cul-de-sacs. Keep up the good work. I support you all the way!

David Hembrow said...

Downfader: I always rode on the roads in Britain too. However, the problem is that what you and I and many other "cyclists" might find acceptable is nowhere near what other people need.

Charles: That's a very interesting insight. There are several places in the UK which were designed correctly, though sadly I think they've all ended up being disconnected islands and their potential was not supported by future developments.

I wrote about a place like this in Cambridge some years ago.

Michael S said...

very good article. I guess this Cycling Proficiency thing is only one more strategy to avoid real change while making people think that a change is under way.

BTW: I remember an article or a study about different groups of cyclists. Something like 1% of no-matter-what cyclists, 15% of will-do-with-some-support and the rest "anxious-in-need-of-safe-infrastructure" Any link?

David Hembrow said...

Michael: I think most people involved do it genuinely to make the world a better place. However, their efforts are unfortunately being wasted.

I don't have a link, but I remember the study. I think it was a bit naive and looked like the result of a multiple choice question. That 15% is a very broad range of people.

Clark in Vancouver said...

David and Michael.

Roger Geller, the Bicycle Coordinator of the Portland, Oregon Office of Transportation mentions four groups:

The Strong and Fearless,
The Enthused and the Confident,
The Interested but Concerned,
The No Way, No How.

Michael S said...

@ David and Clark: Thank you very much.

Ken Spence said...

As the principal architect of the National Standard (brand name Bikeability) I feel I must respond to David's article, hopefully clearing up a few points. Firstly to say that it has failed is a very sweeping statement that fails to recognise the fact that myself or others involved in its development never expected it to be the panacea which seems to be the basis on which David is judging it.
I would conceed that the delivery of Bikeability ofetn falls short of what I would like to see, but nonetheless there are many things which mark it as a vast improvement on Cycle Proficiency which it has replaced. The key change is that all instructors must now be cyclists, should be positive about cycling and will only train road cycling on the road. They should not use negative "you'll die if you do this wrong" type of language, although some may still.
Moreover in seeking a National Standard and the funds to deliver it I was driven by a recognition that sadly most parents are not capable of teaching their own children to cycle on the road because they have little competency or cycling experience themselves. I would love us to be like Holland where cycle training is mainly restricted to imigrants as the bulk of the population have grown up cycling with their families.
I developed what became Bikeability as Road Safety Officer in York, but as part of a package, including cycle parking, infrastructure, traffic calming and positive cycle promotion. None of these on their own will deliver great increases in cycling but together can make a real difference. At schools in York where we used this whole package cycling to school qudrupled in a few years. This also recognises that the easiest people to get to cycle are those who want to. About half of kids in the last two years of primary school (when most Bikeability is received) want to cycle to school. In the first year of secondary school the desire to cycle halves. Adults who have never made cycle journeys on the road(i.e. most adults) are very unlikely to take up cycling.
I would also say that most people involved in delivering Bikeability would support the aim of Dutch style infrastructure. However, to make this happen you will need their support. Telling them they are failures is hardly the best way to get them on your side.
Finally, how do you expect to deliver this Holy Grail? Even if the political will, the space, the funding, the skilled engineers and designers etc all were there, and that's a gigantic if, it would take many years to deliver. What happens in the meantime?

David Hembrow said...

Ken: Your response is quite strange. I think you perhaps responded emotionally to the title rather than reading it in full.

At no point did I call anyone a failure. In particular, I have no reason at all to criticize people who do Bikeability training. They're hard working people trying to achieve something good.

You ask at the end of your reply, what "happens in the meantime ?"

This "meantime" is what it's all about. It has lasted for sixty years so far without any real change in policy.

My criticism is of a government which for sixty years has abused the continuous hard work put in by cycle-trainers by not offering the infrastructural back-up which is required to make cycling an attractive means of transport.

As a result, for sixty years, cycling has declined despite the effort of cycle-trainers.

We don't have to wait any longer to see whether the training-only approach works. It's quite clear already that it does work.

As for the other points about "political will, the space, the funding, the skilled engineers and designers", at least some of these are addressed here.

I can't get too excited over the infrastructure of York. It remains somewhat sub-par.

Proper infrastructure for cycling remains the one thing that has never been tried in the UK.

kfg said...

"In 1959 . . ."

. . .the petrol tap was open.

"They say "cycling is for the Dutch not for us" and "we don't copy anyone"."

Which is ironic, given that Dutch cycling culture developed from the British. I have chided MCA a few times for referring to iconically American bikes as "European style."

While the Dutch may be taken as a model for modern infrastructure that integrates bicycles and automobiles it will be, as you note counter productive in most places to emphasise the "Ductchness" of the whole thing. There will be a natural resistance to "becoming foreigners."

But every country, within living memory, had some sort of cycling culture of its own. Many of them, particularly in the "English speaking" countries, quite vibrant.

It isn't necessary to turn Dutch to develop a cycling culture again.
Emphasise the nativeness of the whole thing. Reclaim what is your own and enhance it with the best of what is available around the world.

Which just might happen to be a bit Dutch, as your motorways happen to be a bit American.

Nathan said...

Hello David, and thanks for your blog which I read religiously, and try to do my bit here in car-dominated Cheshire. Please look at my bike blog at
and please add me to your list of bike blogs if you like it!
Thank you
Nathan Townshend

Ken Spence said...

David, thank you for your prompt response. Unfortunately when you use grandstanding headlines a la the rest of our sad British media you are liable to get an emotional response. However, I still take issue with the idea that Bikeability has "failed" and the way you are judging it. I never expected it to work in isolation and I doubt if many other enlightened souls would.

Also using the criteria you have chosen to judge it you are in danger of falling into the same short term thinking of our politicians and civil servants.

I was bemused a few years ago when in a meeting one Department for Transport civil servant asked how many new cyclists Bikeability had delivered ..... before it had even been launched. Arrgh!!! It is much too soon even now some three+ years on to judge how much Bikeability can contribute to increasing cycling. So to judge it by even your rather harsh criteria is at best premature. Don't forget the Dutch have been at it for over 40 years to get where they are now, albeit with much more in their armoury than merely training.

I agree with your analysis on the waste of money on a host of ridiculous things, but ever has it been so. Politicians have always suffered from "big projectitis" hence the fixation with high speed rail, which is highly unsustainable and ironically supported by some big name "environmentalist" bodies. The problem is a culture which does not seek to find real answers but to harvest votes with little concern for long term social and economic health. There are many other issues with the way our Government and civil service work that mitigate against radical changes of the sort you advocate and which I would certainly support.

But the National Standard (Bikeability) has had some very notable success. It has turned training from an activity which too often portrayed cycling as "dangerous" into positive cycling promotion.

When I first suggested a National Standard and said £20 million/annum would deliver it for all year 6 children I was laughed at. Less than ten years later we have the standard and are nearly there in terms of funding, but more importantly this money is for "revenue" spending. This may not mean much to the uninitiated but in terms of Government funding it is a monumental change which we were told could not happen. Training is now professionalised rather than just something any Mr/Mrs Smith or Jones could deliver.

So please be careful with your sexy headlines and don't dismiss the efforts of those who have been battling the powers that be for decades. Yes everything you say is sensible, your analysis fair, but others have been saying the same for years and battling inside and outside the system. Bikeability is one success which has come from that battle and a foothold to go for more. In its own terms Bikeability is certainly not failing those who undertake it.

And I shall continue to battle on a wide range of fronts. But I have few illusions about what can be expected in the short term. As one notable commentator has said "Politicians blow with the wind, so don't try to change the politicians, try to change the wind."

Kevin Love said...

I'm not against training, but it is my opinion that its effect is overrated.

The amount of formal cycle training that I myself have received is exactly zero. That does not stop me from cycling everywhere.

On the other hand, my 9-year-old daughter could receive a thousand hours of highest-quality cycle training and I still will not allow her to cycle on roads with motor vehicles zooming at 60+ km/hr and no cycle protection. Not happening.

Fundamentally, it is about the infrastructure. If cycling is the easiest, fastest and most convenient way of getting from A to B, people will cycle. If not, then they will not.

Clark in Vancouver said...

The link of the Portland study of the four types of cyclists dgot truncated.
Here it is again:

kfg said...

"Training is now professionalised rather than just something any Mr/Mrs Smith or Jones could deliver."

Oh, hey, they taught me to drive. This cycling must be really tricky stuff. I think I'll just go see what's on Top Gear.

Andrew Ross said...

The title of this piece is needlessly provocative. But I agree it is true to say that cycle training on its own won't solve the problem we've got, and that it is being provided largely as a sop by successive governments that want to create an impression of doing something for cycling, but without taking any difficult decisions.

One thing that cycle training can demonstrate, if anyone was looking, is that people - and especially women, of all ages and backgrounds (I'm a trainer in London and almost all of the adults I see are women)- want an opportunity to cycle. They love the training, and they love having the chance to talk through their concerns and learn some tips. But at the end of it all they will still have to cycle in the same dangerous conditions. What is obviously depressing is that this feedback has been going directly back to Transport for London, and in response we get the Cycling Superhighways (or Stupidhighways as they have been coined). Perhaps I am being greedy, but I think the economic case for cycling means that we deserve everything - excellent infrastructure and decent training.

Brendan said...

Right now cycling is in a trendy phase. You can professionally train everyone who wants to bike, but if you don't make big changes to the infrustructure, they will be back off the bike when it's no longer cool, or when they move, get a job, quit a job, get married, get wealthy, get poor, get a kid, or get old.

If you do make those huge pro-bicycling changes to infrastructure that David and Mark have shown us, ie. go Dutch, then you don't have to train anyone. People who want to bike will bike, and they will do it as kids, teenagers, adults, wealthy, poor, families, and when they get old, whether it's trendy or not.

Brendan said...

"We don't have to wait any longer to see whether the training-only approach works. It's quite clear already that it does work."

David, just for the sake of clarity - I think you dropped the "not" before "work".

Peter Clinch said...

I'm not sure it's BA/CP that's failing British cyclists... I think it's a pretty good response to what we have, given we can't change what we have overnight. Whether that should have been the case over the last several decades is a different matter, of course, but the fact is what we have now will still be what we have for a while yet.

Where I stay (Dundee, Scotland, with my kids at primary school in a wee village just beyond) and act as a volunteer cycle trainer (in Scotland it's mainly delivered by volunteers) I see an increasingly enthusiastic uptake of cycling since the school had a cycle parking shelter put in, and training is taken up with some enthusiasm by the top year's pupils. And it is the case that getting about by bike here is a pleasure more than a chore, and I see more people doing it now than used to be the case.

One thing I'm very pleased to see in particular is an increase in numbers of folk who aren't dressed up like the Yellow Power Ranger and are riding bikes built for transport: you can actually buy them now! But I find it depressing the extent to which children are encouraged to dress up to "do battle", as you put it, with a constant reminder that cycling is so dangerous (or so you'd think...) that you must do that.

This morning I met Tayside's road safety co-ordinator, arguing that compulsory helmet requirements to do training was a road-safety own-goal. I didn't succeed, but at least she's taking it seriously enough to survey schools to see if "going in to battle" is putting anyone off.

In the meantime I continue to be regarded as a rather dangerous maverick because I want to show children that cycling is a Normal Activity for Normal People wearing Normal Clothes. Only when that wider message gets across will Normal People start to insist on the government taking a proper lead to make that possible for non-enthusiasts anywhere in the UK.

Anonymous said...

A really good thread. I took the cycling profiency test way back, probably 1976. I was turned away from the first session because I rode a bike without a front brake, it was a German folding bike, single speed with back pedal rear brake. I took the test a year later on a regular three speed town bike and passed (no battle dress in those days). I would guess that I am the only one of those in the group who took that training to still ride a bike.
Whilst I nod my respect to the modern trainers the UK problem is the infrastructure.
Peter Clinch reflected on this and said we won't see change overnight and that is very true, but I say to the Government that I have seen the M25 built, the M40built, Concorde come and go, the Channel Tunnel... I could go on, the point is where are the cycle paths? The answer is there were never going to be any. The Governement spends millions suporting the car industry (Land Rover just got a nice £27 million sub)and it is not going to undermine that effort helping people to get around on a cheap, clean, healthly, no noise, low risk bicycle.
Mark Garrett, Bristol UK

Anonymous said... To brand Bikeability a failure is an ill informed sweeping statement. One of the biggest issues facing cyclists is the attitude of motorists to cyclists. The general ignorance of a cyclists right to ride on the road is the real failure. Motorists need educating to share the roads.

David Hembrow said...

Anonymous: You also seem not to have actually read the blog post.

One of your links talks about results for a questionnaire about brand awareness. Is raising the awareness of the brand of bikeability really the point of the exercise ?

I had thought the idea was to increase the number of people who cycle.

Your other link calls for yet more training to back up the existing training, which is already not succeeding in increasing the rate of cycling.

Sadly, cycle and driver training in the UK cannot be judged a success if they were supposed to increase the number of people cycling, nor the safety of cyclists. This isn't opinion, it's simply a reflection of the dropping cycling rate for the entire 60 years that cycle training has existed.

For all of those 60 years, cycling organisations in the UK have been calling for one kind of training or another. It has never been successful in causing people to want to cycle.

This is not to say that training is completely unimportant. I actually think it is important, especially to explain to children how they should behave. However, promotion and training won't cause greater uptake of cycling on their own. For that you need infrastructural changes.

Anonymous said...

You have not read the link fully it also says "Of those whose children had participated in Bikeability, 90% said that it had improved their child’s safety on the road." There are other reports that have heaped praise on Bikebility (the scheme has been replicated in New Zealand).I find your headline offensive; the Government may have failed cyclists but not Bikeabilty! Have you ever delivered any Bikeability training to British school children and witnessed it's value? A whole generation missed out on cycle training and if you spoke to real people in the UK you might be shocked as to the attitudes that exist towards cycling. Bikeability is at least making massive steps in promoting cycling in the UK. Rather than denigrating Bikeability you should be praising it.

David Hembrow said...

Anonymous: I read it in full. The article reports the result of a questionnaire. We don't know what the questions were.

It is to be expected that most people whose children have been through a course to "improve" anything will say afterwards that this course improved. That's confirmation bias, a well known tendency amongst all people.

However, answers to questionnaires are not enough. "Witnessing value" is not enough. These things are entirely peripheral to whether cycling is actually increasing or decreasing.

The truth is that after parents report that their children have improved safety on the road, they still don't actually allow them to cycle. This is why the school cycling rate in the UK continues to drop despite the best efforts of those doing training.

I've spoken to plenty of real people in Britain. I lived there for 26 years of my life between 1981 and 2007. You also mention New Zealand. I lived there from 1974 until 1981. I cycled to school on my own in New Zealand in the 1970s. So did all my friends. Not many children do that now.

I make it quite clear that Bikeability didn't cause the decline. However, it's also clear that it and earlier versions of cycle training, have done nothing significant to increase cycling.

The government is responsible for the decline, but trainers have been complicit in this by being overconfident of their own ability to reverse the decline.

Take a step back and look at the statistics. Do you see any evidence at all that Bikeability's "massive steps" are achieving a rise in cycling ?

Peter Clinch said...

CP didn't do much to increase cycling. It was purely targeted at kids in playgrounds at a time when cycles had largely fallen from favour for normal transport use by adults.

BA may do better because of the way cycling is starting to be seen as something normal people might actually choose to do. But I was quite careful to choose my words in "may" and "starting".

Continue to not address the needs of non-enthusiast cyclists, and continue to dangerise cycling so these people are reluctant to even think about stepping up to the plate, and all the school training will come to nothing because apart from riding to school there will be no reason to cycle: when the family go somewhere they'll take the car, because dad defaults to the car and mum doesn't want helmet hair etc. etc.

BA differs from CP in that it is not just for kids and deals with real issues about how to use real roads, but its potential can only be realised if it is widely taken up by people that take family transport decisions. I can't see that happening, to be honest.

What I realistically hope to give my pupils from training is to help create the odd enthusiast and to make kids who cycle to school that bit safer and more clued in. That's good(ish) but it's not great, and certainly isn't enough to kick-start a cycling culture.

Anonymous said...

Is it not a little rich to ask me to take a step back from the statistics when you have taken the ultimate step and left the country only to criticize a scheme that it appears you have no real knowledge of? Remember statistics are often a snapshot and do not tell the whole story. Also where do you get this from? "trainers have been complicit in this by being overconfident of their own ability to reverse the decline." Another sweeping statement! Peter Clinch paints a more accurate picture. Bikeability is a still building and in my area is only in it's second year. The biggest problem is the government does not fund Level 3 training, again BLAME the government not Bikeability. The title of your blog is ill conceived and you seem unwilling to back down? Why?

David Hembrow said...

Peter: Your aims are in line with what is possible from this scheme, and of course I wish you the best of luck with it.

Anonymous (is that actually your real name ?): I'm not "backing down" because there's nothing at all wrong with what I wrote.

It may upset you that I left the UK, but that was my decision to make, not yours. For decades I worked for cycling in Britain. That includes being trained as a school cycle trainer and also spending several summers going from school to school across the whole country doing promotional work with a large pile of bikes in a van.

You seem to think that my statistics from the last 60 years are merely a "snapshot and do not tell the whole story". This is a very strange "mathematically challenged" point of view. These stats merely show the reality of what has happened to cycling in the UK. Not one datapoint, but many, spaced across a long period of time. That's precisely what you need to see a trend, and the trend from these graphs is blindingly obvious.

If you think training has been such a success, show me just one place, anywhere in the world, which has achieved a two digit cycling modal share due to vehicular cycling, cycle training and promotion. That it's impossible to do so is entirely the point.

aliceplayingout said...

Don't have time to read all the comments now, so apologies if it's already been said, but there's a real parallel here with road safety training - all emphasis on equipping kids to deal with an unacceptably unsafe environment, rather than tackling the environment itself (including driver attitudes). Having said that, I think both are probably needed for the time being.