On the back of an announcement of more money for child cycle training, the Department for Transport in the UK has released a report titled "Cycling to School - A review of school census and Bikeability report data". Sadly, this confirms what I wrote last November about how an emphasis on Bikeability and Cycling Proficiency have failed British cycling.
The new figures shows again how the rates of children cycling to school remain extraordinarily low in the UK. The change over the period of 2006 to 2011 is given as -0.01% for 5-10 year olds and +0.06% for 11-15 year olds. This is also presented as a change of 0% for all ages combined.
I have no doubt at all that those who train child cyclists in the UK do so with the best possible motives. However, effort shouldn't be confused with success. Sadly, the effort of the people doing the training is being squandered on something which looks good in press releases ("More money for school cycle training" !) but doesn't actually make any real difference. While British children are being trained in large numbers, this does not lead to them cycling. Conditions on the streets of the UK simply remain too unpleasant and too dangerous for more than a very small proportion of parents to allow their children to cycle.
Both these sets of figures come from a time when many people in the UK have spoken of growth in cycling. While growth is often reported in the UK, those reports are often not based in fact. There's a long history of unsubstantiated claims.
This is not real progress. Real growth can be measured and would appear in these figures. All that we've been able to see for many years in the UK is a change in the least significant digit of a small number, and these new figures again show a continuation of the same statistical noise as I wrote about in 2010.
For comparison, the Dutch population makes on average about 0.8 trips by bike per day, which is equivalent to about 220 trips per person per year. The UK's figures are far lower and as you can plainly see, it's not only children who rarely cycle in the UK, but adults also find the conditions for cycling unpleasant. In the UK, "cyclists" continue to cycle, while the majority of the population continues to think it is too dangerous to cycle.
When even many campaigners in Britain continue not to ask for enough and don't aim at the right people to make a real difference, it's hardly surprising that the government doesn't do so either. To know what is really going on, campaigners need to become less easily satisfied and more critical of claims that cycling is growing.
If you look at the figures for cycling over time, it is very easy to see that the UK has not developed a set of policies which have lead to a real increase. It is important to recognize this truth, not to imagine that a non-existant cycling revolution is taking place, not to believe deliberately confusing hype and not to look in the wrong direction for solutions. Rather, it is important to acknowledge the facts for what they are. Yes, it's unfortunate that cycling has stagnated at a very low level. However, by acknowledging this fact, there is a base to work from. What's more, by accepting properly gathered statistics, there is a yard-stick against which any future progress can be measured.
For cycling to grow, real change is needed. An emphasis on "soft measures" such as training has failed in the past and will continue to fail in the future. Cycle training and marketing of cycling are but a small part of what is required. These measures do not work in isolation from changing the streets for the simple reason that they do not solve the problems that people face when they try to cycle.
There will be no real increase in cycling in Britain until real funding is provided, excuses stop being made, and the country starts to copy the best parts of the best examples without misunderstanding the intent. This is the only way in which the conditions which can result in real mass cycling can be created.
My attention has been drawn to a very interesting graphic from Joe Dunckley showing the impact of cycle training on the frequency of cycling in the UK.
The data came from Transport for London's Attitudes to cycling report and shows that after they've had cycle training people are as likely to cycle less as they are to cycle more.
More on exaggeration and broken promises. And as for cycling to school, even pre-schoolers can be seen riding their own bikes to day-care in the Netherlands. From an average age of 8.6, very nearly every Dutch child rides independently. See also the Cyclists in the City blog for another view of the same figures, while Joe Dunckley provides a humourous take by pointing out that "press releases announcing the annual funding for cycling training that they've been funding for decades now outnumber actual cyclists".