Monday 28 November 2011

The truth about Cambridge

Cyclists disappearing into the mist in a park in
Cambridge in the UK is sometimes held up as an example for other cities to follow.

The city generally claims a cycling rate of about 25%. However, this is a rate for commuters only, including students, and not the proportion of all journeys which are made by bike. Estimates of the percentage of journeys by bike for all purposes are harder to find, and often hover around 18-20%. In a rather glowing article in the Guardian earlier this year it was claimed that "one in five" journeys are by bike.

This is not bad at all for Britain. In fact, Cambridge's modal share for cyclists is almost certainly the highest in the English speaking world. That's one of the reasons why we moved to the city in 1991.

We lived in Cambridge for 16 years and we wouldn't have stayed so long if it were not a pleasant place to live. However, the conditions for cycling are really only so-so. The reasons for Cambridge's relatively high cycling rate are unusual, specific to the city, and not easy to copy elsewhere.

What's happened since we left ?
We visited Cambridge briefly in October to visit some friends. After becoming used to the rapid progress and dramatic changes to cycling infrastructure in Assen in four years, it was interesting to see that essentially nothing much had changed for Cambridge cyclists in four years. Speed limits remain high, cycle-lanes remain narrow, cyclists are still expected to share lanes with buses and few residential roads are designed to limit rat-running.

Cambridge cyclists still find themselves riding on rough surfaces in narrow cycle lanes on busy through roads to the left of obstructions in the middle of the road in places where the speed limit drops from 40 mph to 30 mph (64 km/h to 48 km/h). It's not much fun if a bus or truck passes as you come to pinch points like this:

Huntingdon Road, Cambridge. Narrow cycle-lanes past unpleasant and dangerous central islandsView Larger Map

We also went along the much celebrated Gilbert Road. This looked less like somewhere which had recently received attention and more like somewhere which still desperately needed work. It still relies on narrow on-road cycle-lanes to separate cyclists from motor vehicles.

Since we returned to the Netherlands, there has been another story in the local paper about the utter chaos caused by people driving their children to school and parking in the very road where we used to live. It's a long way from what the school run looks like in Assen.

Cambridge still feels like a city where quite a lot of people cycle despite the conditions, and not one where the entire population is invited to cycle because of the conditions.

Just behind the "cyclists dismount"
sign at the entrance to this school in
Cambridge you find Sheffield stands
have been repurposed to stop
pedestrians from walking where cars
are being driven. This is surely not what
what the Dutch company which made
the stands intended them to be used for.
Students cycle a lot in Cambridge
Cambridge is an atypical city, with unusual demographics. Cycling is largely split along demographic lines.

While Cambridge's population is around 130000, the two universities cater for about 43000 students, making up a substantial proportion of the total population.

Students are a particularly easy demographic to attract to cycling. They're young adults, well educated, more confident than average and have to be fairly careful with money. Cambridge is not alone in having a higher proportion of trips by bike because it is a university city. In fact, the top cycling cities in most countries are university cities. This includes Groningen in the Netherlands, Copenhagen in Denmark, Davis and Portland in the USA as well as Cambridge in the UK.

It is not possible to copy the extra proportion of trips by bike due to the large student population to other similar cities which don't have a large student population.

However, Cambridge goes further than most and almost forces students to cycle. Few people from outside the city, and not all within it, realise that "Undergraduate students are not normally allowed to keep a car", or as it is put elsewhere, "it is a Regulation of the University, agreed with the City Council, that students are not allowed to keep a car or motorcycle in Cambridge". There are exceptions, for instance for physically disabled students, but most students don't drive in the city.

Enough students are banned from keeping a car in Cambridge that if just half of them made all their journeys by bike, no-one else would need to cycle at all to achieve the headline cycling modal share of the city.

Who else cycles in Cambridge ?
Cycling in Cambridge also benefits from the fact that many students remain in the city after graduating in order to work for one of the high-tech companies in the area. Also, many people move to the city to work for these companies after graduating at other institutions.

The city is home to a higher than usual proportion of graduates and many people have noted that those who form the cycling habit at University tend to continue to cycle afterwards, especially at the start of their careers when they're still young and don't yet have responsibility for children. Cambridge is a very young city due to the recent graduates as well as the students.

Cambridge Cycling Campaign committee members are also predominantly from the "University and high-tech" end of local society1. Many members of the campaign are the same2. Cyclists in Cambridge are predominantly people who identify themselves as "cyclists", or at least are a member of the university and high-tech demographic that cycles. They've taken the unusual step of doing something which the majority of the British population now never does: riding a bike.

This is great, but with such a source of commuting cyclists, it's surprising that it is still only a quarter of journeys to work that are made by bike.

Just as it is not possible to copy the extra proportion of trips by bike due to the large student population to other similar cities without a large student population, so it is not possible to copy the extra proportion of trips by ex-students who kept the habit of cycling.

Note that I am not saying that everyone who cycles in Cambridge is either a student or works in a high-tech company as of course there are some cyclists who fit into neither of those groups. However very many of those who cycle in Cambridge are part of one of those two groups.

A social divide
There has long been a divide between "town" and "gown" in Cambridge. This is perhaps less severe than it once was, but it is still real. Even now it still occasionally breaks out into violence.

People from families which have long been in the city and who are connected with neither the university nor the high-tech businesses and who you might classify as "working class" don't cycle at a particularly higher rate than they would in any other British town. Amongst the "town" people, car usage is very much higher and riding a bike can be seen as a reflection of being poor.

That people linked with the university and high tech industries are more likely than average to cycle does not have much influence on the "town" people as they don't identify with that other group. Rather, cycling has become one of the ways that the two groups, of "local people" and "students" can be identified. As I cycled in the city, drivers shouting abuse (something which happened all to often) would often refer to me as a "student" or as "poor". They were not interested in that I never studied in Cambridge and only moved there in my mid 20s to take quite well paid jobs for computer companies. To them, I was definitely "gown". I made this clear to them in part by cycling.

It's not just cycling. The two sides of the town / gown divide have different priorities in other ways too. For instance, take the shops in Cambridge. The city has high retail rents. As a result, shops which sell low cost goods are relatively few and far between. Campaigns have been run by against new supermarkets opening in "gentrified" areas, even though many of the locally born people who live in the same area value the possibility of cheaper food and other bargains which the new shops may bring rather higher than having boutique stores which sell organic produce for higher prices.

The results of a social divide
The divide affects attitudes of both sides. It is part of the cause of a relatively high level of intolerance experienced by cyclists in the city even though cyclists are not such a small minority as they might be in other parts of the UK.

When cyclists experience trouble from drivers in Cambridge, the result tends to be quite similar to other parts of the country. They are unlikely to get much sympathy from the police or the public. I once had an experience of a Cambridge taxi driver driving into me deliberately as I rode along a counter-flow cycle-lane (very near where something similar happened to this cyclist). This driver also turned his vehicle around, chased me up the street, got out of his taxi and assaulted me. When I went to the police, the very first words spoken by the officer who interviewed me were "cyclists cause a lot of problems in Cambridge". The local newspaper in Cambridge quite often reports conflicts, with van drivers, runners, bus-drivers and youths all finding a reason to dislike cyclists.

It's a huge contrast with the Netherlands where cycling is something that the whole of society finds to be normal and there is no social divide between cyclist and non-cyclist. The response is very different should anything untoward happen to a cyclist.

The Cambridge Cycling Campaign was formed when shopping streets in the centre of the city, essential as part of many direct and relatively safe routes across the city, were closed to cyclists. This was a popular change amongst non-cyclists, and was possible to implement only because the public at large didn't cycle, didn't understand cycling and didn't support cycling as a means of transport. These streets have only partly been restored as cycling routes, and some of the one-way restrictions on them, which make sense only when driving, still apply to bikes. They are occasionally enforced with much publicity.

These restrictions in the centre make cycling routes in Cambridge less direct and force cyclists sometimes to have to use busy and dangerous roads.

The local newspaper in Cambridge often includes the same kind of articles and letters from outraged non-cyclists (red lights, one way streets, pavement cycling) which you see in other areas in Britain. These letters, and the attitudes which go with them, are unknown in the Netherlands. The conditions which cause cyclists to ignore red lights, ride the wrong way down one-way streets and ride on the pavement are to a large extent eliminated in the Netherlands by infrastructure designed to benefit cyclists, so they are not an enforcement issue. The occurrence of these problems are symptoms of a greater planning and design problem.

What about the infrastructure ?
I'm not the only person to have noted that cycling happens in Cambridge not because of the infrastructure but despite it.

There are a few high points. The paths through the parks, though narrow, shared with pedestrians and often crowded, are relatively pleasant to ride through. Recently a good new path opened which heads North from the Northern edge of the City to some villages. Also there is a nice cycle path about 600 m long which heads to the University buildings on the West (it was chosen for the cover of the Cambridge Cycling Campaign's 2016 document).

However, the better examples of infrastructure are not joined up. You can't make any journey only using these few good paths away from motorists. This is quite typical for the UK. Cyclists spend much of their time on roads which are "shared" with large numbers of cars. Also, the bans on cycling in shopping streets in the centre which originally were the catalyst for the formation of the local cycling campaign group in 1993 have only been partly repealed, leaving a useful link from the centre to the east unavailable to cyclists.

Cyclists go left, pedestrians go right.
Carlton Way in Cambridge
Much of the separate provision that exists, is woefully inadequate, such as the short length along Carlton Way where a narrow path is shared with pedestrians for bidirectional travel. It's only a couple of hundred metres long but in this short length presents an array of problems to cyclists including a rough surface, having to give way twice, bollards, and an exciting point where pedestrians and cyclists have to cross each other's paths on a sharp corner before after another 90 degree bend cyclists are ejected into a side-road.

Kings Hedges estate in Cambridge.
It's far from perfect, with bumpy
narrow paths and bad sight lines.
However, these paths do provide a
traffic-free route to a primary school,
swimming pool, and a few shops.
In the 1970s, a reasonable effort was made in the UK to create housing developments designed around people rather than around cars. The Kings Hedges estate in Cambridge is an example of this. However, these early starts have not been maintained nor developed. They also have not been linked up with other newer developments.

There was also an attempt to build good cycling provision in the East of the city. However, this also doesn't really link up with anything in a useful way.

Newer developments are far worse in design. No longer are there significant green spaces, no longer is there an attempt to provide a network of motor traffic free paths.

"The Quills" - a new housing estate which offers this view of
the world. The result of trying to limit car ownership by
limiting car parking is to make car parking more of a problem.
I blogged before about "The Quills", a small new estate dominated by cars, and designed with no good route to cycle to the centre of the city without riding with those cars.

Also I wrote in the past about another new development, the multiply named Arbury Camp / Arbury Park / Orchard Park. The plans for this place were alarming enough, but the reality was worse. It caused many problems for cyclists before it had even been built, even if you were merely trying to pass nearby.

Outside the city
A few cycle-paths stretch outside the city of Cambridge, but they don't provide anything near to a comprehensive network of efficient routes. The local newspaper recently reported that another cyclist had been injured riding along the A14, a road with a 70 mph ( 113 km/h ) speed limit which might well have been classified as a motorway in other countries:

The A14. A motorway in all but name with a 70 mph speed limit and no hard shoulder. This runs across the Northern edge of the city and provides the most direct route to some nearby villages. Some people actually do cycle here, but we've known for a long time that it's not safeView Larger Map

Britain does not provide convenient and safe routes paralleling "motorways" like this, and cycling on an A-road like this is legal in the UK. You might wonder why anyone would choose to use such roads. The answer is simple. Doing so avoids a long detour along busy narrow country lanes with 60 mph ( 96 km/h ) speed limits and blind corners.

Children from villages at a distance from school which would be routinely cycled in the Netherlands cannot routinely cycle to school in Cambridge.

The cause of the higher than average cycling rate in Cambridge is not something that can be replicated in other British cities. Where could you convince a third of the population to agree to be banned from owning a car ?

On the other hand, what makes cycling attractive in Dutch cities, including here in Assen, could be replicated in British cities if only the will existed to ask for it. What has been done is very simple. Long term planning is key - the same policies have been followed for many years. They've followed the principles of sustainable safety and have created conditions which:
This is what is needed to make infrastructure a draw for cycling rather than a hindrance.

We had three different houses in and around Cambridge, and it's notable that in none of them were any of our neighbours particularly enthusiastic cyclists. In fact, most of our neighbours never rode a bike in the entire time we lived in those houses. This is in sharp contrast with where we live now in Assen. All of our current neighbours cycle for at least some of their journeys. Due to cycling having been made the preserve of the many instead of a hobby activity for a few, there are few "non-cyclists" and no anti-cycling sentiment.

Assen is in most respects is quite normal by Dutch standards. Car parking here is the cheapest in the country, and no attempt has been made to limit the ownership of cars. New build homes here have adequate car parking as well as compulsory cycle parking. There is also no university in this city to boost cycling numbers. These things could be seen as disadvantages where encouraging cycling are concerned, but the cycling rate here is more than double that of Cambridge. More importantly, the people who cycle here come from the whole spectrum of society and are not taken predominantly from a particular demographic.


A video from Cambridge which has become popular on youtube:

Many people who view this think little more than to note that there are quite a few cyclists. Let's look deeper into it. The most dense cycle usage in Cambridge is in a few streets in the centre like this one, on routes used by many students. The conditions for cycling in this location are neither especially pleasant nor especially safe. The bulk of the cyclists that you see in the video are students. They ride for the reasons that students everywhere ride, but there are more of them in Cambridge in large part because they are not allowed to keep a car.

What can be done ?
Several unfortunate things have happened recently. The local government scrapped the much needed post of cycling officer and also while Cambridge was briefly in receipt of extra funds as a Cycling City, this initiative has also been scrapped. Investment in cycling in Cambridge has never been adequate.

It's important not to lose focus and not to be complacent. Cambridge's leading position in the UK, and in the English speaking world, is the result of unusual and fortunate circumstance, not of cyclists being particularly well provided for. With investment in decent cycling infrastructure, the city has the potential to do much better. For this reason, I was recently surprised to see a proposal to rename the main campaign group in the city with a more passive tone. Your work is not finished yet.

People elsewhere who look to Cambridge are looking in the wrong direction. The things that make cycling popular in Cambridge are not easily duplicated elsewhere. Instead of looking to one town which is exceptional for reasons that cannot be duplicated you would be better off looking to the Netherlands where a far higher cycling rate has been achieved even in towns with none of these special circumstances. The difference is the infrastructure above all else.

August 2013 update
A recently published research project by Anna Goodman into socio-economic patterns and their relevance to commuting in the UK supports my argument above.

The chart on the right. Anna's research confirms that there is a correlation between cycling in Cambridge and affluence - precisely the point that I make above re "town vs. gown".

Note that Oxford and Hackney have similar demographic bubbles in which cycling is correlated with the lifestyle of a self selected and relatively prosperous section of the population.

A personal note about Hackney
I used to visit Hackney quite often just over twenty years ago. I met my (then) future wife, Judy, in Hackney as she lived there for a time. Hackney was then a very different place demographically to how it is now. We have to recognize the effect of social change on peoples' chosen modes of transport.

Hackney has been through a period of gentrification. The population is now more similar to Cambridge and Oxford than it used to be and that's the primary reason why cycling has grown in that area. The infrastructure is still dreadful and Hackney still achieves nothing like its potential for cycling.

Read other posts about Cambridge.

January 2015 update
Since I wrote this piece, people from Cambridge have often claimed that great changes have been made since we left the UK. Their claims have not as yet stood up to much scrutiny. I made a very short work trip to Cambridge for work this month, arriving by coach and leaving by train. As a result Most of my view of the city on this visit was through a coach or taxi window. I saw a good part of my old commuting route from a village south of Cambridge, and two different routes to the Science Park. Nothing much had changed. Cycling remains difficult in Cambridge. In response to the conditions, many of those people who do cycle dress like canaries. I took some photos while waiting for buses and trains:
This cyclist decided he'd had enough of the road at this point.

Pleasant conditions for cycling by the station ?

Road vs. pavement.

A very narrow cycle-lane leading into to a bus stop. Those who can turn left here, mounting the kerb and riding through a park.

Making short connections by riding on the pavement is an understandable reaction to the conditions.

I was only here for a few minutes. Quite a lot of people prefer the pavement here.
I took the photo at the top in 1998 as I cycled to work in Cambridge in the fog. Jesus Green is one of the nicer bits of Cambridge for cycling, but those shared use paths were always too narrow and too bumpy, and access to them is not what it could be.

The University of Cambridge continues to be charged with elitism. They have problems with admitting people from less advantaged backgrounds, even though they've supposedly been trying for years. This is noticed even by newspapers which show the same elitism.

1 This is not in any way a criticism of the campaign committee. These are wonderful people giving freely of their time to try to encourage cycling. Cambridge Cycling Campaign is very well organised and the people in it try to do a good job. I was once a member of the committee myself. However, like everyone else their ideas are inevitably shaped by their position in society.
2 Cycle campaigners around the world often point out that cyclists are on average better educated than non-cyclists or that they have on average higher incomes. This is all very well, but it also reinforces the difference between "town" and "gown".

A history of exaggeration
Readers from elsewhere may be amused to hear that back in the 1990s, the local council in Cambridge produced literature which said that Cambridge was second only to Amsterdam. This was of course a smokescreen. Portland now makes the same claim. It's still a smokescreen. Indeed, Portland is boasting even more. They only have about 5% of commutes by bike which isn't close even to Cambridge, let alone average Dutch cities. We have to always be wary of nonsense like this. There is a lot of exaggeration about and it's not helpful.


  1. Even the new, now finished, tarmac traffic free route between Cambridge and St Ives, and the railway station to Addenbrookes and Trumpington (all alongside the busway), falls short of being "excellent".

    Much of this comes from the route being an after thought, something that was campaigned for, rather than an integral part of the busway scheme.

    For instance, the northern section is not all on the same side of the busway. Rather, it changes at several of the road junctions. The road junctions themselves are poor- they're "protected" by chicane gates, and cyclists have to stop and press buttons to get the lights to change in their favour.

    The edges of the tarmac (on both sections) are generally "unfinished" and are elevated from the verges. There's no white line or light coloured kerb. The track is unlit. You can guess how delightful this is commuting at this time of year.

    It upsets me that so much time and money is spect creating what is a pretty good facility, when a little more thought and probably not that much more money could have created a world class one.

    Of course, none of that would solve the issue of the northern one stopping at the "country" end of Milton road.

  2. Never mind! Cambridge has a railway station so you can leave and remind yourself how much worse everywhere else is. All you need to do is find somewhere to park your bike...

    More seriously, I should probably mention that parking restrictions are found at most universities. Even at the main Frenchay Campus of UWE, I am not allowed to park a car because I live in university managed accommodation. This is despite the campus having over 20 car parks, the largest of which is several acres in size. I know people who had cars this time last year at sixth form but have now sold them because they can't keep one at Oxford or the London universities (or because student loans aren't enough to buy car insurance costing more than the actual car).

    Universities themselves are not necessarily the best when it comes to cycling. The private UWE owned road next to my flat has a cycle lane in each direction. Great. Except there are 5 mph roundels, so if traffic was travelling at that speed, there would be no need for cycle lanes. And there are barriers at the only entry point, so most of the time there is no traffic. What does exist is a pair of crap narrow cycle lanes that make the remaining traffic lanes barely the width of a large van.

  3. Martin L-S, Cambridge28 November 2011 at 16:19

    I think this is quite a good article, but it is marred by a lack of real evidence when you're making claims about who cycles. I see plenty of people who don't look like high-tech workers or students.

    Firstly, am I a "cyclist"? I campaign actively for better cycle provision, but I'm not particularly a fan of riding more than a few miles, I don't know how to repair a bike (I would take a puncture to a shop!), don't have bike clips or lycra, and I just see a bike as the simplest, quickest and cheapest way of getting about, and I rode a bike at school and didn't stop doing so.

    To start with your point about levels of cycling, I believe the 20% figure (which is from the census) that is usually given for levels of all journeys does *not* include students. I'd need to check on this but I've heard it several times.

    Could you give a source for the number of students at the two Universities? 43,000 sounds highly suspect to me. Cambridge University has 18,071 students as of 2010, including graduates. Does Anglia Uni really have 25,000 students?

    The general point though is that there's lots of cycling well away from the University area.

    On Gilbert Road, you're quite right it's not to a Dutch levels and is still far from perfect, but it should at least help persuade people to go further when government decides that cycling is worth funding.. (Though of course we disagree on the achievability of your idea of pursuading all the residents there to knock down all the trees to make space for dutch provision.) But it's real shame that, in the interests of balance, you don't mention that a thousand children don't routinely have to swerve round parked cars in the cycle lanes any more.

    Lastly, nothing to do with cycling, your remark that the debate about Tesco on Mill Road was about posh people arguing about "boutique" stores selling organic food is frankly without factual basis. And chains in our high streets only help rents go up, driving out local competition. (And, note, high street Tesco stores have higher prices than their big supermarkets).

    On your point that "Cambridge still feels like a city where quite a lot of people cycle despite the conditions", I couldn't agree more.

  4. I completely agree with this post, having lived in Cambridge for year, on the "town" side, rather than the "gown" side, and having observed the huge divide between these two worlds. Cycle provision in Cambridge is in fact typical for a UK town, the reasons for the high cycling rate are as you say, and those in the UK wanting to look for good examples of how to cater for cycling, if they don't want to look to Europe, actually would be do better looking at parts of London or Glasgow. Contrary to what Chris says, it is not worse everywhere else.

  5. @David

    I meant the first part rather jokingly, but I was keen to mention the chronic lack of cycle parking at Cambridge station (the problem is replicated on somewhat smaller scale elsewhere, which I suppose means that parking is not worse everywhere else...)

  6. It is largely the same in Toronto, except that a good public transit system lures many students off their bicycles.

    The "official" story for student car parking is that "A limited number of student permits are issued..." At, I must add, prices ranging from $95 to $178 per month. In reality, the supply is far, far smaller than the demand so students are de facto banned from car ownership.


  7. I moved to Cambridge from London six months ago. One of the reasons for coming here was, as an avid cyclist, to me it looked like a more welcoming place than other commuter towns. This is certainly true but it is frustrating to see how little is being done to capitalise on the relatively high levels of cycling.

    Cambridge seems to follow the liberatian concept of cycling espoused by Boris in London - forget about infrastructure, just get on the bike and keep your wits about you. This won't help increase the number and diversity of people cycling, and worse than that, there is nothing to guarantee that cycling won't decline in Cambridge. Here I am in a city that's flat, compact, with a ready made audience condusive to cycling, a place that wouldn't need much to reach a tipping point other than some political vision and will, and yet I'm not confident we will see it. I do wonder if those of us passionate about everyday cycling should take another look and how the Dutch and the Danes brought about change and consider some very civil disobedience, to nudge things in the right direction.

    I've pretty much given up in this regard on London, where the antidiluvian approach of TfL depresses me daily. There's nothing like stepping out of King's Cross station to brave the racetrack outside on a bike as a wake-up following a dozy commute in. London may require some decidely uncivil disobedience to effect change.

  8. Thank you for the very interesting reading. It's always nice to know what people who move to Cambridge think of the place.

    Don't forget that Anglia Ruskin Uni has another campus in Chelmsford. Not all the students are in Cambridge.

    Another reason why you'll find a lot of people in Cambridge employed by the University and high tech companies is that added together with Addenbrookes, you've just named the three biggest employment sectors in Cambridge. University cleaners and porters bike to work as well.

    The idea of calling Mill Road a gentrifed area causes me amusement as well - lots of my friends from school wouldn't bike down Mill Road at night as they were scared of being beaten up. No, the campaign for no Tesco was mainly because it's almost in site of a Co-Op and many other shops all selling the same things.

    The "new" development in Cherry Hinton - Gazelle Way and assorted other roads around there have a nice selection of off road paths, including to a primary school and a supermarket.

    As far as investment goes, I would love to see more investment in cycling provision in Cambridge - personally I'd like to see all the roundabouts redesigned to start with. I'm a rather unconfident woman cyclist who hates with a thousand blazing suns doing a right hand turn round many of the large roundabouts in Cambridge, the one at the junction of Perne Road and Birdwood Road being pretty typical.

  9. Al: Overall, I'm quite positive about the new route to St. Ives. I think it offers a chance for people in Cambridge to get a taste of what real cycling infrastructure is like, and therefore to demand it elsewhere. It is sad that it only came about because of the guided bus project and could never have been done solely for cycling, and also that it's a bit tatty around the edges as you describe.

    Chris: Cambridge has always had problems with cycle-parking in the town as well as at the station. The station cycle-park looks big for Britain, but of course it pales by comparison with the amount of cycle-parking that you find at a similar university city in the Netherlands. As I recall, Cambridge officially has around 700 cycle parking spaces. Groningen is adding nearly as many as that each year. There are plans for expansion at Cambridge station. Let's hope they come to something.

    Martin: Yes, of course you're "a cyclist". You're the chair of the campaign group and you're also the perfect example of the very easiest to reach demographic: young, male, no children and a nice cosy job in the computer department of the university.

    43000 is a figure from the Guardian article that I linked to in the post, which quoted a Cambridge Cycling Campaign spokesman. You (as a group) seemed happy about the number back in August, so why not now ? Scroll down to the comments and you'll find some discussion about it.

    You need to check your figures for the numbers riding along Gilbert Road each day. There have never been a thousand children riding along there each day. The council said 900 cyclists per day just last year.

    And there's the rub. When you see 900 cyclists a day, it looks like a lot. However, this is actually a very low number for a main route in a major cycling city.

    Having lived in Cambridge for as long as I did, I think I've a very good idea of how much cycling there is in different areas of the city. Compared with the rest of the UK, Cambridge can look impressive. However, compared with the Netherlands, it's actually very unimpressive. Both of these things were made very obvious to us on our last visit.

    With the number of students that it has, Cambridge could look like Groningen. But it doesn't. It's let down by the poor infrastructure more than anything else.

    I don't understand why you keep on bringing up trees as a problem. They're not uniquely a Cambridge thing, and the great thing about urban trees is that if they have to be moved, then they can be replaced and they grow again. It doesn't take long for this to happen.

  10. Kevin: The same argument can be made for anywhere exceptional. From what you've said before, you live in an exceptional area within Toronto with demographics which increase the cycling rate and where people who have chosen not to have a car are likely to live. However, the overall cycling rate within Toronto is actually very low. To attract the others to cycling takes more than to attract those who already cycle. If this was not true, then the others would already cycle.

    Peter: Cambridge is not at all a bad place, and I hope you enjoy your stay there. We did.

    It is absolutely frustrating to see how much complacency there is about cycling in Cambridge. Many words are spoken, but action is harder to find. The absolute minimum is done to encourage people to cycle.

    As I said to Martin, it could easily be like Groningen. Everything that is needed is there, except for the support for cycling and building of decent infrastructure.

    Mary: I moved to Cambridge, liked it, and then moved away and liked that more.

    Yes, hospital cleaners and university porters also cycle. Some of them. Some of the time. However, there is a strong social tendency amongst people in Cambridge to drive if they can afford a car. This is why Addenbrookes has had such problems with providing enough parking, and why people living on adjacent streets have complained about hospital staff parking their cars there.

    Mill Road is a mixture. But, if you don't think it's being "gentrified", check out the cost of houses along there. Who can afford to buy them ? People on low wages ?

    As for roundabouts, they should be designed like this. However, none of them in Cambridge are like that. This is all part of the problem. While there are some usable small lengths of separate cycle-path, they don't add up to much and you can't travel all the way across the city, or to adjacent towns, using them. Here you can. Everything is on an entirely different scale. If you've not seen it, I recommend a trip over here.

  11. Leave the trees and take away the cars. Much nicer.
    The authorities seem to notice when there is a capacity problem with cars but not with bikes. Any ideas?
    Mark Garrett, Bristol UK

  12. David,

    Although Toronto's cycling rate is low by Dutch standards, by North American or UK standards it is not too bad. I note that for the City as a whole (population 2.5 million), the population breaks down as:

    29% Utilitarian cyclists
    25% Recreational only cyclists
    48% Non-cyclists

    Source: page 15 of

    Although I do not have data for comparable cities such as New York or London in England, it would not surprise me if Toronto has the highest rate of cycling for large English-speaking cities.

  13. This is a nice article on the factors that lead, or don't, to high cycling percentage. However, I'm quite perplexed by your classing Portland, OR as a "university city". I'm wondering if you're mixing it up with Eugene, OR, which does have quite a high cycling rate (10.6%) as well a major Oregon university (University of Oregon).

    Eugene is much more comparable to Cambridge in size and relative student population, with a population around 150K people and about 20K students, so students make up about 13% of the population, compared to Cambridge where they make up about 15%. In Portland, students make up only about 5% of the population, so it's not really accurate to characterize it as a university city; it's primarily important as the largest city in the state, and the urban core of a large metropolitan area.

  14. Kevin,
    the figures you cited are not very meaningful. The mode share of cyclists in Toronto is much more interesting, and according to the city's own website in 2006 (most recent census) only 1.7% of the population biked to work:

    If you compare these with census figures from the US, Toronto doesn't fare that well and does not appear to have "the highest rate of cycling for large English-speaking cities."

  15. Gosh, not having any children is apparently now a determining factor of "being a cyclist". Blimey.

  16. Martin: That's a ludicrous reaction.

    You are simply a very good example of the very easiest demographic to attract to cycling: Male aged between 20 and 40, without children and working at the University.

    What's more, you are interested enough in cycling to be the chair of a cycling campaign group.

    Whether you want to be labelled as "a cyclist" is up to you (you brought it up), but you have to at least acknowledge that this places you smack in the middle of a specific demographic group which makes up the majority of "cyclists" in the UK. Given that the majority of the UK's population never cycles at all, this does make you (and all other "cyclists") unusual.

    In order for cycling to grow to include everyone in the UK, it's no good for existing "cyclists" to carry on repeating variations on "I cycle so you could cycle too". The environment needs to change to make cycling attractive to all. This has not yet happened in Cambridge.

  17. "They ride for the reasons that students everywhere ride..."

    Everywhere? Big to differ. Where I live in Manchester we have two of the biggest single-site universities. Our student count of well over 70000 puts that 43000 to shame, even if it is right. South Manchester is relatively flat, and the halls are a conveniently 2-3 miles from the campus area. I don't know, but I'd be surprised if many students drive, since cars are expensive and parking is sparse at best.

    And yet, I dream of seeing a few meagre percent of the number of bikes there are in Cambridge. While I take your point that Cambridge is far from ideal, they are doing something better than us.

    This morning on my ride into work during the rush hour I was briefly one of a row of four cyclists. Four! I think that's a record for me.

  18. I live in Cambridge and since this post the guided busway has come along with it's cycle path alongside it. Still many problems but a small step in the right direction. My own view about the A14 is that any improvement work should only get the go ahead if a segregated cyclepath is introduced for those stretches of the route improved and that they should join up with somewhere useful.

  19. Your claim that "The top cycling cities in most countries are university cities." doesn't hold.

    On the other hand, the city with the highest rate of cycling in Italy is Bolzano and this is not down to students, as it only has a very tiny university with only four faculties, founded in 1997. Örebro sees the highest level of cycling in Sweden, and it doesn't have a university. Bruges sees the highest levels of cycling of all cities in Belgium and it doesn't have a university either. According to the Dutch town of Houten sees the highest share of cycling anywhere in Europe and it doesn't have a university! The second city on the list, Oldenburg in Germany had high levels of cycling before it got a university in the 1970s. Levels of cycling and driving among the student population there (the university has an electronic guide system for their car parks) is not much different from the working population.

    The claim that university towns are cycling towns claim also fails to explain the relatively low levels of cycling in flat places like Norwich, Reading or Toulouse.

    Using students to explain levels of cycling doesn't suffice. I understand that the Cambridge Research Park on the A10 at Waterbeach stands half empty, apparently because companies don't want to locate where cycle access is difficult because it makes it difficult to attract staff as In Cambridge much of the wider population rides bikes to work.

  20. Photo Blogger: Your list is flawed. Houten is very nice (I like it enough that I took people to see it on the 2006 Study Tour) but no-one sensible within The Netherlands would claim that Houten had the highest cycling modal share in the country. It's also rather doubtful that it should so suddenly and dramatically have overtaken the both of what were until very recently the two top cycling cities of this country, Groningen and Zwolle, both of whom previously claimed above 50% of trips by bike and both of which have seen dramatic drops according to this list.

    I'm afraid there are too many people in the world making too many dubious lists like this, taking figures which are not comparable from one place to another and putting them together, often to make a political point.

    You seem to misunderstand what I meant about the influence of a University. Having a University in a city can never be the sole reason for a high cycling modal share.

    Everything has to come together to result in a truly high modal share.

    This also explains why Houten isn't number one in the Netherlands, regardless of what your list claims. It has an excellent network of cycling facilities but it's a remote suburb and not a university town. The infrastructure's not for nothing, though, as Houten does better than a different suburb nearby with similar challenges but less good cycling infrastructure.

    There are also all of the other issues which have been discussed at length in this blog post and elsewhere on this blog. Make conditions suitably horrible and people won't cycle all that much even in a university city. Have you tried cycling in Reading ?

    You claim that Cambridge Research Park has trouble because companies want to locate to places where cycle access is less difficult. There may be an element of truth in this, though I doubt it's quite so simple as you've put it. However this in no way disagrees with my argument. Cambridge is a young city which has many students in it as well as many ex-students who stay in the city after they graduate and after having become used to cycling. Yes, post-graduates retain the cycling habit. This should be no surprise.

    Due to its reputation, Cambridge also attracts people who are keen to cycle. I was one of those people. What's more, by moving to the city I added one more person to the demographic which cycles - I was a middle class, reasonably well educated, initially child-free, white male in my 20s.