skip to content

Cycling is good for health, the environment and the economy, and the UK Government’s Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy aims to double cycling by 2025. With funding from the Department for Transport and the EPSRC IAA, the Propensity to Cycle Tool is helping local and regional government to focus investment in cycling infrastructure.

According to the UK Census one third of people in Cambridge cycle to work, yet across England as a whole fewer than one in 30 use a bike for their daily commute. There are several reasons for this disparity, and one of the most important is lack of high-quality cycling provision. To encourage more people to cycle, we need cycle routes that keep cyclists away from traffic – but where should local authorities be investing in cycle provision?

It’s a question Dr James Woodcock at Cambridge’s Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR) has been working to answer through the Propensity to Cycle Tool (PCT). Unlike traditional transport planning tools that focus on motorised transport, the PCT focusses on cycling. Taking information from the census, which asks people how they commute to work, and data on which trips could be cycled, Woodcock and colleagues from Leeds and Westminster universities have produced a free, open-source web tool to visualise cycling potential.

Following the first phase of development of the PCT, funded by the Department for Transport (DfT), Woodcock used an EPSRC IAA Partnership Development Award to forge closer relationships with local authorities. “We decided to collaborate with Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) because of the city’s strong interest in cycling,” he explains. “The Partnership Development Award allowed us to do some more extensive user testing alongside a complementary ESRC award which we used with Tunbridge Wells.”

The EPSRC award funded a data scientist based at CEDAR, as well as stakeholder meetings and server time for hosting the model, and the feedback and lessons learned in Manchester are helping to guide the latest upgrade to the PCT, a DfT-funded project that will run from December 2018 for 12 months. This will expand the range of scenarios the tool offers and begin to address the variation in cycling rates between different demographic groups.

“The PCT is a very useful tool, and it’s now recommended in the UK’s Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy as well as local guidance for local authorities,” says Woodcock. “It’s an ambitious project with a tight budget, which is why the EPSRC funding was so useful. It allowed us to refine the tool and work with local and metropolitan authorities to get the PCT into practice.”

For researchers working at the interface between policy and practice, bridging that gap is a challenge. According to Woodcock: “As academics, there is always a translation issue in working with stakeholders, policy makers and politicians. Because it provided funding to organise meetings with local authorities, the EPSRC funding allowed us to work more effectively with stakeholders and get the PCT used by different authorities.”

Sustaining relationships with key stakeholders is also challenging, he says: “Getting policy makers to use new tools takes time and it’s not always easy to establish and maintain relationships. Academics are busy people and local authority staff are stretched, so you need to invest enough time in managing these relationships, and the Partnership Development Award helped us do this.”

Since working with TfGM, the PCT has been rolled out across England and Wales, and from late 2018 the team will be incorporating what they learned in Manchester into the next version of the PCT. The EPSRC funding also fed into other tools developed by project co-investigator Dr Robin Lovelace at the University of Leeds, plus PCT pilots in other areas. And in Manchester it’s helping inform the city’s commitment to cycling.

Through investment in segregated cycle routes, schools’ programmes, training and promotion, Greater Manchester wants to double – and double again – the proportion of trips made by bike; that’s a 300% increase by 2025.

“Increasing cycling levels will have a dramatic impact on the region’s health and economic prospects. A high quality network of cycle routes that are fit for purpose, connecting people to the places they want to go to, alongside infrastructure improvements and a comprehensive programme of training and support are instrumental to bring about a cultural shift to cycling,” says the Greater Manchester Cycling Strategy. “Greater Manchester’s vision is of a city fit for the future; a healthy, safe, sustainable, city where people want to live, work and visit, and where a well-established cycling culture is integral to the region’s health and prosperity.”