Cycling in Britain is booming. The ACT (Association of Cycle Traders) states that the UK bicycle industry in 2010 is worth an estimated £1.5 billion, while cycles sales for the year are expected to value between £800m -£850m. Many of us are braving the elements – or enjoying them, depending on your season of choice – and cycling to work.
In 2001, census data showed that cycling was the main method of travelling to work for over 650,000 people aged 16 to 74. But how have things changed since then? And what will the 2011 Census show about our cycling habits?
The census is a once-a-decade event, run by the Office for National Statistics, that affects everyone in England and Wales. In March 2011 a white envelope with a purple C emblazoned on it will drop through your letterbox. Inside will be a questionnaire which can be completed securely online (through the census website www.census.gov.uk), or on paper. It takes about 10 minutes per adult to complete.
Census statistics are used as the cornerstone for planning our communities. Housing, schools, hospitals, roads – all of these things are planned using census data. ‘We ask the question on how people travel to work, as well as one on workplace address, to help local authorities assess likely traffic flows to and around their area during rush hour,’ says Peter Stokes, 2011 Census Statistical Design Manager.
‘The information can also be used to judge the effectiveness of certain policies. For example, do more people cycle if a cycle path is available between home and work than if not? Census statistics also help local authorities identify areas where few people use public transport or cycle, and assess whether providing alternatives to people driving could be effective.’
The data collected from the 2001 Census showed that 476,010 men aged 16 to 74 cycled to work, compared to 174,967 women. There were more people aged 35 to 39 – for both men (73,244) and women (22,777).
Since 2001, certain factors might have had an effect on the numbers of people who travel to work on bicycle. The government’s cycle to work initiative which started in 1998 has continued to gather pace, offering people tax-free bike purchases. The Cycle to Work Alliance have estimated that the four largest providers (Cyclescheme, Cycle Solutions, Evans Cycles and Halfords) combined have had over 400,000 users since the beginning of the scheme.
The recession could have also played a part, with many people deciding it’s cheaper to cycle than to drive or take public transport. The Office for National Statistics’ Living Costs and Food Survey showed that in 2009 the average household spent £455 per week, and the highest portion of that, £58.40, went on travel. That figure included £19.50 on purchase of vehicles, £29.30 on the operation of personal transport (such as petrol, diesel, repairs and servicing) and £9.60 on transport services such as rail, tube and bus fares.
Initiatives like Skyride, and Transport for London and Barclays’ Cycle Hire are encouraging people to make use of pedal power, while the Change 4 Life scheme also promotes cycling as a way to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Then, of course, there are gold medals and yellow jerseys. The success of cyclists like Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton at the 2008 Olympics might have persuaded people to straighten out their handle bars, pump up their tyres and get on their bikes. And while the data gathered from the 2011 Census might not indicate how these individual factors may have changed the way people commute to work, it will show us whether more people have picked up a bike and opted to cycle. Are we now a nation of two-wheeled commuters? The 2011 Census will reveal some of the answers.
To find out more about the 2011 Census, go to www.census.gov.uk