Cycling and Sustainability: Volume 1

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Table of contents

(19 chapters)

Purpose – This chapter provides an introduction to the bicycle as a means of transport and sustainability as a development concept. It discusses the three pillars of sustainability and introduces the subsequent chapters in the book.

Approach – The chapter takes a historical view of the development of the bicycle and sustainability and provides a contemporary view of the relation between the bicycle and society, the environment and the economy.

Findings – The chapter provides an overview of the discussions to be presented in the subsequent chapters and, through a resumé of each chapter, the reader is presented with a comprehensive context in which to read each individual chapter.

Implications – While the implications are preliminary on the basis that the arguments have not been fully expounded, it is suggested that cycling needs a well-defined system in which to operate, and that system needs to be closely allied to the needs of the user at the human scale.

Purpose – This chapter traces the development of cycling in several European countries over the period from the 1880s to the present, with special focus on the two cycling nations, Denmark and The Netherlands.

Methodology – Drawing on a wide array of research on bicycle use in Europe in the twentieth century as well as primary sources, the chapter pays particular attention to the users of the bicycle, their organisations and the mixture of male and female, young and old, and rich and poor, because these users were the people who actually shaped cycling cultures.

Findings – While acknowledging that geographical conditions cannot be fully ruled out as contributing factors, the authors point out that political, social and cultural aspects were all woven together into what would become increasingly distinctive national cycling cultures.

Value – This study provides historical context for recent efforts to increase cycling participation by identifying relevant cultural, social and political factors, and providing insights into the trajectories of Dutch and Danish cycling cultures.

Purpose – The research reported in this chapter focuses on understanding the experiences of women who had decided to return to cycling in adulthood. It was anticipated these experiences could assist other women contemplating taking up cycling as well as cycling lobbyists, policy makers and planners.

Methodology – The research targeted women returning to cycling in the city of Adelaide, South Australia. It was conducted using qualitative research methods including in-depth interviews, helmet-mounted video cameras and diary entries. Forty-nine women participated in the study ranging in age from early 20s to mid-70s.

Findings – Respondents learned to cycle between the ages of 5 and 12 and most stopped in the early years of secondary school. Almost half the respondents had returned to cycling several times through the life course while another significant group had cycled occasionally up to the time of the interview. Women returned to cycling through a combination of circumstances but women in their early 20s emphasised the importance of social relationships while women in their late 30s (and older) stressed concerns about health and fitness. Becoming mothers or grandmothers was given as a reason for both taking up and giving up cycling. Although there was no pattern in the specific trigger that shifted women from ‘thinking about cycling to getting on a bike’, knowing someone who cycled – partner, family member, work colleague or acquaintance – featured in most women's experiences.

Research implications – The findings suggest further research into mobility through the life course will be productive.

Purpose – This chapter examines how activism and advocacy have shaped the policy and politics of cycling.

Methodology – Evidence drawn upon includes policy documents and interviews with advocates and activists, some carried out as part of the Economic and Social Research Council Cycling Cultures project. The chapter focuses on the United Kingdom but within a comparative context drawing upon material from The Netherlands and the Republic of Ireland.

Findings – The chapter argues that cycling has always been constructed in relation to social movements and social identities, and so the politics of cycling varies depending on the relationship of cycling to politics more broadly. Understanding this context can contribute to the analysis of policy and infrastructural debates within and between cycling movements.

Research limitations – The research could be strengthened by a comparative focus upon middle- and lower-income countries, where the demographic profile of cyclists is likely to be different leading to distinctively different politics of cycling.

Research implications – The politics of cycling should be considered as crucial in shaping the content and outcomes of cycling policies, particularly in terms of understanding – and redressing – perceived policy failures.

Social implications – The chapter argues that the current political and economic situation is generating distinctive political problems for cycling movements, and this is already beginning to produce new debates and changes in forms of advocacy and activism.

Purpose – The chapter reviews the relationship between cities, urban form and cycling and identifies generally accepted understandings, issues about which more remains to be known and some prescriptions for future action.

Approach – The discussion is based on evidence drawn from the cycling literature and from primary data collected by the authors.

Findings – Land use patterns and densities have an impact on the level of cycling and, despite some remaining methodological difficulties, it appears that cities which invest in infrastructure for cycling display greater levels of cycle use. Issues which remain in contention and require further analysis include the balance between provision for cycle traffic which is separated from motor traffic and the nature of that provision, the extent to which cycle traffic may directly substitute for trips by motor vehicle and the complexity of estimating the benefits of cycling.

Implications – Planning for cycle traffic needs to be undertaken on an area wide basis and synergistically with traffic management for motor traffic, and such planning should have due regard to the distances for which cycling is most competitive. There remains untapped potential for chaining cycle trips with public transport trips.

Purpose – This chapter reviews planning and design approaches for cycle traffic in order to direct future thinking towards the critical aspects of network design that will have a beneficial impact on the utility and nature of the environment for cycling.

Approach – This chapter provides a critique of the approach of adopting a so-called hierarchy of solutions frequently adopted in western countries with low levels of cycling use.

Findings – The guiding principle for designing routes for cycle traffic is that the bicycle is a vehicle capable of speed and, as a consequence, links and junctions need to be designed according to appropriate geometric design standards. In addition, owing to the nature of the cycle and rider combination, the oft repeated Dutch characteristics for good design for cycle traffic of coherence, directness, attractiveness, safety and comfort remain firm.

Practical implications – The practical implications of the outcomes from the chapter are a method of approach for planning infrastructure for cycle traffic which starts with an analysis of demand and works through to the creation of suitable networks for cycle traffic which are grounded in, and extended from, suitably regulated existing highway networks.

Social implications – An extensive transport system suitable in nature for cycle traffic will attract a wide base of users and consequently allow for the benefits of cycling to be captured.

Value of chapter – The value of the chapter rests in its emphasis on the need to treat cycling as a distinct transport mode and, consequentially, planning and engineering needs to be undertaken in a way conducive to providing the basic necessary infrastructure for such a distinct mode.

Purpose – To review the place of bicycle transportation within the Chinese national objective of sustainable development.

Methodology – The chapter provides an analysis of the evolution of bicycle transportation policies in China, and a discussion of the latest developments in the function and operation of public bicycle hire schemes.

Findings – Due to high population density, the prevailing mix of land use and a lack of affordability of cars and motor scooters, bicycle transportation has historically been very common in the urban areas of China. However, since the 1990s, many Chinese cities implemented restrictive policies on the development of bicycle transportation and the modal share of bicycles has reduced sharply.

Practical implications – The chapter suggests that China would need to create favourable conditions for bicycle transportation in urban areas through means such as policy support, land use planning, use of economic levers and through creating an acceptable social and cultural atmosphere for cycling. Finally, the maintenance of a relatively high proportion of bicycle traffic would need to be regarded as an index for sustainable urban development.

Purpose – This chapter reflects on the role of cycling in India, Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, discusses and compares explanatory factors of cycling behaviour and provides three methods of spatial analysis that can feed into local transport policy and planning.

Approach – The chapter compares important relevant contextual issues and challenges and presents examples of ongoing research on three continents.

Findings – The findings are in the first instance methodological in nature. Methods have been developed to assess the effect of barriers on access by bicycle, to quantify the avoided carbon emission associated with cycling and to help plan a demand-based cycling network.

Practical implications – Three different spatial analysis methods are presented: the planning of new bicycle infrastructure, the evaluation of existing cycling in terms of avoided carbon emission and the role of the physical environment in levels of cycling accessibility. The methods can be easily replicated and integrated into transport policy and planning at the local level.

Social implications – Effective cycling-inclusive planning in developing countries is expected to lead to higher levels of cycling that positively affect people's welfare, health and the environment.

Value of chapter – The chapter affirms that a thorough understanding of physical, social, economic and cultural factors of the developing city context are important in effective cycling-inclusive planning. It provides three relatively simple and replicable methods that are considered particularly appropriate for data scarce developing cities.

Purpose – To demonstrate where and how transport planners could benefit from insights gained by psychological theory and research.

Methodology – Theory-driven narrative review.

Findings – An extended version of Ajzen's (1991) Theory of Planned Behaviour is proposed which could be used for empirically analysing how environmental and psychological factors influence the individual decision to cycle.

Research implications – The review indicates that taking into account psychological insights could considerably increase the understanding of individual bicycle use. Currently research systematically analysing how psychological processes mediate the relation between environmental features and individual cycling is rare.

Practical implications – The review indicates that current interventions for increasing cycling are not very effective. It is assumed that taking into account insight from psychological research may help to develop new and more effective interventions for promoting cycling. Furthermore, studies evaluating the effects of these interventions in a methodological acceptable way are urgently needed.

Purpose – This chapter provides a think piece on economic evaluation and policy for cycling. Bicycle investments are often motivated by a desire to improve health, the environment and congestion conditions. However, we argue that since the bicycle is a part of the transport system, it should be evaluated as such. Focusing on implications for cycling appraisal in general, we also discuss two conflicting trends in Stockholm: a sharp decrease in cycling in the outer areas, and a sharp increase in the inner parts.

Methodology – We use (i) travel survey data to analyse the potential to reduce congestion through improvements for cyclists, (ii) travel survey data from 1986 to 1987 and 2004 and bicycle counts over 25 years and (iii) a value of time survey of Stockholm cyclists including questions of exercise habits.

Findings – Additional benefits in appraisal from reduced car traffic and improved health seem to be small. Given bicyclists’ high values of time and low investment costs, bicycling investments are still likely to be socially beneficial. The conflicting bicycling trends can be explained by (i) increased road congestion and improved bicycle infrastructure, (ii) increased visibility of bicyclists generating a ‘positive spiral’, (iii) increased interest in physical fitness and changes in the relative prices of cars versus central residences turn cycling into a high-status mode and (iv) in peripheral areas, increasing distances and less dense land use patterns decrease cycling levels.

Practical implications – The results underscore the need for dense, mixed-use spatial planning and ‘smart’ marketing using the effects of cyclist visibility to reinforce the ‘status’ of cycling.

Purpose – The chapter reviews public bicycle scheme implementation processes and impacts and will assist decision makers and stakeholders considering such schemes.

Approach – The chapter customises the Van de Velde typology for describing public and private interventions in public bicycle scheme implementation processes. The chapter considers schemes worldwide, but has a particular focus on France and Spain where these schemes are considered as a public service.

Findings – The authors draw several conclusions on how to optimise public and private involvement in order to achieve the desired impacts. First, public bicycle schemes have to be integrated within cycling and urban mobility policies. Second, local governments have to ensure that contracts with private sector operators make maximum use of the operator's skill, and by so doing will meet multi-modal travel behaviour objectives.

Research limitations/implication – The chapter highlights the need of further research into organisational and contractual performance, the special economic features of industries based on the supply of a service through a network, and cost–benefit analysis.

Practical implications – Public decision makers benefit from experience which is able to be assimilated and transmitted through international projects undertaken by international experts in the field.

Social implications – Public bicycle schemes enable relatively easy and cheap access to sustainable modes of transport, and they contribute to an overall transport system with cycling as a prime means of movement, and towards cities which are more pleasant to live in.

Originality – By integrating the main relevant data and publications into this worldwide overview, the chapter forms an essential starting point for future work relating to public bicycle schemes.

Purpose – This chapter analyses the various themes connected with cycling's current situation and future prospects which have emerged through the previous 10 chapters, and elaborates the need for a ‘bicycle system’ which is capable of achieving a ‘revolution’ in cycling.

Approach – The chapter draws on previous chapters, as well as the results of recently completed research into the state of cycling across urban England.

Findings – Cycling remains marginalised, but its current rise in status across some of the world's cities offers grounds for optimism about its future contribution to sustainability objectives. The bicycle's rise in status is currently both elitist and, potentially, a passing fashion; the challenge is to make it both more democratic and durable.

Practical implications – In the mould of ‘common endeavours’ outlined in the World Commission Report on Environment and Development ‘Our Common Future’, the authors propose building a ‘bicycle system’ to ensure the bicycle can play a full role in the transition to (especially urban) sustainability and outline possible principles for, pathways towards, and components and characteristics of, a bicycle system.

Social implications – The chapter aims to influence broader debates, and importantly it needs to influence political discourse, about the changes required to assist in the transition to greater urban transport sustainability, and specifically to discourage car use whilst encouraging use of the bicycle for short urban journeys.

Value of paper – The authors provide an analysis of the current constraints on cycling, and a case for simultaneously assembling a ‘bicycle system’ as the means of transitioning urban transport towards sustainability, whilst at the same time disassembling the current system that allows cars to predominate.

Rachel Aldred is senior lecturer in sociology and director of the Sustainable Mobilities Research Group at the University of East London. She is PI on the ESRC-funded Cycling Cultures project (For more information on Cycling Cultures see and has written articles on topics including cycling, cars and CO2, sustainable transport, and transport and disability.

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Transport and Sustainability
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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