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Walking is the low-hanging fruit for active travel, so why the obsession with cycling?

Walking is the low-hanging fruit for active travel, so why the obsession with cycling?

Cycling is a great way to get around actively and a great way to exercise, but it’s not what most people choose when they take up the challenge to travel actively.

The UK government’s latest figures show that walking far outweighs cycling as an active travel choice – in the number of trips, the number of stages within a multi-stage trip, the distance travelled, and the amount of time spent travelling that way.

Walking and cycling activity by the average person in England in 2022. From ‘Walking and cycling statistics, England‘; gov.uk, August 2023.

Our own figures point the same way. The BetterPoints app consistently records at least five times as many journeys on foot than by bike.

Trips by BetterPoints app users, Q4 2023 – more than six times as many were walked than cycled.

So why on earth do I keep seeing active travel campaigns that are focussed on cycling?

Why would any local authority spend its active travel budget on cycling-centred behaviour change schemes while cycling accounts for less than 20% of active travel choices?

They get it in Scotland. Transport Scotland puts walking at the top of the transport hierarchy, and warns explicitly against interpreting “active travel” as “cycling”:

‘Active travel modes are at the top of the transport hierarchy and should be prioritised accordingly, with walking and wheeling considered first, followed by cycling, then the remainder of the modes.

‘“Active travel”’ can sometimes be incorrectly used synonymously with “cycling”, leading to the perception that active travel strategies and interventions solely relate to cycling. It is important that active travel strategies contain measures that support walking, wheeling and cycling.’

Active Travel is walking, wheeling and cycling, Transport Scotland

Active travel is a mixture of modes, which includes cycling but is certainly not limited to it. Behaviour change programmes worth their salt will promote and support people in those they are most likely to use.

This is precisely why the BetterPoints app can capture data about any of them – walking, wheeling, cycling, scooting – you name it.

Putting all your money on one mode (cycling) – and one that has a higher bar to entry and is much less popular than another, at that – is a waste of money and will do little to promote active travel.