World Bicycle Day – Getting the Right Infrastructure

3rd June 2021

To mark World Bicycle Day, we have taken a busy polluted road in London – Marylebone Road – and modelled the benefits of introducing some cycling infrastructure. We want to highlight that assessing and communicating the benefits of active travel infrastructure, as well as careful planning, is an important part of making it a success – not just the size of the investment. We also want to shine a spotlight on the size of the opportunity available to decision-makers and signpost them towards some of the ways they can choose the right schemes.

We found (hypothetically speaking) that introducing a 100% quiet cycle path near Marylebone Road in London (scenario 3) could result in over £5.9 million worth of monetised benefits over the coming decade, in other words, you would get back £70 for every £1 spent.

A Brave New World

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, temporary cycle lanes in cities have popped up across the country. People were forced to work from home, gyms and sports clubs closed, key workers were discouraged from using public transport, and as a result, many started looking for new places to exercise and those who still needed to get somewhere started looking for alternative modes of transport. Almost overnight streets across the world were emptied of cars and filled with multi-coloured bollards and cones reclaiming the roads for cyclists and people on foot. Significant amounts of money were made available to local authorities across the country to provide emergency active travel infrastructure – £250 million of emergency funding was provided to English local authorities in May 2020, the first stage of a £2-billion investment in cycling over the coming five years. This boost to spending has been replicated across Europe, with more than €1 billion being spent on new bike lanes across the continent since the start of the pandemic and the end of last year.

Getting it right, making it last

In the haste to roll out temporary cycling infrastructure in England, there was no requirement to assess, model, or communicate the impacts of new cycle lanes and these are important parts of making infrastructure like this successful and more permanent. There are numerous benefits to increased cycling, including multiple health benefits, the lower levels of carbon emissions, and better air quality – important when many councils are investing in strategies and plans to tackle problems like a mental health and obesity crisis, as well as a climate and air pollution emergency. Our study with Sustrans in 2017 found more than 12,000 premature deaths from air pollution alone would be prevented over ten years if both England and Scotland reached their respective official goals to get more people to walk and cycle – targets England is struggling to reach. In addition, our research found there would be £9.31 billion worth of benefits to the economy if these targets were hit over the same time.

But, benefits can vary depending on where the cycle lane is located – a cycle lane on a busy road will expose a cyclist to more exhaust fumes from traffic, while a cycle lane in a quiet road or green space reduces a cyclist’s exposure to these harmful emissions. We advise local authorities trying to introduce more active travel infrastructure to model possible scenarios to understand where cycle paths are best located. Without this, cycle lanes risk being placed in inappropriate locations which make them vulnerable to public pressure for road space to be returned to motorists.

What are the benefits?

We developed an Air Quality Benefits tool for Sustrans in 2017 which monetises the benefits of investing in active travel infrastructure and published an accompanying report Air Quality Benefits of Active Travel.  We used this tool to monetise the benefits of creating a 1.6km cycle lane along Marylebone Road, London – using three different scenarios. Each scenario assumed an uptake of 1,000 additional cyclists, with each cyclist taking 200 cycle trips a year.

Option Scheme Monetized benefits over 10 years
1 Cycle path 100% on Marylebone Road £5,533,525
2 Cycle path 50% on Marylebone Road and 50% on quiet road £5,709,245
3 Cycle path 100% on quiet road £5,885,005

 

The main benefits come from the physical benefits of cycling, which provided £5.6 million of benefits over 10 years in every scenario. Where Scenario 3 outperformed the other scenarios was in exposure to air pollution while using the route, particularly during commuting. Exposure-based modelling like this, where air pollution impacts are considered, provides local authorities with real evidence as to where a cycle lane will have the most impact.

If local authorities carry out this sort of modelling they can maximise the benefits of cycle lanes and make a strong business case for temporary lanes to be retained, or for new lanes to be given the go-ahead.