In many countries, including the UK, many fewer women than men cycle. Using data from 17 countries in six continents, a new study led by researchers at the MRC Epidemiology Unit, University of Cambridge has identified a threshold above which we start to see at least as many women cycling as men. For countries this is 7% of all trips by bike, a tipping point that has been reached in the Netherlands, Japan, Germany, Finland and Switzerland.
The two cities with highest levels of cycling (“mode share”) in the study are Amsterdam in the Netherlands and Osaka in Japan. In both of these cities, just under one in three trips are made by bike, whereas in cities with the lowest mode share it is less than 1 in a hundred. In Osaka almost two-thirds of bike trips are made by women.
The picture is very different in London, where only 3% of trips are made by bike, and this drops to 1% among women. A similar picture of inequity is found in many of the Latin and North American cities studied in the paper.
Similarly, only cities and countries with higher levels of cycling achieved good representation of all age groups. While over-60s are often less likely to cycle than younger adults, their participation is best where broader levels of cycling are also high.
Low-cycling cities and countries also tended to have even lower cycling rates for non-work trips. For instance, in Mexico City 3% of work trips are by bike, but only 2% of non-work trips. This contrasts with the high-cycling cities and countries, where cycling is popular for work and non-work trips alike. For example, in Berlin 14% of non-work and 13% of work trips are by bike.
The study was led by researchers at the MRC Epidemiology Unit, University of Cambridge, and included contributors from 11 other institutions across six different countries plus the World Health Organization. The research used travel survey data from 2009-19 from 17 countries and 35 cities across the world representing 650 million urban residents. Of the cities included in the study, all but two had populations of greater than a million. Eight were “mega-cities” with around eight million or more people living there: Mexico City, New York City, Bangalore, Tokyo, London, Bogota, Delhi, and Sao Paulo.
Dr Rahul Goel, lead author said
This is the first study that compares cycling use across such a diverse set of cities and countries. With this data, we could uncover patterns of cycling use; what varies and what is the same across settings. While there are some regional patterns, there are findings from our study that are globally applicable.”
Dr James Woodcock, senior author said:
We were particularly excited to include data from Japan, which has some of the highest cycling rates in the world but is not often covered in the English language literature. Debates on how to get more people cycling will benefit from looking more broadly at a range of contexts.”
Prof Rachel Aldred, study co-author said:
The findings show how important it is to plan for mass cycling, which will look very different to current cycling in cities like Mexico City, London, and Cape Town. Mass cycling will be age and gender diverse and will involve trips to see friends or the shops just as much (or more) as trips to work. It will mean that many more city residents from all walks of life will be able to travel flexibly, cheaply, and healthily.”
Dr Thiago Herick de Sa, study co-author noted:
This gigantic comparison effort brings an unprecedented wealth of information on cycling across the globe. While we see some ‘usual suspects’ with high levels and diversity in cycling, such as Amsterdam, we also observe cities like Rosario doing fairly well on both, showing that context-specific solutions can make a difference. WHO is already using these data to support cities and countries in developing healthier and more sustainable transport systems.”
- Full paper: Cycling behaviour in 17 countries across 6 continents: levels of cycling, who cycles, for what purpose, and how far? Rahul Goel, Anna Goodman, Rachel Aldred, Ryota Nakamura, Lambed Tatah, Leandro Martin Totaro Garcia, Belen Diomedi-Zapata, Thiago Herick de Sa, Geetam Tiwari, Audrey de Nazelle, Marko Tainio, Ralph Buehler, Thomas Götschi & James Woodcock. Transport Reviews 2021.
The study was funded by the MRC Global Challenge Foundation Award and the European Research Council under the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 817754). This material reflects only the author’s views and the Commission is not liable for any use that may be made of the information contained therein.