“Cycling has formed part of UK society for over a century. For much of that time, the bicycle was the most numerous vehicle on the roads, a major means of everyday mobility (Alderson 1972; McGurn 1999). But the amount of cycling in the UK has fallen dramatically and more or less continuously over the last half century; it accounted for 37 per cent of all journeys in 1949, but accounts for only around one per cent today (Department for Transport 2002). The number of cycles bought has never been higher, yet the number of cycling trips made on UK roads has never been lower.
Across government, cycling is now seen as ‘a good thing’. But despite growing pro-cycling rhetoric and policy in the UK, many people appear remarkably reluctant to ‘get on their bikes’. Why? Discussion about impediments to cycling tends to concentrate on lack of good cycling infrastructure, such as cycling routes and cycle parking. Seemingly insurmountable barriers, such as hilly topography, high levels of rainfall and cold winters, are also considered influential. But what about emotional barriers to cycling?
Numerous studies have shown fear to be a significant barrier to cycling (British Medical Association 1992; Davies et al 1997; Gardner 1998; Gardner and Ryley 1997; Pearce et al 1998; Ryley 2004). One study based on quantitative and qualitative research, Barriers to Cycling (CTC et al1997, 7), concludes ‘the most prominent practical barriers perceived to be deterring potential cyclists were danger and safety’. The UK Department for Transport (2007, 2) reports that 47 per cent of adults ‘strongly agree that “the idea of cycling on busy roads frightens me”‘. Nor is fear of cycling confined to the UK. Gary Gardner (2002, 76) reports how, in ‘surveys in three U.S. cities in the early 1990s, more than half of respondents cited lack of safety as an influential factor in their decisions not to cycle’. This fear of cycling impinges on cycling promotion; for example, one person who tried to encourage colleagues to cycle to work during National Bike Week notes that: ‘Several people have criticised my efforts as irresponsible as cycling is “Dangerous” and by encouraging it we are putting employees at risk’ (email to cycle-planning discussion group, June 2004).”