Comment Editor Weronika Bialek discusses the reason why Britons are discouraged from cycling despite the clear environmental and health benefits

Digital editor and final year French and Russian student.
Images by Ross Sneddon

Cycling is both better for the environment and for our health. If we all cycled to the supermarket or to our local place of work, not only would that benefit our bodies and minds, but also the planet. 

However, despite the many benefits of cycling, I would argue that many people in the UK are currently discouraged from swapping their car or bus journeys to bike journeys. This is because the infrastructure in cities makes many inexperienced cyclists feel unsafe, as there are not enough cycle paths, and those that do exist are often not wide or safe enough.

people in the UK are currently discouraged from swapping their car or bus journeys to bike journeys

A great benefit of cycling is that it doesn’t release any greenhouse gases, which is much more environmentally friendly than cars, with an average petrol car in the UK producing 180g of CO2 per kilometre. However, not only does cycling not produce any greenhouse gases, it also reduces noise pollution. This not only creates a quieter environment for us humans, but it also stops the negative effects that noise pollution can have on animals, such as causing certain species of birds to have less offspring.

The growth of cycling would also minimise congestion and car production. Currently in the UK most British households have at least one car, with close to 30 million people owning two. If more people cycled to work and for short trips such as grocery shopping, people would be less inclined to invest in cars, and perhaps car shared ownership would become more popular, as people would not need to use their cars every day. 

In terms of health benefits, a Danish study found that regular cycling protected people from heart disease; cycling is great for the heart, as it is known to strengthen heart muscles and lower resting pulse. Cycling also helps the lungs, since it is an aerobic activity, but also because people who cycle are exposed to two to three times less pollution than car commuters. Cycling is known to also have mental health benefits, as aerobic activity reduces anxiety and cycling is believed to help combat stress.

Despite the many clear benefits, not that many people seem to use cycling as their preferred method of getting to work, school or the supermarket, even though the majority of the British population are aware of the benefits. Cycling makes up only 1% of all traffic mileage and about 14% of people cycle more than once a week. On top of that, it is estimated that 66% of people don’t cycle much, if ever. Although disappointing, I would say that these statistics are not surprising, since cycling in the UK is not the most accessible mode of transport. 

It is true that over the last couple of years cycling paths in the UK have grown and improved; however, I would argue that most cities still don’t have the cycling-based infrastructure for people to feel safe and comfortable cycling daily. 

most cities still don’t have the cycling-based infrastructure for people to feel safe and comfortable cycling

I have lived in many cities in my lifetime, and although in some areas, such as certain districts of Birmingham, there are many wide cycling path, in other smaller cities I have found that cycling paths are squashed on to narrow roads, with the cycling path being so small it seems that the cyclists only have a curb-worth of space. Alternatively, sometimes cycling paths are simply merged with pedestrian paths, which can be dangerous if the path is not wide enough to accommodate both groups of people. 

60% of people believe that their area is not equipped sufficiently well enough for cyclists, and would welcome the addition of more cycle paths and routes. A survey conducted by Carwow has found that 97% of people could walk their short car journeys if they chose. According to figures from the Office of National Statistics, 49% of the population in England and Wales travel less than 5 km to work, which would only take about 15 minutes to cycle.

I would argue that these people who know that they could make their short journeys healthier and more environmentally friendly, as well as cheaper, would choose to do so if cycling was more accessible and safe in the UK. However, the only way this can happen is if the government decides to change the infrastructure of cities to accommodate cyclists and actively push the UK population to choose to cycle over commuting by car or even by public transport when they can make it by bike.

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