New data shows that people cycling in London are more diverse than ever

Transport for London (TfL) has published new data showing that long-term trends in who cycles have changed, with participation much more representative of Londoners in 2020/21 than previous years.

Londoners from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities were not significantly less likely to have cycled over the past 12 months than white Londoners. 27% as a whole had cycled over the past 12 months, compared to 24% of Black people, 25% of Asian people and 31 per cent of people from mixed backgrounds. This data comes from independent research for TfL based on a representative sample of 3,500 Londoners.

Life during the coronavirus pandemic boosted cycling levels overall, from 21% of Londoners in 2019/20 to 27% in 2020/21 but also widened participation, particularly among people from minority ethnic communities. Ensuring that people from all backgrounds feel comfortable cycling is vital to ensure a healthy, green and sustainable recovery from the pandemic. The research also found that half of Black and Asian non-cyclists (49 per cent and 46 per cent respectively) are open to starting to cycle.

Significant barriers to encouraging more people to cycle remain. Across all backgrounds, there were major concerns around safety on the road and cycle theft, with 82% of non-cyclists worried about road safety and collisions. Personal safety was a bigger concern for women, Asian and mixed ethnicity Londoners, with 73% of women citing it as a concern.

The research found that that protected cycle routes on busy streets, less traffic on minor streets, and more secure cycle parking could help address barriers to cycling faced by people from diverse backgrounds. TfL has worked closely with London’s boroughs to deliver hundreds of kilometres of safer cycle routes, including more than 100km since the start of the pandemic; to build low traffic neighbourhoods right across London, and install thousands of new cycle parking spaces.

The research also found particular concerns from disabled Londoners who want to cycle more, including lack of fitness and a lack of relevant role models. 42% of disabled non-cyclists said they didn’t see anybody like them cycling, while 75% had concerns that they weren’t fit enough. TfL funds community groups and charities through its walking and cycling grants programme to enable more disabled Londoners to cycle and has been using its communications channels to normalise cycling for disabled people.

TfL will use the data and recommendations from the report to ensure that investment continues to be targeted at breaking down barriers to participation.

TfL and British Cycling recently brought together key cycling, diversity and equalities stakeholders for a summit to identify what actions need to be taken to diversify cycling. The results of these discussions are being used to shape a new joint approach to including more people in cycling London that can be delivered by a wide range of organisations, funders, campaigners, authorities and community groups.

At the UK level 17% of cyclists come from diverse ethnic communities, yet are represented in just five per cent of British Cycling’s membership. To help widen this demographic, British Cycling is using TfL’s data to identify areas in London with the most potential for enabling and encouraging diversity in cycling. Based on this data, Hackney and Newham were identified as boroughs with significant potential and have since been selected as home to the UK’s first City Academy hubs, a new initiative delivered by British Cycling and supported by the Rapha Foundation to improve diversity in cycling for young people. 

Launching this autumn, the British Cycling City Academies, supported by the Rapha Foundation, is setting up City Academy hubs across the capital, which will each have a coach from the local community, who will lead fun, skills-based sessions and act as role models for other riders.  

These activity sessions which will be aimed at young people aged 10-14 years will take place in local open spaces, such as parks and commons, to increase the visibility of cycling. The programme also seeks to support progression into professional cycling, with an ambition to improve diversity in competitive cycling events through City Academy clubs and talent centres.  

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “London is one of the most diverse cities in the world and that should be reflected in all areas – including how Londoners get around the capital. Making it easier for Londoners to walk and cycle is an important part of our recovery from the pandemic. It’s really encouraging to see that many more Black, Asian and minority ethnic Londoners are now cycling, and that twenty percent of non-cyclists also looking to take it up. But we are not complacent – the report shows concerns from groups including disabled Londoners that are preventing them from cycling, and we will continue to work with communities to break down these barriers and help ensure everyone feels confident to travel around the city by bike.”

Will Norman, London’s Walking and Cycling Commissioner, said: “We’ve long championed diversity in cycling and it remains a central aim of the Mayor’s transport strategy. It is encouraging to see from this report that change is starting to happen, with almost half of Black non-cyclists open to taking it up. However, we know more work needs to be done to get people from all backgrounds and communities cycling, which is why we have put in place new and upgraded cycle lanes across London, alongside many other measures to make it safer and easier for people to get around by bike. We will continue to engage with communities across the capital and invest in making cycling accessible to all”.

Danielle Every, British Cycling’s Cycling Delivery Director, said: “Cycling brings huge benefits for individuals, and for the places where we live and work – improved physical and mental health, better air quality, less traffic congestion and fewer CO2 emissions. Yet in London there’s a real divide between those who are able to jump on a bike and enjoy these benefits, and those that can’t. But the good news is that TfL’s research shows that people in London’s diverse communities are keener than ever to get cycling.

“The challenge for us, as cycling’s governing body, is to build on these findings, and ensure that all Londoners, irrespective of the community they come from, have the same opportunities to get on a bike. We’ll do this by working in partnership with Transport for London to develop interventions that help London’s diverse communities overcome the barriers they face in being able to cycle. And, supported by the Rapha Foundation, we’ll roll out our City Academies programme to ensure that talented riders from diverse ethnic communities have the same opportunities to develop their skills and progress along British Cycling’s talent pathway. With medals for Kye Whyte and Bethany Shriever in the BMX at this year’s Olympic games, we saw the huge cycling potential that exists in London. We want to see that potential realised.”

Iffat Tejani, Founder of Evolve Cycling Network, said: “Evolve is about allowing Muslim women and women of colour to explore cycling as a means to exercise on their own terms and it also becomes a conduit to improve confidence in personal and professional aspects of life. Lockdown was a perfect storm; creating safe spaces -and time- to explore cycling for Muslim women. There has always been an absence of role models and the sense of community in cycling and the formation of Evolve (and other cycling clubs) changed that. In the presence of a community in the sport, Muslim women aged 65 and above started pursuing childhood dreams and making them realities through the classes and coaching that Evolve offered. 

“Another barrier to the sport was the gear that is traditionally associated with the sport which is considered incompatible with observing hijab in public spaces. Creating a modest jersey and spaces to exchange ideas of how to make our clothes compatible with the sport was a game changer for these women.

“The Increase in Diversity and Inclusion conference organised by British Cycling and TFL was an incredibly empowering experience, to be in the same room with clubs from different communities and backgrounds talking about the barriers they have faced and exchanging ideas and processes that has helped each one overcome theirs. It allowed us to pursue unique perspectives, promoted creativity, opportunities and making us feel less alone in our journey to make cycling accessible to Muslim women and women of colour.”

TfL’s Santander Cycles hire scheme continues to offer an excellent way for people without their own bikes to try out cycling in London for £2 for unlimited journeys up to 30 minutes, within a 24 hour period. Hire figures for the bikes have been strong throughout the pandemic and in March, Santander Cycles reached a major milestone of 100 million hires.

The pandemic has increased the need for more access to sport, with almost one in three children not meeting the recommended 30 minutes per day physical activity. It is children and young people from lower socio-economic and diverse backgrounds who are missing out the most.

To help address this TfL has recently announced that applications are open for more than £500,000 of grants for community and not-for-profit groups that encourage people to walk and cycle.

Enabling more people to walk and cycle is an important part of boosting Londoners’ wellbeing and mental health as the capital recovers from the pandemic. Walking and Cycling Grants London aims to address barriers to walking and cycling amongst traditionally underrepresented groups, helping to make London a more sustainable, inclusive and healthy city.

Funded by TfL in partnership with The London Marathon Charitable Trust and administered by Groundwork London, the programme can provide grants of up to £10,000 over three years to successful applicants. Applicants to this scheme will be judged on the potential of their idea to benefit the local community and boost walking and cycling levels.

Since May 2020, more than 100km of new or upgraded cycle lanes have been built or are under construction, along with tens of thousands of square metres of extra pavement space reallocated for people walking. The measures mean people are increasingly using bikes to get around their local area and for exercise, with TfL data showing cycling during the pandemic increased by 22 per cent in outer London compared to spring 2019, with a seven per cent rise in inner London.


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