Today, Thursday 5th August, is Cycle to Work Day 2021. I have been regularly cycling to work for the last four years. I find that it is a great way to bookend the work day, clear my head, and get some easy exercise. On my commute this morning, I was excited to see the number of people using two wheels to make their way around London, some in flashy, tight-fitting lyrca, but many in every day attire.

Over the last four years, I have had the pleasure of witnessing cycling infrastructure in the capital get better and better, with Cycle Superhighways and Quietways popping up all over the city. Transport for London (TfL) proudly plan to create 450km of new Cycleways by 2024 so that even more Londoners will have access to the cycle network.

Cycling to work has largely been encouraged over the last 10 years since the UK Government launched ‘Cyclescheme’, a tax exemption initiative that offers employees a 25-39% reduction on the price of a bike and necessary accessories. Since Cyclescheme’s launch, an estimated 180,000 people per year have benefited from its perks.

In 2019, research by the Department for Transport found that 42% of residents in England (aged 5+) had access to or owned a bicycle. But despite this figure, roughly only 6% of all commuting trips are regularly cycled.

Cycling is known to have significant benefits for mental and physical health. A study conducted by Cycleplan in 2019 found that 75% of cyclists surveyed had noticed an improvement in their mental health since they had started cycling regularly, with 8% saying it had helped with their depression and anxiety. Other health benefits of cycling include a reduced risk of type-two diabetes, and a reduced rate of coronary heart disease (particularly in women). There is also evidence to suggest that employees who cycle to work have fewer days off for illness compared to employees who don’t.

But the positives don’t stop there. Research led by the University of Oxford’s Transport Studies Unit found that swapping the car for a bike for just one commute a week can help reduce an individual’s carbon footprint by 0.5 tonnes a year, and found that those who already cycled had 84% lower CO2 emissions from all daily travel than non-cyclists.

Climate change

With growing awareness of climate change, and the need to reduce our CO2 emissions, a policy framework exists to shift the focus away from private vehicles (and the associated road and parking infrastructure), to other forms of public and active transport. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), the overlord of all planning policy in England, requires that opportunities to promote walking, cycling and public transport are not just identified, but actively pursued (P.104). In addition one of the overarching aims of the NPPF is to promote healthy, inclusive and accessible places, including through the use of attractive, well-designed, clear and legible pedestrian and cycle routes (P.92).

Through my own experiences, I can attest to the fact that having access to a bicycle, and safe and easy cycle routes, can completely change the way you live. I use my bicycle almost daily, whether for my daily commute, on everyday errands, or for a weekend adventure. The opportunities for exploration are endless.

In addition to commuting, bicycles can also be used during the work day. Rather than hopping in that taxi, why not consider cycling across town to your meeting? Last year I used my bicycle to do a series of site visits across Tower Hamlets. The visits, which took me half a day on my bicycle, would have taken substantially longer on foot, public transport, or in a car. It also gave me a completely different perspective of the area, and I was able to consider movement barriers for active travellers that I otherwise would not have experienced.

Despite the policies, incentives and benefits of cycling, a large proportion of the workforce still find themselves facing barriers to day-to-day cycling, or are unable or unwilling to cycle to (or for) work, due to commuting distance or lack of safe cycling infrastructure in their neighbourhood. As professionals in the built environment, we have a very important role in influencing how our streets and places are designed to be safe and accessible to all road uses, including cyclists. But considering the known social and environmental benefits of cycling, perhaps it is time for an attitude shift – from an important opportunity, to a professional obligation.

Authored by

Zena Foale-Banks, Principal Planner