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Evaluation of the cycling city and towns programme: Qualitative research with residents

Christensen, J; Chatterjee, Kiron; Marsh, S; Sherwin, Henrietta; Jain, Juliet


J Christensen

S Marsh

Henrietta Sherwin


Between 2008 and 2011, the Department for Transport , Cycling England and the Department of Health invested over £43m (plus local match funding) to create the twelve Cycling City and Towns (CCTs): Greater Bristol, Blackpool, Cambridge, Chester, Colchester, Leighton-Linslade, Shrewsbury, Stoke-on-Trent, Southend, Southport, Woking and York. The aim of the programme was to explore the relationship between investment in cycling, as part of a whole-town strategy, and the number of cyclists and frequency of cycling trips. The programme built on earlier experience in six Cycling Demonstration Towns which began receiving funding in 2005.

In 2009, the Department for Transport commissioned an independent evaluation of the outcomes and impacts of the programme, which was led by AECOM, University of the West of England and the Tavistock Institute. The evaluation comprised a range of data collection activities, including in-depth qualitative research with residents, which this report covers. The qualitative research offers insights into individual experiences and perceptions to complement the other sources of evidence.

The qualitative research involved people who had changed their cycling behaviour since the start of the CCT programme. It investigated the circumstances associated with these changes, including the role of the programme, and gained direct insights into influential factors and the process of behavioural change. Over 140 adult interviews were conducted (12 in each CCT). The interviews were conducted between October 2010 and February 2011 and mainly took place in the homes of the interview participants.

The analysis suggests that people are more or less responsive to the idea of cycling depending on their current life stage and recent life events. For example, represented amongst the groups who experienced a turning point are: new entrants to the workplace; people changing the nature or location of their work; parents of young children, especially mothers; people recovering from ill health; and people with increased leisure time (e.g. on retirement). The analysis also indicated how external factors (including policy interventions) played a role in supporting or preventing cycling at key trigger points, as well as triggering cycling directly. These included changes in bicycle availability, cycle training, cycle infrastructure and number of cyclists on the roads.

In conclusion, the research has shown how CCT investment, alongside other factors, influenced the cycling of residents in the context of their evolving lives, and how viewing travel behaviour in this way assists in understanding behavioural change. It has demonstrated that life events can lead to reconsideration of travel and turning points in travel behaviour. Transport policy makers and practitioners could consider life events as opportunities to increase awareness of travel alternatives, but they need to engage with groups/individuals at these points. This could benefit from building partnerships with professionals from other sectors (e.g. education providers, employers). The research has also shown how past experience of cycling played an important role in decisions on whether to take up cycling again. This suggests that engagement needs to be different for groups with different experience levels of the behaviour being promoted.

The research also showed that whether or not a person cycles at all, or cycles for particular kinds of journeys, is determined by a mix of contextual factors. This suggests that interventions which tackle only one of the potential barriers in this mix are less likely to succeed than interventions which address the most salient barriers across the different levels. Examples have been shown where the CCT investment succeeded in addressing barriers at different levels and encouraged residents to start or sustain cycling.


Christensen, J., Chatterjee, K., Marsh, S., Sherwin, H., & Jain, J. (2012). Evaluation of the cycling city and towns programme: Qualitative research with residents

Report Type Project Report
Publication Date Aug 1, 2012
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Keywords cycling investment, qualitative research, behavioural change, barriers to change, life events


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