martinj's picture

Driving is cultural: even where bike infrastructure is equivalent British take the car, while Dutch cycle.

Build it and they will come? Why Britain's 1960s cycling revolution flopped

Squint at Stevenage’s extensive 1960s protected cycleway network and you could be in the Netherlands – except for the lack of people on bikes. So why did the New Town’s residents choose the motor car over the bicycle?


Stevenage was compact, and [planner] Claxton assumed the provision of 12 ft-wide cycleways and 7 ft-wide pavements would encourage residents to walk and cycle. He had witnessed the high usage of Dutch cycleways, and he believed the same could be achieved in the UK.

But to Claxton’s puzzlement and eventual horror, residents of Stevenage chose to drive – even for journeys of two miles or less. Stevenage’s 1949 masterplan projected that 40% of the town’s residents would cycle each day, and just 16% would drive. The opposite happened. By 1964, cycle use was down to 13%; by 1972, it had dropped to 7%. (Today it has less than half that, and yet some neighbouring towns with few cycleways have cycling modal shares of 4-5%.)

Claxton poured scorn on those who chose motorcars rather than bicycles, complaining that motorists “seem to have a problem with their logic” because “they use their cars as shopping baskets, or use them as overcoats”. Claxton complained that he had provided “cycle tracks [modelled on the] pattern of those found [in] Holland” for the residents of Stevenage, but cycle use in Stevenage never reached Dutch levels of use.



The borough council’s cycle strategy – not updated since 2002 – conveys no doubt as to why cycle usage is so low: “Stevenage has a fast, high-capacity road system, which makes it easy to make journeys by car. Residents have largely been insulated from the effects of traffic growth and congestion and generally there is little incentive for people to use modes other than the private car … [The] propensity to cycle [appears to] depend on factors other than the existence of purpose-built facilities.”



Crivak's picture

The whole story?

I always wonder about these non-success stories and whether there aren't more obvious reasons as to why they might have failed. Usually, it's the lack of destinations along infrastructure routes, but that doesn't seem to be the case here. 

Someone wrote this in the comments, however:


Has the writer actually been to Stevenage recently??

The cycleway near me is a mess of dog shit, broken glass, rubbish and shit graffiti.

At night they are badly lit, and act as handy shelter for random gangs of local yoot, and while they don't bother me, I'm pretty sure they put a lot of people off entering the underpasses.

Allowing mopeds on them has made them dangerous to use, especially with kids on bikes/scooters, as you can't always see them coming, that was a bloody stupid move IMO.
And despite what is claimed in this article, the council are useless at maintaining them properly. Pot holes feature a lot, as do shards of broken glass, which is a great combination when your kid hits one and gets a handful of glass.

The once gleaming cycleways here are now just a sort of network for drug dealers and people too lazy to pick up their dog shit.

If they banned the scooters, lit them properly, kept them clean, then loads more people would use them.


Though, this seems to be a bit of hyperbole. Plus it wouldn't account for the lack of success when it was new and clean, without the scooter law, aside from the rain. Someone else offered this instead:


I think there may be a class and aspirations thing too - stevenage like the other new towns in the south east was largely populated by working class people, many transported from London. They were sold the vision of their own homes in a spacious green new town. Part of the appeal also was the ability to for the first time own a car. As a result the population wanted to live the dream with their cars, bikes were considered yesterday's technology; part of the old life they had left behind. Therefore cycling never took a hold


Not too long ago a dutch infrastructure student was posting around for comments regarding the Calgary community of Acadia, as they were conducting a student project studying bicycle and car use in the city. Maybe one day they'll do a study on Stevenage and have more insight :)