Diversity boost for cycling in London

Gap narrowing between ethnic groups, but women still reluctant to use two wheels, reports Joe Talora, Local Democracy Reporter

An interfaith bike ride organised by the council's Cycle Enfield project in 2019 aimed to encourage greater ethnic diversity in cycling (credit Enfield Council)
An interfaith bike ride organised by the council’s Cycle Enfield project in 2019 aimed to encourage greater ethnic diversity in cycling (credit Enfield Council)

Cycling is becoming more diverse in London with a wider range of people taking it up during the pandemic, according to Transport for London.

Recently published data shows for the first time that black, Asian and minority ethnic (Bame) Londoners are not significantly less likely to have cycled in the last 12 months than white Londoners.

In a survey, 28% of white Londoners said they had cycled in the past year, compared with 24% of black Londoners, 25% of Asian Londoners and 31% of people from mixed backgrounds.

In 2018, people from Bame backgrounds in London accounted for just 15% of all cycle journeys made in the capital despite making up around 41% of London’s population. But one-in-five people who don’t cycle now say they are actively considering taking it up. The survey showed men, people aged between 16 and 34, and Bame Londoners, are the groups most open to starting to use two wheels.

Despite these improvements in diversity among ethnic groups, the research showed women, people on low incomes, and over-55s, were significantly less likely to have used a bike in the past year than men or medium and high-income households and other age groups.

While 34% of men said they had cycled in the past year, the figure was only 20% for women.

City Hall’s walking and cycling commissioner Will Norman admitted “more work needs to be done” to improve accessibility for as many different groups as possible.

He said: “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.”

Fears around road safety was one of the most significant barriers to cycling for most people, with 82% of respondents to the survey having said it was a concern.

Simon Munk, from London Cycling Campaign, said there was “still a long way to go” to make cycling accessible for everyone. “Diversity is improving, and TfL surveys and data seems to bear that out,” Simon said.

“There are still, to be very clear, loads of barriers to cycling in all sorts of different ways. We know that by far the biggest single barrier to more people cycling is fear of road conditions, aggressive driving, roads that are hostile.

“So, we’ve still got a long way to go just on the basic infrastructure on safe cycle routes and not feeling like you’re going to be killed at a junction, and that is hugely off-putting to a huge majority of people. But, according to research from the University of Westminster and others on the Near Miss Project, it is particularly off-putting to women and also people of colour.”

He added there are “structural issues” that need to be addressed, such as certain areas of London that “aren’t moving as fast as others” in implementing cycling infrastructure as well as “all sorts of specific issues and barriers across London” that make cycling inaccessible to some groups.

But Simon praised the work of groups such as Cycle Sisters and Joyriders which help underrepresented groups break down specific barriers to cycling. Set up in Waltham Forest five years ago, Cycle Sisters is a group devoted to inspiring and enabling Muslim women to get into cycling.

Khadijah Zaidi, a ride leader for Cycle Sisters, said: “The TfL report highlights the need for a multi-faceted approach to improving diversity among cyclists. Although improvements to infrastructure are important and are demonstrated in their survey as the biggest factors that can improve cycling rates, there are many other factors which need to go hand-in-hand with these changes – such as having access to a bike, bike maintenance courses, and cycle training.”

As part of the push to increase take-up of cycling among different communities, British Cycling will later this year open the UK’s first ‘city academy’ hubs in Hackney and Newham. These will provide children between ten and 14 years with cycling skills while improving visibility of cycling among more diverse communities, with a view to improving diversity in professional cycling.