In January / February this year, Cycle Winchester commenced a study which looks at cyclists and the roads and the routes they use. The first results were published in March, and we are now publishing the results of our Summer 2022 cycle count. A full report is available for download and this article summarises key facts emerging, our discussion and conclusions.
Key facts emerging from our survey
- We counted cyclists at 10 locations around the city between 08:00 and 10:00 in effect on a single, summer weekday morning.
- There were 303 cycle movements in the hour before 9am, 178 cycle movements in the hour after 9am.
- There was a 35% increase overall compared to winter, with a larger increase (42%) in the hour after 9am.
- By far the largest increase in cyclists – nearly tenfold – was seen at City Bridge before 9am.
- By comparison, in the hour before 9am, counting at only 8 of the 10 locations there were an estimated 7140 motor vehicle movements ie one passing on average every 4 seconds.
The winter and summer data counts for 2022 together set a baseline of cycling activity.
They provide a measure by which to judge the success of our authorities in increasing the number of people using bicycles to get around the city. The data are indicative only and have a reasonable degree of uncertainty. However, the data need not be sensitive to small, incremental change because the scale and urgency of the problems facing the city – pollution, congestion and unhealthy lives – demand bold action and a significant uplift in the current figures.
It is encouraging to record nearly 500 bike movements over a two-hour morning period. There is evidently a culture of cycling within the city to be valued, nurtured and developed. However, as a fraction of all local journeys, those by bicycle currently barely register – the data here would suggest it is around 3-4%. As an initial target Cycle Winchester believes that the city needs to be aiming to increase the number of people cycling by two- or three-fold.
It was surprising to find that compared to the numbers out on a bitterly cold February morning there were only 35% more on a summer’s morning. Whilst disappointing not to find a ‘summer surge’ it does suggest that weather is not such a big issue when deciding to get on a bike.
People often question the viability of mass cycling in Winchester because of both the hills and the weather. E-bikes are laying the former argument to rest and this study counters the latter. It seems, as most other reports conclude, that road safety is probably the biggest barrier to getting on a bike: unlike the weather, that is something we have the power to change.
A few cyclists stopped to chat to our counters. Anecdotal data is never quite the same as numerical data but there was a common theme which should equally worry and shame our authorities: a very high-level of discontent amongst the cycling community. Anyone recently arrived in Winchester was appalled at the conditions for cycling compared to where they had come from (never the reverse). If the city wants a vibrant future, it needs to be attractive to a generation that is especially concerned about the environment in which they live and their ability to maintain low-impact lifestyles.
The overall pattern of cycling is complex.
Monitoring five routes at ten locations on two different occasions gives 50 different routes and 100 2-hour counts. A complete set of route data for winter and summer can be found in the Appendix. On only 4 of those 50 different routes (and 100 counts) were no cyclists recorded, two of those being on City Bridge in winter. It is not possible to pin down cycle journeys that people make (or would wish to make) into a few easy routes. Even during the rush-hour cycling activity is not dominated by people heading to the city centre along a primary route. It is vital that infrastructure and improvements for cycling recognise the dual need for safe radial routes to the centre plus safe and easy ways to travel by bike between all the lesser hubs (residential, business, education, leisure, community, medical etc) within Winchester. The latter could be achieved either by a defined secondary network of routes or by the creation of low traffic neighbourhoods that become inherently safe and attractive places to cycle through.
One planned improvement for pedestrians in the city – that should benefit cyclists too – is a crossing on the Lower Romsey Road between Clifton Terrace and St James Terrace. At busy times this section of Romsey Road is a formidable barrier to anyone considering using a cycle. Unfortunately, the needs of cyclists here have been treated as something of an afterthought rather than a vital piece of the jigsaw in transforming modes of travel. Even from our limited route analysis it is clear that cyclists approach this point from all directions. Cycle Winchester is concerned that the crossing as currently conceived will not properly serve cyclists, only seeking to assist one or two particular route options through the junction.
A notable feature of our first counting exercise was the large number of cyclists pushing bikes or using pavements and other ad-hoc arrangements to navigate difficult sections. It is clearly not just a winter tactic. At the North Walls count we watched a large proportion of the cyclists who after confidently ride south on Park Avenue and then turn left along North Walls either dismount to push or else take their chances by cycling on the pavement as far as the relative safety of Wales Street. As mentioned in the March 2022 report, a significant number of cyclists are using the same section of pavement to go in the opposite direction, their only viable route. The creation of a cycle way through the Winchester School of Art should be a matter of high priority.
The very large increase in cyclist numbers at the City Bridge is partly explained by the fact that King Alfred’s statue is the start point for a number of significant bike trails. Many small groups could be observed taking the obligatory photo-shoot at the statue before setting off. A few of them asked for coffee shop recommendations in town before their ride. There is a great opportunity to convert Winchester from a jumping-off point for visiting cyclists into somewhere with a cycle-friendly reputation that encourages them to also spend time (and money) around the city.
Some words from the March 2022 report bear repeating.
“It is salutary to spend two hours during the early morning observing travel patterns at various locations around the city. It is impossible to miss the extent to which, despite all the rhetoric, pedestrians and cyclists are still treated as second-class citizens.”
Also hidden behind the data but obvious to our data counters is the variety of people out on bikes. These are not all the usual suspects. You are quickly reminded that one of the benefits of cycling is its accessibility for those on a low income. Age – at both ends of the spectrum – is clearly no barrier. You can observe some of the most stylishly dressed people in town going about on a bike. And there are bikes of all shapes and sizes out on the roads, often carrying significant loads.
Cycling can be for (nearly) everyone, given the right conditions.
Cycle Winchester will be interested to see how well pro-cycling measures implemented in the next 6 months by Winchester City Council and Hampshire County Council are reflected in the 2023 data counts.