Cycling and walking transport alternatives fall to pre-pandemic levels

·3-min read

Active travel has fallen to pre-coronavirus levels after surging in 2020, according to new figures.

A cycling charity and motoring organisation accused the Government and local authorities of failing to encourage people to keep using cleaner travel methods.

Department for Transport (DfT) data shows the average distance covered by people cycling in England in 2021 was 55 miles.

That was only 2% more than in the pre-pandemic year of 2019, following a 63% spike in 2020.

The average number of cycling trips per person last year fell below pre-virus levels to 15, compared with 16 in 2019 and 20 in 2020.

People walked an average of 210 miles last year – down from a record 220 miles in 2020 and back down to levels last seen in 2018.

The number of walking “stages”, where someone walks as part of an overall trip – for example, going to the bus stop to catch a bus to work – dropped to a new record low, down from 281 per person in 2020 to 279.

Sarah Mitchell, chief executive at charity Cycling UK, said the surge in cycling in 2020 – which coincided with a drop in traffic and the introduction of more segregated lanes – proved that more people would do it “if it felt safe for them”.

She went on: “It’s sadly no surprise that last year those cycling levels dropped, as some short-sighted councils began pulling out the protected lanes which kept people safe, and traffic levels rose again.

“Both national and local governments need to learn last year’s lessons and focus on the new crisis: cost of living.

“More people are turning to cycling for shorter journeys to help make ends meet, but they need the safety that dedicated cycle lanes bring.

“This has the potential to bring huge benefits to all of us. The short-term benefit is that people will be able to keep making those essential journeys to work, to school, to the shops by bike.

“The long-term benefits will be improvements to the nation’s health, economy and environment.”

London Bridge Commuters
The decline in walking ‘stages’ has been driven by a sharp drop in the number of stages done for non-leisure purposes, such as going to work and school. (Yui Mok)

AA president Edmund King said: “The reversal of lockdown trends that saw a surge in active travel in 2020, such as cycling, points to the Government and councils’ failure to seize the opportunity to ingrain and promote more of those changed behaviours into the way the UK travels.”

The DfT figures show there have been major changes in travel habits since the pandemic began.

The decline in walking “stages” has been driven by a sharp drop in the number of stages done for non-leisure purposes, such as going to work and school.

People made an average of 160 of these journeys on foot in 2019, but only 99 in 2021 – a drop of 38%.

By contrast, the number of these journeys done for leisure averaged 181 in 2021 – up from 172 in 2019, a rise of 5%.

People are also continuing to walk further distances when out for a stroll.

The number of walking trips that lasted over a mile averaged 82 per person last year, down slightly from a record 87 per person in 2020 but still well above the figure of 65 per person in 2019.

Cars were the most common mode of travel in 2021, making up 59% of all trips.