Pioneering research into the barriers to cycling and how to overcome them have helped transform the policy mindset on cycling and pave the way for increased cycling participation in the future.

University of Westminster researcher Dr Rachel Aldred’s contribution to Transport for London’s decision to increase investment in cycling from a few million pounds a year to a £1 billion 10-year programme as well as the adoption of new, inclusive approaches to increasing cycling participation in London and beyond has been recognised by a £10,000 award for Outstanding Impact in Public Policy in the 2016 Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Celebrating Impact Prize.Rachel Aldred

“Without a fundamental shift in policy thinking, levels of cycling are likely to remain low,” Dr Aldred, Senior Lecturer in Transport at the University of Westminster, says. “What we need is to move away from seeing cycling as an individual activity, to be promoted by training and education, to seeing cycling as part of the transport system that needs to be enabled by infrastructural, political and cultural supports,” she explains.

Getting people to cycle, she insists, is not just about having the right infrastructure but also about changing cycling cultures and removing cycling stigma. That’s one reason why one in four bike trips in the Netherlands is made by women over 65, but older women are scarcely ever seen cycling in the UK.

“To get everyone cycling it’s essential to have infrastructure that keeps cyclists and motor traffic apart, and along with this, to change road cultures and assumptions about cyclists,” she points out. “We need to get to the point where it’s seen as OK to cycle in ordinary clothes; you don’t have to be kitted out in Lycra or covered in high-vis.”

Isabel Dedring, London’s former Deputy Mayor for Transport, says: “Dr Aldred’s research has influenced the change in mindsets that we have seen over these past five years in relation to cycling and cycling policy.”

Over the past five years, Dr Aldred’s work has:

  • prompted the development of improved London cycle design guidance, also being used in other parts of England which aims at making cycling more attractive to all ages and abilities
  • shaped the creation of London’s first international quality cycle superhighways providing segregated cycle tracks that separate cyclists from motor traffic
  • introduced the concept of cycling ‘near misses’ (and the idea that these, as well as collisions and injuries, can deter people from cycling and make it feel unsafe) into transport policy thinking, prompting police forces including Avon and Somerset to develop near miss reporting systems, and focus on improved highway design and collision prevention
  • highlighted the infrastructure needed for adults to allow children to cycle and influencing Waltham Forest’s innovative mini-Holland scheme to close ‘rat-runs’.

“The key to achieving a step change in cycling activity is to ensure we are planning for a much wider cycling demographic, not just 30-year olds whizzing past HGVs,” Dr Aldred added. “But seeing a separated cycling track leading up to Big Ben, and children pedalling along it, shows what a change in the policy mindset can achieve.”

Now in its fourth year, the ESRC Celebrating Impact Prize recognises and rewards the successes of ESRC-funded researchers who have achieved, or are currently achieving, outstanding economic and societal impacts. In awarding the prize for ‘Outstanding  Impact in Public Policy’ to Dr Aldred, the judging panel has praised her work in changing policy with regard to cycling and highlighted the clear impact of her work on ‘the policymaking process with policymakers, professionals and practitioners’.

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