Rita Krishna: Bike lanes haven’t closed cycling gap between women and men

Rita Krishna: Bike lanes haven’t closed cycling gap between women and men

A London Cycling Campaign (LCC) report says that women are afraid to cycle in London because of the abuse they face. It was launched with and responded to by the Deputy Mayor for Policing, who detailed actions the Mayor himself would take to address the problem.

This is a new departure. Nine years ago the LCC was promoting research saying that women are afraid to cycle in London because of being close-passed by vehicles and “feeling unsafe”.

That research, combined with claims that the way to encourage more people to cycle was to build a network of cycle tracks, led to substantial amounts of money being spent on introducing kerbs, removing pedestrian refuges and widening roads to accommodate those special lanes.

The more responsible Transport for London officers of the time pointed out that these schemes involved a 25 per cent reduction in motor vehicle capacity within the central area and would probably result in equally significant extra congestion as a consequence. When congestion duly occurred, excuses included a rise in the number of Uber vehicles and Amazon deliveries to workplaces. Politicians argued it could all be sorted out by re-phasing traffic lights.

Such scrutiny as there was, via official channels, typically only invited evidence from those involved with supposedly increasing cycling by building tracks or lanes. The capital’s official transport-users’ advocate, London TravelWatch, ceased to be asked. Few criteria for success seem to have been set, such as a realistic percentage increase in people cycling. And little increase was seen.

Reports from TfL hypothesised that people who already cycled were re-routing themselves onto the new infrastructure and cycling further. Although it is clear that there has been some rise in the number of people cycling since the pandemic, that growth appears to be mostly in leisure cycling at weekends, and no studies explore what proportion of cyclists are providing food delivery services.

Meanwhile, bus speeds have slowed, with many bus priority measures, such as bus lanes, replaced by cycle lanes. At the same time, blind and mobility-impaired people have become less independent. Many “feel unsafe” when getting off buses at stops to which bypasses for cyclists have been added or when having to cross cycle lanes to board.

In addition, walking has become a less efficient mode since the removal of pedestrian refuges – the most familiar examples are best known as traffic islands – and the widening of roads. Other measures, have reduced opportunities for informal road-crossing at desire lines. For regular cyclists, such as myself, cycle journeys in London have become less direct and therefore longer because Google directs you to cycle tracks.

Some people have benefited from the increase in cycle tracks in London – after all, road space has been set aside for their exclusive use. The evidence suggests they are overwhelmingly white, middle-class and male, a demographic profile little altered in recent years.

Hence, Sadiq Khan funding projects that seek to increase diversity in London’s cycling population – though, again, with no success criteria – and now committing to various actions to help women as a result of the new LCC report.

We can only hope that those actions do not have the negative impact on a wide range of Londoners as did the actions arising from the previous LCC research – and that, nine years from now, the LCC itself is not looking for more new reasons why women don’t cycle.


Update, 01 March 2024

Sceptical comments about my article following its publication included questions about my sources supporting my arguments. I thought it would be helpful to say more about them.

The reference to a 25 per cent reduction in motor vehicle capacity in central London was sourced from contributions made by Helen Cansick, a senior Transport for London officer, at a board meeting of London TravelWatch, the capital’s official transport watchdog, which took place on 12 April 2015. They appear in the minutes, which include the following quotes:

“Schemes will permanently reallocate capacity from motor vehicles to cyclists and this change would need to be managed in the longer term.” (page 6)


“Following completion in December 2016 there would be a reduction in road capacity for motor vehicles of 25% within the inner ring road”. (page 7)

The references to re-routing came in part from surveys of cyclists using new infrastructure that were published in TfL’s Travel in London Report 12 (2019). Cyclists were stopped and asked questions. The relevant section of the report is 6.9.

I also considered the graph below, derived from TfL’s annual cycling data census.

Screenshot 2024 03 01 at 15.25.13

This seems to show cyclists taking different routes from before but little overall growth in the number of people cycling.

The year 2019 was the first in which the impact of active travel interventions in the outer London boroughs given so-called “mini-Holland” funding was assessed.

Assessing the results, Travel in London report 12 said (in section 6.10 on page 116): “While interpreting these findings it is important to be mindful of the limitations of a study of this sort, primary among which is the limited sample size…” This caveat has been ignored in media coverage of the study.

The “mini-Holland” study has concluded after five years. Its final report has just been published. (Impacts of active travel behaviour on travel behaviour and health: Results from a five-year longitudinal travel survey in Outer London, Feb 2024). Using the same small sample, it draws attention to a range of impacts but hardly any growth in cycling.

It is also worth noting that TfL’s method for counting cyclist journeys has changed this year, which has also seen it report a substantial increase in the number of cyclist journey stages. No details have been published about the methodology used to arrive at this latest figure.

To repeat my point above, there is no way of disaggregating food delivery services and the contribution they make to the numbers cycling. From observation their contribution seems substantial.

One commenter has asked what I meant by saying that walking has become a less efficient mode. The answer is that pedestrians must now frequently:

  • Walk out of their way to get to a crossing.
  • Step over multiple kerbs or avoid plastic poles in the carriageway.
  • Wait at crossings, often for uncomfortable lengths of time.
  • Can no longer use their common sense for judging when to cross a road part way, because the introduction of cycle tracks has entailed roads being made wider and the removal of pedestrian refuges (traffic islands).

Of London’s cycling demographic the most recent Travel in London report (annual overview), published at the end of last year, said (page 24):

“Over time the proportion of London residents who cycle at least once a year has increased across all demographic groups. However, in relation to the sociodemographic profile of all London residents there is still under-representation of many of these groups and cycling continues to be more prevalent among men. White people and people who are working”

This profile has been the same for many years. The definition of cyclists as “residents who cycle at least once a year” is of itself notable. Does TfL define a bus user in the same way?

In relation to diversity, Will Norman, London’s Walking and Cycling Commissioner, recently wrote on X/Twitter:

“Grants help diverse communities enjoy the benefits of active travel. ⭐ 339 projects across all boroughs. 😄 69000+ beneficiaries.🚶 🚲 21500+ walks & rides organised. 🚲 5500+ bikes refurbished. 🔧 11000+ people trained in bike maintenance”.

These balance sheet-style figures are quite striking, but whether the demographic profile of Londoners who cycle changes as a result of these programmes remains to be seen.

Rita Krishna was a Hackney councillor from 2002 to 2014 and in that capacity chaired the borough’s road safety scrutiny review. She continues to take an interest in streets and streets policy. Follow her on X/Twitter. Support OnLondon.co.uk and its writers for just £5 a month or £50 a year and get things for your money too. Details HERE. Photo from On London July 2019.

Categories: Comment


  1. Dermot O'Brien says:

    “Some people have benefited from the increase in cycle tracks in London…The evidence suggests they are overwhelmingly white, middle-class and male”

    Could Rita please cite the source of this evidence?

    I’ve been cycling in and around London every day for 15 years and I see a hell of a lot more diversity on two wheels than this would suggest.

    I agree that cycle lane bypasses at bus stops are badly designed for both cyclist and bus user but “walking has become a less efficient mode since the removal of pedestrian refuges”?

    How has this drop in the walking efficiency of a population of millions actually been measured?

  2. Clair Battaglino says:

    I was interested to read the new take in why fewer women cycle because it is the opposite of what has been believed for some time and what I have experienced when cycling. I find drivers to be more polite and careful what they realise I could be their mother or even their granny.

    I suspect that fear, driver hostility, existence of cycle lanes, etc. have only a minimal impact on numbers. But would like to propose that caring responsibilities, work patterns, and other such factors are more important. When looking into why some women drive what is called “trip chaining” is a well-known factor. And despite gains made, anecdotal evidence tells me that women of all ages are still doing the shopping – often with children in tow.

    Discussing this issue with an A&E nurse at the Homerton, she also pointed out that in addition to caring responsibilities, long shifts, unsociable hours & lack of public transport made her more car-dependent than she would like to be.
    The women I know who cycle as their main means of transport tend to be healthy, higher income earners with stable, somewhat flexible jobs and no caring responsibilities. In fact, they look pretty much like the men who cycle (but of course they are under-represented in that group as well).

  3. Andrew Curry says:

    The notion that restricting vehicle traffic creates equivalent amounts of congestion elsewhere is not supported by research. Evidence shows that 25-30% of vehicle traffic ‘evaporates’, most likely because of the increase in time or inconvenience in making the journey by car.

    For an author interested in road safety the tone here seems surprisingly hostile to the interests of more vulnerable road users.

    1. Clair Battaglino says:

      Please publish the link to reliable data that shows what you claim. Nobody else has been able to do so.
      Recent census shows highest levels of car ownership (well above borough averages) are inside LTNs. And all those single doorbell houses are serviced by countless vehicles (cleaning, deliveries, etc). To them (& you) perhaps it looks like “evaporation” because everyone is driving more & longer on “less desirable roads” where poorer people (& a higher percentage of PoC) walk, work, wait for buses, live and attend schools & nurseries.

      3 years on in Hackney many are now choking on post-LTN pollution. (Note: I’m just finishing my DEFRA funded training as a Air Quality Champion)

  4. Philip Arthurton Virgo says:

    Excellent post. The policy to date has been a lose-lose. It is not just women who are afraid to cycle. The number of youngsters cycling to school is falling because, unless escorted, they fear being ambushed and having their bikes, as well as their phones taken.

    Meanwhile more police are leaving the Met than are joining and the volunteers, including special constables, face wipe-out. Both are the result of decisions taken by the current Mayor. Actions speak louder than words.

  5. Lina says:

    I am a woman of colour and I only started cycling after segregated cycle lanes were and the lovely LTNs of Hackney were put in place. Same with all the mums in my kids’ primary school.

    I also completely avoid cycling in places where there is no cycle infrastructure (Shoreditch High Street and Commercial Road intersections, I’m looking at you).

    Cycle lanes work.

    So unlike Rita, I have a completely different experience. And as no data was provided in this opinion piece, my experience is equally as valid as Rita’s, if not more. Many more people of different ages and gender cycling in Hackney borough.

  6. Raymond Attfeld says:

    The fundamental error here is the failure to understand the culture of public space.

    Slicing the all too limited space of London’s streets into separate functions does not reflect how people behave, intended patterns of use are misunderstood, misused, ignored and conflict is the result.

    People do not walk and move in rational patterns, nor follow rules. Cyclists take the shortest route, often across or along pavements in spite of ‘no cycling’ signs. Cycle tracks form barriers to a level pavement, traffic light systems for cyclists do not conform to those for vehicles, cyclists do not obey traffic lights, cycle tracks equate to race tracks and encourage high speeds, hire bikes cause obstructions to pavements and are ridden by people with no experience of the roads or how to cycle, lowered pavements for for cyclists are a danger to pedestrians…

    Go back to square one, think again, and understand the complexities of public behaviour in public places.

  7. Charlotte says:

    As a hearing impaired woman, I could not disagree more with this article.

    Segregated cycle lanes enable me to cycle much more safely and easily with limited hearing, meaning I’m not constantly checking over my shoulder or scanning for the next vehicle that could hit me.

    All the statistics show that segregated cycle lanes result in *more* women and those from protected groups cycling. And anecdotally, this is clear.

    Segregated bike lanes near me in West London are full of women and children heading to school, young and old women alike heading out to work, shopping and social occasions. Build it and they will most definitely come!

  8. Clair Battaglino says:

    As a hearing impaired, older woman (who can’t cycle w/my hearing aides in), I can say that it very much depends upon which cycle lanes we are taking about. The one in Camden that stops abruptly and throws you out onto a very busy road? Or the one that squeezes 2 motor vehicle lanes & 2 cycle lanes where there is very limited space? Or all those ones that create “floating bus stops” that make me risk running into another person just like me trying to get off a bus?

    There has been no significant increase in cycling despite millions being spent for the benefit of a niche group. And it is unclear if what small increase there has been in for a large part accounted for by food deliveries by bike.

    And for every newly created idyllic road with all those mums & kiddies cycling there are 3 roads with increased traffic, danger & pollution (see new figures on collisions).
    And for every single doorbell house now experiencing less traffic and increased audible birdsong there is a block of flats inhabited by less well-off people (more often People of Colour) who are being harmed by displaced traffic. And of course we are all standing at bus stops for longer in very congested conditions so someone usually better off (usually a car owner) can cycle for leisure in a “better” neighbourhood breathing in even cleaner air.

    Public transport, esp buses serve many more people, esp the groups you claim are cycling around west London. Buses in east London are full of women, with our children, our shopping, etc. They are used by a much higher percentage of people from so-called BAME communities. Cycles are a private mode of transport. Public transport must always be the priority.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *