Effectiveness and equity impacts of town-wide cycling initiatives in England: A longitudinal, controlled natural experimental study.
Social Science & Medicine 2013
Cycling confers health and environmental benefits, but few robust studies have evaluated large-scale programmes to promote cycling. In England, recent years have seen substantial, town-wide cycling initiatives in six Cycling Demonstration Towns (funded 2005-2011) and 12 Cycling Cities and Towns (funded 2008-2011). The initiatives involved mixtures of capital investment (e.g. cycle lanes) and revenue investment (e.g. cycle training), tailored to each town. This controlled before-after natural experimental study used English census data to examine impacts on the prevalence of travelling to work by bicycle and other modes, comparing changes in the intervention towns with changes in three comparison groups (matched towns, unfunded towns and a national comparison group). We also compared effects between more and less deprived areas, and used random-effects meta-analysis to compare intervention effects between towns. Among 1.3 million commuters in 18 intervention towns, we found that the prevalence of cycling to work rose from 5.8% in 2001 to 6.8% in 2011. This represented a significant increase relative to all three comparison groups (e.g. +0.69 (95% CI 0.60,0.77) percentage points for intervention vs. matched towns). Walking to work also increased significantly compared with comparison towns, while driving to work decreased and public transport use was unchanged. These effects were observed across all fifths of area deprivation, with larger relative changes in deprived areas. There was substantial variation in effect sizes between towns, however, and the average town-level effect on cycling was non-significant (+0.29 (-0.26,0.84) percentage points for intervention vs. matched towns). We conclude that to date, cycling to work has increased (and driving to work decreased) in the intervention towns, in a relatively equitable manner. The variation in effects between towns indicates uncertainty regarding the likely impact of comparable investment in future towns. Nevertheless these results support the case for implementing and evaluating further town-wide cycling initiatives.