Cycling surges on sunny weekends during coronavirus lockdown

Sunny weather has seen a surge in weekend cycling in England, as people jump on their bikes for exercise during the coronavirus lockdown, new data has revealed.

Transport analysts at Vivacity Labs found that on Sunday April 5 in Peterborough and Nottingham, cycling traffic rose above 300% of average Sunday levels recorded in the weeks before strict social distancing rules were enforced.

On the same day, cycling levels in London’s Westminster and in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole on the south coast of England reached beyond 250% of levels recorded earlier in the year.

Vivacity Labs is monitoring transport flows through around 200 sensors placed in cities across England.

This includes collecting data from roads in London, Liverpool, Manchester, Bedford, Cambridge and Oxford.

The sensors record the movements of all forms of transport, including pedestrians, with the information compared against a baseline of the six weeks from February 3 to March 16 this year.

Overall, cycling activity during the warm weekends of April 4 and 5 and the Easter bank holiday rose higher (around 120%) than levels seen in previous weeks.

Vivacity Labs’ data follows automatic cycle counters across Scotland indicating a sharp increase in the number of people cycling during the coronavirus lockdown.

Last week, Cycling Scotland said that some areas have seen more than double the number of cyclists since social distancing measures were introduced.

Mark Nicholson, CEO of Vivacity Labs, said: “Since the lockdown was announced, cycling has decreased dramatically, in line with other modes of transport, reaching circa 40% of normal volumes.

“However, recent sunny weekends have shown a spike in cycling versus this trend, with overall volumes recovering to pre-crisis levels.

“Cities with high baseline levels of cycling, such as Oxford and Cambridge, saw much smaller increases than cities like Nottingham and Peterborough.

“This suggests that leisure cyclists are taking advantage of the weather and lack of traffic, using cycling as their primary form of exercise.

“In cities like Nottingham and Peterborough, this explains the huge increases on sunny weekends.”

Under lockdown rules, people are only allowed to to leave home for one form of exercise a day, for essential food shopping, for medical needs or for work if they cannot work from home.

A spokesman for Cycling UK, an organisation that champions bike use, said anecdotally it was aware of members across the UK reporting an increase in cycling for both exercise and for those whose work is essential and do not wish to use public transport.

On April 14, Transport for London said there had been 245,789 hires on its Santander Cycle scheme since the start of the month.

This was down 26% on the 335,794 hires in the first 13 days of April last year.

NHS staff can currently access the hire scheme for free, with these hires included in the latest figures.

Cyclists ride across an empty Westminster Bridge
Cyclists ride across an empty Westminster Bridge

A spokesman for British Cycling, the sport’s governing body in Britain, said it had seen views of advisory content on its website rise by over a third since before the lockdown began.

British Cycling policy adviser and former Olympic champion Chris Boardman said: “The question in Britain has never been whether people want to cycle, but whether they feel safe and confident enough to do it.

“With road traffic now down to 1950s levels and people avoiding public transport, cycling now looks and feels like a viable option for those making essential journeys.

“As well as making essential journeys, in this new, quieter environment, people are choosing bikes as their preferred way to get daily exercise and to look after both their mental and physical health.

“If we can enable people to keep travelling and exercising in this way post-pandemic, we can redefine normal, creating a healthier and more sustainable future which protects the environment and our NHS.”