The number of cycling trips made by women in England rose by more than 50% in 2020, official statistics have shown, as the quieter roads of lockdown seemingly helped to tempt a demographic known to be more wary of traffic danger on to their bikes.
While for men there was a 12% overall rise in the average number of cycle “stages” – rides that formed part of a greater journey – made by each person in 2020 compared with the year before, for women the increase was 56%, Department for Transport (DfT) statistics show.
Overall, men still cycled more on average over the year, as has long been the case. However, while in 2019 men cycled almost three times as many stages as women, in 2020 this fell to twice as many.
A DfT report introducing the figures notes that studies have shown women are consistently more likely than men to believe that roads are too dangerous to cycle on, and that amid the lockdown of 2020, motor vehicle traffic was 21% lower across England compared with the year before.
The overall findings showed a mixed impact from the pandemic, with cycle use rising overall, but not for all age groups. For walking, the average number of journeys which involved some walking fell, while the total distance rose to the highest level since 2002, as people switched from walking for everyday purposes to leisure walks.
Although the first lockdown of spring 2020 was marked by very obvious groups of people cycling, walking and exercising in parks and the countryside, subsequent studies have shown the overall impact on physical activity levels was notably mixed.
The DfT statistics showed that in 2020 overall, the average number of cycling stages made by each person rose by 23%, from 17 to 21, while the average number of miles ridden increased by 62%, the highest since 2002, due to a high proportion of longer leisure rides.
Overall, the average number of leisure rides was 75% higher than in 2019, while the average number of bike rides for everyday transport fell by 20%.
This change in the types of bike trips was shown in the differences across age bands. For example, the biggest increase in average bike trips was for those aged 60 to 69, but the number fell for people aged between 21 and 39 – those more likely to cycle normally for commuting or other everyday purposes.
The average number of miles walked by each person in 2020 rose slightly from the year before, by 7%, but the average number of walking stages fell by 16%. Much of this was down to the collapse of people walking for commuting or other purposes. The average number of leisure stages rose by 9%, but for “utility” purposes there was a decrease of 42%.