Lacklustre improvements in the number of people cycling and walking suggest the government will miss its own targets, according to statistics published by the Department for Transport on Thursday.

The 2017 figures from the National Travel Survey showed slight year-on-year growth, with an average person in England walking 343 times in 2017, up 3.3 per cent on the previous year. The average person cycled 18 times last year, up from 16 times the year before.

But the average number of cycling “stages” — discrete parts of a trip — has remained between 15 and 19 since 2002, although the average distance per trip has increased from 2.1 miles to 3.3 miles.

Many Britons are afraid of cycling. Nearly two-thirds of adults told the British Social Attitudes survey earlier this year that they felt it was too dangerous.

The DfT has said it aims to increase cycling activity by 2020, as measured by the number of stages, and to double it from 2013 to 2025. But the latest figures showed there has been no meaningful movement towards its 2020 ambition and the government is unlikely to meet its 2025 target.

Rachel Aldred, reader in transport at the University of Westminster, said investment in walking and cycling was “patchy” and there was no national lead for local authorities to follow.

She described the government’s ambition to double cycling activity by 2025 as “implausible”.

Transport minister Jesse Norman said it was clear that “as a cycling and walking nation, the UK has a long way to go to match the best international models”.

He said the government’s cycling and walking investment strategy involved £1.2bn of investments, and the government was investing an additional £1.7bn through the Transforming Cities Fund “to connect communities and support active and sustainable travel”.

Nicole Badstuber, a doctoral researcher in urban transport policy and governance at UCL, said: “A big problem for cycle safety is junctions, and they’re the most pressing thing to redesign.

“If you want to encourage people to cycle, you need to have a whole network for people to use — a few bits don’t encourage take-up.”

The latest cycling statistics also showed a sharp gender gap: last year, men made 24 trips on average, almost three times women’s nine, and cycled 95 miles, compared with women’s 25 miles.

The average distance covered by walkers in 2017 was 206 miles — exactly the same as 15 years ago, when there were only slightly fewer journeys, suggesting that people are walking more often but less far.

The survey defined a walk as “any walking on the public highway”, and the data showed an average duration of 17 minutes per trip and an average distance of 0.8 miles.

The DfT’s ambition was to increase walking stages by 2020, but figures remain below 2006’s peak of 350 stages per person.


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