The Cycling Revolution’s Glass Ceiling

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Cycling is on a growth trajectory, an urban phenomenon that is good for us, for our cities and for the environment. But how far can it grow? What are the factors that are holding back towns and cities in the UK from emulating their Dutch counterparts, where getting on a bike is second nature?


While health and safety on the roads is cited as the core reason preventing people from cycling, and is the main focus of the limited amounts of available cycling infrastructure spend, another key, but little considered area is a lack of cycle parking. This is, in effect, cycling’s glass ceiling.

It’s as simple as this: every cycle journey ends in a “park”. If you aren’t able to find anywhere to park, then it is easier to choose alternative, perhaps less green and less healthy, transport options. And even if you can park, consider the theft statistics, which number 327,000 per year for the UK (source: Office of National Statistics) and 70,000 per year for London (source: London Cycling Campaign).

All the Uk’s local authorities set out in their local plans or frameworks their requirement for the number of cycle spaces to be provided in new development according to its use and size. There’s no common standard across the UK, however, and some cities are so far behind the curve you’d think they hadn’t picked up on the cycling revolution.

Cambridge is reputedly the Cycle City of the UK, born of the University’s pro-cycling stance, flat geography and a compact centre. Planning policy in Cambridge has ensured that plentiful cycle parking is provided, ensuring adequate spaces are delivered for buildings’ occupants, while trying to avoid fly parking.

Cycle spaces in office buildings
It’s poignant to note that 29% of people in Cambridge commute to work by bike. Planning plays a huge factor in this, as new office buildings there are required to provide one cycle space per 30 sqm of gross area. When looking at average office occupancy levels, therefore, 40% of those working in these new buildings will have a parking space.

This is in stark contrast to London, where the updated London Plan (March 2015) raised cycle parking for new offices in central London to one space per 90 sqm, equating to a cycle space for just 15% of a hypothetical building’s occupants.

With such short sighted planning, putting all other factors to one side, it simply won’t be possible for London to emulate Cambridge’s enviable level of commuting by bike.

Bearing in mind that the majority of buildings in London are not new, then there are even fewer spaces provided per building occupancy, particularly in the West End, which is even more constrained for space.

Other cities fare even worse. Birmingham’s ratio of 1:400 sqm and Manchester’s 1:200 sqm for new office buildings equates to a cycle space for just 3% and 6% of respective occupants where developers adhere to the minimum planning requirements. The situation is hardly enticing people to cycle.

Cycle spaces in residential buildings
Planning standards for residential use also fluctuates around the country, with Manchester not having any formal cycle parking requirement at all. Although developers do tend to provide cycle parking, most see providing facilities for cycling as a cost with no value. For instance we’re aware of a consented 30-storey residential building in Manchester that’s providing as little as one cycle space per 3.6 apartments. Instead, residents
will be forced to store the bikes upstairs, adding to the wear and tear of the interiors and high maintenance bills.

A hypothetical residential building of 80 units, with 40% being 1-Bed; 50% being 2-Bed; and 10% being 3-Bed units, has a total maximum occupancy of 272 people, assuming 2-people per bedroom. In such a scenario, London would provide 48% of the occupants with a space, while 29% of Birmingham occupants and 59% of Oxford occupants would have a cycle parking space. These are big discrepancies and highlight the uneven field.

Cycle spaces at train stations
Most reference or comparison to cycling usually refers to Dutch levels, and in London there have even been public campaigns such as “Love London, Go Dutch” and “Mini-Holland”. However, cycle parking at our stations is anything but Dutch. In the Netherlands, 29% of people arriving at stations do so by bike and there’s parking for them. In fact, the Dutch equivalent of Network Rail manages a total of 406 stations, which have a total of 416,000 cycle parking spaces, averaging 1,025 spaces per station.


Looking at London’s busiest eight terminus stations, Network Rail informs us that they have a total of 2,351 spaces, which happens to be about 500 spaces short of what’s provided at Cambridge station alone. Of all passengers arriving at these eight London stations, only 0.5% could park their bike. For these same stations to accommodate
the number of people arriving at Dutch stations, they would need to provide a staggering 257,686 additional cycle parking spaces. If stored in two-tier racking, this would take up more than 35 acres of land.

Naturally this is impractical, with stark differences between the scale and population density of London relative to Amsterdam, and many other factors involved.

However, surely it’s reasonable to hope that just 5% of people travelling to terminus stations in London could park a bike there? That results in a whopping, but more feasible, 28,606 extra spaces required.

The eight top cycling cities in England aren’t much better, and with the exception of Cambridge, none of them (nor the London terminus stations) come close to the average number of bikes provided at Dutch stations. For instance Manchester Piccadilly station has only 43 cycle spaces meaning just 0.1% of the 33,812 daily passengers are able to arrive and park there by bike.

The ripple effect
Improving cycle parking at stations and in city centres could have knock on ramifications for housing. Cycle infrastructure can potentially open up areas that might have been considered too far to walk, with driving by car being the only viable option.

Taking average walking and cycling speeds of 5.0 km/h and 15.5 km/h respectively, a theoretical 10-minute journey could take you 0.8 km by foot and 2.6 km on a bike. In simplistic terms, the
extra radius covered by bike would theoretically cover 19.2 sq km more than walking. For 20 and 30-minute travel times, this rises to a staggering 75.8 sq km and 171.5 sq km respectively.


In reality the extra area covered by cycling won’t be as great, although it demonstrates that there’s vast potential to alleviate housing pressure by raising density in areas that are well connected and serviced by cycle infrastructure, including mass parking at stations and town centres.

Arup, the global consultancy, has promoted this concept as an Active Transport Accessibility Level (ATAL) opposed to London’s Public Transport Accessibility Level (PTAL), and rightly suggests it should be adopted into local plans.

Unlocking House 01

The chicken or the egg?
Some propose waiting for cycle demand to
catch up and then providing more cycle parking in response. This is generally how parking is provided in the UK – on a slow incremental basis. However, unless significantly more cycle parking is provided, it’s impossible to get more people cycling as a lack of cycle parking creates this glass ceiling.

Quality as well as quantity
It’s not just the quantity of spaces that are required; quality is equally important. Superior facilities offer security from theft and enable possessions to be left on the bike. It takes time to de-robe items such as pumps, lights, trip computers and pannier bags. If cyclists can leave them, along with their helmets, attached to the bike, this would avoid the inconvenience of carrying them around while on foot to work, meetings, restaurants, nights out etc.

Technology can add quality to the cycling experience, with apps offering a picture of real- time availability of spaces and potentially offering advance space reservations.

Although the Department for Transport has funded £29 million towards cycle parking at stations, many are space-hungry glass and steel boxes with security swipe door entries. Still semi-public, the possibility of theft of bikes and possessions remain with the result that many avoid them as they only keep bikes away from the elements.

The Office of National Statistics states that the average value of a bike is £337, with
annual figures equating to £110 million of theft. More than simply a dent in the economy, this discourages people from getting on the road again. suggests that after having a bike stolen 66% of people cycle less and 25% of people stop cycling altogether.

And this would be a shame as the health benefits of cycling are enormous. Transport for London suggests that the current growth of cycling in London will deliver £250 million in health economic benefits annually. The Department for Transport goes further, stating that if we adopted Danish levels of cycling, then it would save the NHS £17 billion in 20 years time.

There is no doubt that removing the difficulties of finding places to park and helping cyclists avoid the risk involved in leaving their bikes outside, will further improve cycling’s take-up, which will benefit society as a whole.

PDF: Cycle Parking Standards in the 8 Cycling Cities

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