Creating age-friendly cities for cycling

Dr Tim Jones and Dr Ben Spencer

Cycling is known to benefit health and wellbeing as well as helping to reduce our carbon footprint. In their award-winning study, Oxford Brookes researchers Dr Tim Jones and Dr Ben Spencer investigated how technology and the built environment affect the cycling habits of older people in urban settings and how active travel can be supported and promoted. 

Exploring people’s choices around cycling

RTPI Awards for Research Excellence Winner 2017. Cycle Boom was the winner of a Royal Town Planning Institute's Award for Academic Excellence in 2017

The cycle Boom research project, winner of a Royal Town Planning Institute Award for Academic Excellence in 2017, has shaped the approach of cycling manufactures and policy-makers, as well as boosting older people’s awareness of the value of both cycling and power-assisted electric bikes (e-bikes).

The project explored how technological systems (such as e-bikes and equipment) and the built environment (cycle paths, street layout and cycle routes) affected people’s cycling habits over time. It also delved into the effects of information and service provision about cycling. For the first time, the researchers took a more holistic view of people's choices around cycling, like early life experiences, social and cultural factors, the environment and economic impact.

Running from 2013-16, 240 participants took part across 4 cities (Oxford, Reading, Bristol and Cardiff). The findings showed that older people who do cycle recognise the positive benefits to their health and wellbeing, but view the UK’s infrastructure as generally unhelpful for cyclists. 

Recognising the value of the research

The impact of the cycle BOOM research was highlighted by the Royal Town Planning Institute:

“The research team’s work provides valuable insights into street design and support for older people to help them stay active for longer.” - Head of Research, RTPI

The project has also influenced guidance being developed on the accessibility of cycling, and has prompted new calls for government investment in cycling infrastructure.

Tim has since been appointed Expert Adviser on guidelines for promoting walking and cycling for the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and is Adviser to the Local Transport and Connectivity Plan Steering Group run by Oxfordshire County Council.

Positive spin cycling event

Helping to shape industrial strategy

Sharing the findings with leading cycle brand Raleigh UK Ltd has helped the company to understand that consumers don’t necessarily understand how e-bikes operate, or their health and wellbeing benefits. The team’s input led to Raleigh partnering with Caravan and Motorhome Club, to develop a tailored e-bike advertising campaign, to raise awareness amongst its million-plus members.

Informing policy and guidance

Making the case for e-bikes has also influenced policy and strategies to boost behavioural change. Tim took part in the first London E-Bike Summit at City Hall in January 2017 organised by Transport for London, leading to a dedicated website and videos on e-biking.

In January 2021, they were invited by the UK Department for Transport to present their cycle BOOM study findings to help deliver Gear Change, a new government programme designed to increase walking and cycling. 

Raising public awareness

Woman riding a bike

Following a 2019 article in e-newsletter The Conversation, the cycle BOOM project received widespread publicity on how cycling can support mental health, including an item on the BBC South Today news.

It was also a hit with young people. According to the Coordinator of the Youth Travel Ambassador Programme at the London Transport Museum, the project’s holistic approach ‘really inspired young people and is a fantastic way to identify specific barriers for each individual’. Going forward the museum is embedding the approach in its school educational programmes.

Community projects were another driver. The cycle BOOM team worked with charities like Wheels for All to organise a ‘Pedalling on’ programme in 2017 of 6 social rides for people aged 55 plus. The charity has since administered an e-bike loan scheme to Oxfordshire councillors.

Influencing decision-makers

Through advocacy work, cycle BOOM has helped national body Cycling UK understand how older people’s cycling can be supported.

Tim and Ben’s role in influencing decision-makers is borne out by the then Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds who attended the Like Riding a Bike Conference in September 2019. The conference was organised jointly with Oxford Brookes University and Oxford's cycling campaign group, Cyclox. Anneliese used the cycle BOOM recommendations to argue for greater investment in separate cycle lanes to improve safety.

“The research underlined the importance of segregated cycle lanes for many elderly and disabled people to feel confident on the road - so has helped me argue for additional investment in cycling. I am really proud of the fact that Oxford Brookes led this important project.”

Annaliese Dodds MP, former Shadow Chancellor

Anneliese Dodds MP
Anneliese Dodds speaking at the Like Riding a Bike Conference

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