New research finds public overestimates opposition to new bike lanes by 50%

New research commissioned by Cycling UK shows individuals see the benefits of more bike lanes in the UK but overestimates public opposition by more than 50 per cent.

Cycling UK is concerned this incorrect perception of public opinion is preventing councils from having the confidence to roll out new cycle lanes and low traffic neighbourhoods, as they don’t realise the public support is three times more than opposition.

The findings were revealed in a poll carried out by YouGov on behalf of the national cycling charity, Cycling UK, which found when asked more than half of the UK supported government schemes, including new cycle lanes, to encourage people to cycle and walk more (56%), while a fifth opposed them (19%) and only a tenth strongly opposed them (10%).

When asked their views on whether the public was in favour of schemes to encourage walking and cycling, including cycle lanes, there was a dramatic shift. One in five (19%) people stated they were opposed to these schemes themselves, while this increases to 29% who thought the general public at large were opposed to them. Estimates of public support for the government schemes were also considerably lower (33%) than the actual levels of support when people were asked about their own views (56%).

Evidence from multiple experts show cycle lanes and other active travel interventions get more people walking and cycling, reduce congestion, benefit business, are cost effective and have both public health and environmental benefits is overwhelming.

Cycling UK’s head of campaigns, Duncan Dollimore said:

“Cycling UK is concerned councils’ overestimation of opposition to bike lanes and other means to ensure people can travel safely and children go to school without risk or danger is preventing proper analysis of the evidence. But too many councils are overestimating the opposition to these schemes and overlooking the evidence.

“In recent months Cycling UK has seen multiple reports of people claiming there is widespread opposition to the building of new bike lanes, but this and other surveys shows there’s nothing widespread about it – just a small number of loud voices. This survey shows people clearly want safer, cleaner streets where they feel confident their children can play and exercise without threat of danger, but they overestimate public opposition to bike lanes massively.”

Last week the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps released £175m to councils in England for building new cycle and walking facilities. He also wrote to councils urging them to rely on evidence rather than the “loudest voices”:

"Consultation should include objective tests of public opinion, such as scientific polling, to cut through the noise and passion schemes can generate and gather a truly representative picture of local views. It should engage stakeholders, including local MPs, but it should not be confused with listening only to the loudest voices or giving any one group a veto.”

Cycling UK however is concerned that for many councils the attention given to the “loudest voices” is having an undue influence on decision making, citing Kent as an example, where a third of new active travel schemes have been removed following vocal local opposition.

The charity hopes this latest research will reassure local decision makers that the silent majority are in favour of safer and more child friendly streets.

“‘He who shouts loudest’ is no way to run public policy – especially when it’s not representative and has such a negative impact on safety, the environment, local economy and public health,” said Mr Dollimore. “Councils must look to proceed on the basis of data and evidence, and this survey shows that this is what the vast majority of the public want and expect.”

The research also found close to four fifths of UK residents (79%) saw the amount of motor traffic as the primary reason for congestion. Just under two thirds saw driving short, local journeys (59%) and just over half thought the number of vans and lorries on the road (52%) as further contributory factors.

Compared to these, only 26% thought bike lanes contributed to congestion – marginally lower than those who thought an increase in home delivery services (27%) were to blame.

Notes to editors

  1. Cycling UK, the national cycling charity, inspires and helps people to cycle and keep cycling, whatever kind of cycling they do or would like to do. Over a century’s experience tells us that cycling is more than useful transport; it makes you feel good, gives you a sense of freedom and creates a better environment for everyone.
  2. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 2094 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 12th - 13th November 2020.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).
  3. For a collation of research proving the benefits of active travel see:

Press contact information

For more information, please contact the national Cycling UK press office. Due to the restrictions caused by the coronavirus outbreak, currently the main press office number (01483 238 315) is not being monitored. If you would like to speak to a member of the press office please email or call 07786 320 713.