Exploring the barriers and motivations to cycling in Thames Ward, Barking
The Sustainability Research Institute (SRI), in partnership with the Institute for Health and Human Development (IHHD) and Sustrans, have been working as part of the NHS Healthy New Towns project to investigate how residents can be supported to cycle more in Thames Ward, Barking in East London.
The project identified barriers to cycling, mapped possible approaches to support cycling uptake in Thames Ward, and tested these approaches through a series of activities, such as led bike rides and creating temporary wayfinding.
Through these activities we were able to support local residents in getting into cycling and make a toolkit of recommendations for developers, helping to inform them on how to increase the likelihood that new residents will cycle locally.
What’s the issue?
Barking Riverside development strives to be a sustainable development in a number of ways. One important area of focus for the Barking Riverside development is sustainable and active travel.
The design and implementation of the first phase of Barking Riverside has included cycle infrastructure such as cycle lanes and a Cycle Hub which offers a number of services including bike repair, cycle classes and led rides. However cycling rates and bike hire remain lower than desired. Eight months after opening no bikes had been hired.
Barking Riverside is home to some of the best cycling infrastructure in the borough, however it is not well used. Our project aimed to find out why and test out ways of supporting people who would like to cycle.
Step 1: What’s stopping local people from cycling?
Through public street surveys and a focus group we first wanted to understand what factors were preventing people from cycling, what would help them cycle more, and what they thought of the existing cycle hub. From the results of this, six themes emerged.
Road environment: Although the infrastructure within the development is of high quality, the roads surrounding the development are busy, polluted and have heavy vehicles using them.
Crime and personal safety: Residents expressed that cycling can create a sense of isolation and vulnerability, particularly at night.
Where to go and how to get there: Residents said that they were not clear about what cycling routes existed, where they went, and what destinations in the local area could be cycled to.
Access to a bike and somewhere secure to store it: Residents reported issues with bikes being stolen and a lack of secure facilities to store bikes. Some residents either did not own a bike or did not know that rental services were available.
Cycle Hub: This represents a broad theme which we wanted to have some focus on. Some residents did not know that the Cycle Hub existed, particularly in the nearby Thames View estate. The clarity of information around available services was also a highlighted issue.
Cycling skills: Not being able to ride a bike was an obstacle for some residents.
We also asked residents what would encourage them to cycle more. The most common answers were related to having a safer riding environment and clearer routes and destinations.
Step 2: What projects would residents like to see which would support cycling uptake?
The IHHD led a world cafe event in the heart of Thames Ward to come together with the community to develop project ideas that would help to remove barriers to cycling and support uptake.
The workshops focused around the standout themes of “Road environment”, “Crime and personal safety” and “Where to go and how to get there”.
Groups developed a number of project ideas to address the barrier themes and voted on their favourites.
Due to the short timeframe and limited resources of the project, ideas which involved infrastructure change or longer term implementation were not feasible to consider taking forward. Attendees were made aware of this from the beginning of the event.
The project team met after the world cafe event and agreed to take forward some projects either directly created by residents in the world cafe workshops or building on their ideas.
- Cycle routes map
- Family leisure and exploration rides
- Schools programme
- Temporary routes and wayfinding
- Pop-up cycle hub in Thames View estate
Step 3: Testing the projects
Unfortunately, after some scoping work it was decided that there weren’t enough safe routes which we were comfortable advising residents to use through the map, as some of the surrounding roads are very busy or have large vehicles and most formal routes are still in delivery. The leisure rides were a big hit though, with schools, parents and many other residents coming together to explore the local area on bikes and on foot.
The aim of the leisure rides and walks was to introduce residents to interesting local destinations and safe routes to get there. Walks and rides used the River Thames as the destination as this is an area which is generally unknown to residents and has a lot of nature and pleasant greenspace to offer. The walks and rides were integrated with other activities taking place at the river to increase the appeal for a wider range of residents, particularly those who do not tend to cycle locally.
The rides and walks also linked in with the local wayfinding. Temporary wayfinding using signs and chalk stencils on the road was developed with local school children as part of the schools programme. Pupils developed the design of the road stencils which directed people from George Carey primary School down to the river. The guided leisure rides followed these signs down to the river.
Before the guided walks and ride most people said that they had never visited the river before and didn’t even know you could. Everyone said they wanted to come down to the river again. For most people, the guided activity made them feel a lot more confident to walk and cycle locally.
We will have to wait and see if the activities we delivered will have any long term effect on people choosing to cycle locally and, with new cycle infrastructure projects on the way, it is a time for change in the area. The lessons learnt during the project were fed into a toolkit on developing for the benefit of cycling.
By Sam Jelliman