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This publication is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/walking-and-cycling-statistics-england-2020/the-impact-of-the-coronavirus-pandemic-on-walking-and-cycling-statistics-england-2020
About this release
This statistical release presents information on walking and cycling in England in 2020 and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. It includes comparisons of results from different data sources.
Travel during 2020 was considerably impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. In 2020, total trip rates fell by 22% compared to 2019, with decreases seen in all modes of transport except cycling and walks over a mile.
During 2020, compared to 2019:
- cycling stages per person increased by 23%, from 17 stages per person to 21 stages per person
- miles cycled per person increased by 62% to the highest levels since 2002, from 54 miles per person to 88 miles per person
- walking stages per person decreased by 16%, from 332 trips per person to 281 stages per person
- miles walked per person increased by 7% to 220 miles per person, the highest levels since 2002
- Walking stages of over a mile increased by 26% to 92 stages per person
This may be linked to guidance published by the Department of Health and Social Care that if individuals “need to travel, they should walk or cycle where possible” as well exercise walking and cycling for leisure being permitted throughout all of 2020.
Further details on walking and cycling trends can be found in the 2020 walking and cycling statistics release.
Differences between data sources
Walking data sources
The National Travel Survey (NTS) is the main data source when looking at changes in walking levels in England. Differences between the NTS and the Active Lives Survey (ALS) are a result of different measures used to look at walking activity as well as the definitions used on the length of walking journeys. It is not recommended to compare trends between the 2 data sources. Both data sources agree that levels of walking in England decreased in 2020 compared to 2019, with variability seen across regions and local authorities.
Further detail on the differences between the NTS and ALS can be found in the background quality report.
Cycling data sources
There are many data sources published by the Department for Transport (DfT) showing cycling levels during 2020. All sources agree that levels of cycling in England increased during 2020 compared to previous years. However, the sources can differ on the scale of the increase due to different methodologies, definitions, and data coverage.
Table 1: Cycling data sources
|NTS||26% increase in average cycling trips, 23% increase in average stages, 63% increase in total miles cycled||January to December 2019||England||Representative sample including people aged 2+. Measured as trips and stages per person per year. Data collected by face to face (phone during 2020) interviews and a travel diary. Includes cyclists on public highways.|
|ALS||Increase from 11% to 12% of adults cycling at least once a week||November 2018 to November 2019||England||Representative sample including adults aged 16+ only. Based on frequency of cycling trips rather than absolute number of trips and stages. Data collected by a push to web survey.|
|Road traffic estimates||46% increase in pedal cycle traffic in Great Britain||January to December 2019||Great Britain||Measured in billion vehicle miles. Includes cyclists on public highways. Off road cycling is not included. Data collected from both automated and manual traffic counters.|
|Transport use during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic||100% increase in weekday cycling and up to 200% increase on weekends in summer 2020. Levels have since returned closer to pre-pandemic levels||March 2020||England||Estimate derived from anonymised telecommunications data, automatic traffic counts (ATC) and the NTS. Heavily impacted by volatility in the weather and underlying data sources.|
The data sources each use different headline measures to provide an estimate of cycling levels in England in 2020. When considering each source, it is important to consider the definitions and methods that have been used to collect the data, as well as the year you are comparing against. Whilst we cannot make direct comparisons between the data sources, we can look at similarities in the trends.
Road traffic estimates for 2020 showed a 46% increase in pedal cycle traffic (in billion vehicle miles) compared to 2019. This is the highest level of cycling on the public highway since the 1960s. Data from the NTS confirms the scale of increase, with a 63% increase in total miles cycled compared to 2019. The broader coverage of cycling in the NTS may explain the even higher increase seen.
Changes in cycling levels were not uniform across the year, or by area, and were impacted by both national and local ‘lockdowns’ as travel restrictions were put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Which dataset should I use to understand active travel activity?
The NTS remains our primary data source when looking at walking and cycling in England. It allows us to look at walking and cycling in isolation, but also compare to other modes of travel and look at long term trends. It is also the data source used to monitor against the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy and Gear Change aims and targets.
Due to changes in the methodology of data collection, changes in travel behaviour and a reduction of data collected during 2020, as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, care should be taken when interpreting this data and comparing to other years, due to the small sample sizes. Further information can be found in the National Travel Survey quality report.
Other data sources help provide further context to walking and cycling behaviour, as well as consider individual groups in more detail, such as those cycling on roads or data at lower level geographies, such as local authority.
Utility and leisure travel
Utility - travel includes travelling for commuting and business, education and escorting as well as personal business
Leisure - travel includes shopping and other leisure (visiting family and friends, sport, day trips and just walking)
Trends for walking and cycling in 2020 were impacted by changes in people walking and cycling for leisure and those who walk and cycle for utility. The coronavirus pandemic is likely to have had a large impact on the trends seen as people were instructed to work from home where possible, but walking and cycling for leisure were permitted throughout all national and local lockdowns in England, for the purposes of daily exercise.
Walking by purpose
Levels of walking for leisure and utility have remained broadly similar since 2005, with the number of stages averaging around 155 stages per person per year for utility walks and 170 stages for leisure walks. The exception to this is 2020, following impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
On average, NTS data shows that there were 188 stages walked per person for leisure purposes in 2020. This is an increase of 9% compared to 172 stages walked for leisure in 2019.
In comparison, the average person walked 92 stages for utility purposes in 2020. This is a decrease of 42% compared to 160 stages walked for utility purposes in 2019. This fall was largely due to a decrease in walking for commuting and business (from 55 stages per person to 26 stages per person) (Chart 1).
Chart 1: Average walking stages per person per year, by purpose, England 2005 to 2020 (CW0402)
Data from the ALS shows a similar trend, with nearly all local authorities experiencing falls in walking for travel compared to previous years. It further tells us that increases in walking for leisure were not seen until the second phase of the pandemic in mid-May but did maintain increased levels throughout the rest of 2020.
The large fall in walking for utility compared to smaller increases in walking for leisure resulted in an overall fall in walking levels in 2020 (16% decrease in walking stages, 5% decrease in walking trips) compared to 2019.
Cycling by purpose
Despite volatility in the series due to lower levels of cycling, trends in cycling for leisure and utility have generally followed the same steady trend since 2005, with cycling for utility purposes greater than leisure cycling between 2005 and 2019. Stages cycled for leisure were greater than cycling for utility purposes in 2020 for the first time.
On average, NTS data shows that there were 14 stages cycled per person for leisure purposes in 2020. This is an increase of 75% compared to 8 stages walked for leisure in 2019 and the highest levels recorded in the data series.
In comparison, the average person cycled 7 stages for utility purposes in 2020. This is a decrease of 20% compared to 9 stages walked for utility purposes in 2019. This was again largely due to falls in cycling for commuting and business (Chart 2).
Chart 2: Average cycling stages per person per year, by purpose, England 2005 to 2020 (CW0404)
Data from the ALS shows that cycling for leisure or sport saw more immediate increases at the start of the pandemic compared to walking, although data shows levels peaked during summer months and began to decrease towards pre-pandemic levels as the weather become colder and more of the economy reopened. Cycling levels are highly dependent on the weather.
In comparison to walking, the large increase in cycling for leisure during 2020 contributed to the increase in cycling levels (23% increase in cycling stages, 26% increase in cycling trips) compared to 2019.
Future walking and cycling trends
Little data is currently available to indicate whether increased levels in cycling will be sustained in future years, or if walking levels will return to pre-pandemic levels. Although research conducted as part of the National Travel Attitudes Study (NTAS) suggested that a high proportion of people (94%) intended to carry on increased levels of walking and cycling once travel restrictions were removed, initial estimates from DfT’s transport use during the pandemic estimates suggest that levels may be returning closer to pre-pandemic levels as traffic levels increase.
Estimates for 2021 levels of walking and cycling in England will be published in summer 2022.
Whilst both men and women saw increases in average cycling stages compared to 2019, women saw a larger increase in cycling levels compared to men, a 56% increase compared to a 12% increase for men.
Historically, men have on average cycled more than women in terms of both trips and stages cycled per person. This was still the case in 2020, but the cycling gap was smaller than in previous years. In 2019, men cycled almost 3 times (26 stages per person) more cycling stages than women (9 stages per person). In 2020, this dropped to 2 times more than women, or double (29 stages per person compared to 14 stages per person for women).
Women are consistently more likely than men (71% compared to 61% in 2020) to comment that ‘It is too dangerous to cycle on roads.’ Road traffic estimates show that in 2020, traffic from all motor vehicles decreased by 21% compared to the previous year. This reduction in traffic on roads may have been one of the factors that affected this change.
Both men and women saw falls in walking levels in 2020.
Walking stages by men decreased by 19% from 316 stages per person in 2019 to 257 trips per person in 2020. This compares to a fall of only 13% for females, from 348 to 304 stages per person.
Whilst overall walking levels fell, walks of over a mile increased for both men and women. Walking stages of over a mile increased by 16% for men, from 74 stages per person in 2019 to 86 stages per person in 2020. This compares to a 37% increase for women, from 71 stages per person in 2019 to 98 stages per person in 2020. This larger increase in longer walks for women is likely to have offset some of the decrease in walking stages by women.
As well as this, on average, women are more likely to make trips for leisure purposes, for example shopping and just walking, compared to men. Walking leisure stages made up more than double the walking stages made in 2020, with levels increasing compared to 2019 whilst walking stages for utility purposes fell.
Walking stages in 2020, decreased in all age bands, except those aged 70 and over, who saw a 5% increase compared to 2019 levels. The largest falls in walking stages (49% compared to 2019) were for those aged 17 to 20, although sample sizes are smaller for this age group and should be interpreted with caution. The next largest decrease was for those aged 21 to 29 (30%). This is likely due to falls in those walking for commuting and business purposes as well as education and escorting.
In comparison, cycling stages in 2020 increased compared to 2019 for all age bands, except aged 30 to 39 who saw a 20% decrease (25 stages per person to 20 stages per person) and those aged 21 to 29 (1% decrease). The largest increases in average cycling stages were for people aged 60 to 69 (14 stages in 2019 to 23 stages in 2020, an increase of 74%), with levels increasing to the highest on record.
The increase in cycling for leisure purposes is one of the factors that could have impacted this trend.
Geography (CW0402, CW0404)
Similar to trends seen for England, almost all regions saw decreases in average walking levels, ranging from 10 to 25% falls compared to 2019. The exception to this was the North East, however sample sizes for the North East are smaller than for other regions so results should be interpreted with caution.
In terms of average stages cycled per person, most regions in England experienced small to moderate decreases in cycling levels during 2020 (ranging from a fall of 2% in Yorkshire and the Humber to a fall of 25% in South East) compared to 2019. However, this was offset by large increases in London (from 20 stages to 34 stages per person in 2020), West Midlands (from 10 stages to 19 stages per person in 2020), and the North West (11 stages to 28 stages per person).
Data from Transport for London also shows a large increase in cycling levels in London, with a 22% increase reported in Outer London and a 7% increase in Inner London.
Ethnicity (CW0402, CW0404)
For the first time since 2005, white people on average walked more stages than ethnic minority people. Average walking stages for both groups decreased compared to 2019, 13% for those white (325 to 283 stages per person) and 32% for those of an ethnic minority (379 to 257 stages per person).
People of a white ethnicity (23 stages per person) cycled more than twice as much on average compared to those of an ethnic minority (9 stages per person) in 2020.
Further information about these statistics is available, including:
- walking and cycling statistics data tables
- walking and cycling statistics notes and definitions
- walking and cycling statistics background quality report
The NTS was assessed by the UK Statistics Authority against the Code of Practice for Statisticsand was confirmed as National Statistics in July 2011.
The results from the ALS are not National Statistics but adhere to the UK Statistics Authority Code of Practice for Statistics.
The Code of Practice for Statistics plays an essential role in ensuring that statistics published by government inspire the public confidence through demonstrating trustworthiness and providing high-quality statistics.
Data sources used in this publication
- National Travel Survey (NTS)
- Active Lives Survey (ALS)
- National Travel Attitudes Study (NTAS) is a panel survey of individuals who have completed the NTS
- Road traffic estimates in Great Britain
- Transport use during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic
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