Equitable cycling network: a mixed-methods analysis of European plans


  • Isabel Cunha ENTPE - University of Lyon


Cycling, Equity, Accessibility, focus group, Interview




Promoting sustainable mobility is crucial for decarbonising cities and facilitating citizens' access to economic opportunities, education, healthcare, and social activities (Banister, 2008; Pangbourne and Anable, 2011). The bicycle, alone or associated with public transport, can be a helpful tool to address climate change and support sustainable and inclusive urban development (Pucher et al., 1999; Sagaris, 2021). Likewise, the co-development of equitable cycling plans, based on an open dialogue between planning practitioners, citizens, and coalitions, may enable transformative change to achieve these goals (Sagaris et al., 2020). Nevertheless, previous studies suggest that cycling plans are often inequitably distributed in global north and south cities (Cunha and Silva, 2022). Accordingly, regardless of the political endeavours to normalise cycling as a viable transport mode in cities, empirical evidence demonstrates that cycling networks and investment allocation prioritise central and wealthy neighbourhoods in contrast with economically disadvantaged and peripheral areas (Lee et al., 2017).

Among the potential triggers, scholars highlight the lack of awareness and the absence of equity-oriented appraisal methods during planning and decision-making processes. To address this phenomenon, this research explores the role of the planning support system tool TIRE, which assesses the relative equity impacts of cycling plans (Cunha and Silva, 2023) through a mixed-methods approach. Whereas the quantitative analysis involves the data analysis and the application of the tool per se in 3 European cities with distinct levels of bicycle use and cycling cultures, the qualitative assessment focuses on the experimentation of the tool by those professionals directly involved in the assessed cycling plans. Accordingly, this study conducted focus groups and semi-structured interviews with planning practitioners to examine the usefulness of TIRE in planning practice and understand how TIRE can foster the generation of equity-oriented strategies (Cunha et al., 2023).

Applying the TIRE instrument encompasses a threefold approach based on GIS and Statistical analysis. First, the tool measures the relative bicycle accessibility levels towards seven activities (i.e., education, healthcare, social services, culture, grocery, public transport and parks) at the municipal scale using a fixed-travel time threshold of 5 and 15 minutes. Afterwards, the tool assesses the relative distribution of socioeconomically advantaged and disadvantaged populations based on census data. Lastly, a bivariate analysis intersects the two previous indicators and perspectives, revealing four distributive clusters. These outcomes range from the most equitable to the most inequitable distribution, illustrating in 2D aggregated maps the potential of cycling planning and infrastructure provision in reducing socio-spatial inequalities.

The quantitative assessment disclosed significant social-spatial asymmetries and fragmented hotspots in both cases. Results revealed that more than half of the distribution of bicycle accessibility conditions favour socioeconomically advantaged segments in all case studies (Cunha et al., 2024). Within the qualitative assessment, this study suggests that TIRE has potential applicability in planning practice since a significant share of participants considered the communicative value of the output and its focus specific enough. Moreover, TIRE supported the creation and sharing of ideas, fostering insight into a planning problem and creating awareness about the equity implications of cycling infrastructure allocation. With the tool, the participants defined a set of strategies to improve cycling accessibility conditions in disadvantaged areas, including expanding the cycling network, reallocating road space and educational campaigns.



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