CYCLE infrastructure risks exacerbating health inequalities in Glasgow unless more effort is made to target routes and bicycle hire schemes to the most deprived communities, public health experts have warned. 

A report published today by the Glasgow Centre for Population Health warns that investment in segregated cycleways could inadvertently “reinforce socio-economic inequalities”. 

The “Active Travel in Glasgow” report states: “In Glasgow, cycling is dominated by the most affluent of the population: those in the least deprived decile are nearly three times more likely to cycle than those in the most deprived decile.

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“More affluent households are also more likely to own bicycles. This highlights the risk that investment in cycling infrastructure and initiatives might reinforce existing inequalities in health if they only benefit those who already cycle. There needs to be a clear recognition of this risk in any strategy to increase cycling, and action taken to mitigate this possibility.” 

A separate report found the NextBike cycle hire scheme risked giving more affluent residents disproportionate access. While half of Glasgow’s population live in the most deprived 20 per cent of communities in Scotland, bicycle hire stations are relatively evenly distributed across the deprivation index.

Report author Karen Macpherson said: “It makes sense to put [the first tranche of locations] in the city centre, near the university areas and public transport hubs. But ultimately you would like to think it would address areas of higher deprivation and, to match the profile of Glasgow, you would expect to see more locations in areas of higher deprivation.”

However, two other studies also found evidence that dedicated bicycle routes in the city were encouraging an overall increase in people cycling to work. The Anderston-Argyle Street footbridge over the M8 averaged 159 cycle journeys per day between August 2014 to July 2016, with an average growth of 26 journeys per month.

Meanwhile, the South-West City Way, a mile-long segregated cycleway linking Pollokshields on the southside to the 'Squiggly' bridge at Tradeston, averaged 519 journeys per day between March and September 2016, largely by commuters, and was steadily increasing.

Ms McPherson added: "The anti-cycling lobby would say 'there's not a demand for this, people are not using it, people don't want to cycle', but actually I think these show that when infrastructure is there people are using it."

Researchers also warned that cycleways recently axed or aborted amid local opposition – such as the Bearsway route in East Dunbartonshire or the Holmston Road route in Ayr – highlighted the need for “timely dialogue” with communities and stronger leadership. 

It comes amid record car ownership in Scotland, which the report warned was “likely to reinforce this culture of car dominance and dependency” and “[isolate] vulnerable communities.”

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Jill Muirie, public health programme manager for GCPH, said: “By stronger leadership, we’re not looking for someone to railroad through everyone’s opinions but what we need is a more consistent approach. We have great policies in Scotland, but we’re just not quite managing to translate that locally.

"If we continue to aspire towards one or two cars per household, the transport system will not be able to cope. It's not just about congestion, or safety, or the environment, or social inclusion - it's about all of these things.

"Building new roads may ease things in the short term but if car ownership continues to increase, we'll just end up with the same problems."

A spokesman for Glasgow City Council said it wanted cycling to be an “accessible option for all”. He added: “These reports provide further evidence that cycling is becoming increasingly popular in Glasgow.New cycle lanes, the bicycle hire scheme and other measures within the city’s cycling strategy are all having a positive impact on cycling numbers.”