Blog Post

Cycling in London after the pandemic

The popularity of cycling boomed during the pandemic – but has this continued? New data sheds light on this question.

The pandemic had a huge impact on how people chose to travel around London.

People were concerned about infection on public transport whilst at the same time gyms were being shut down. Unsurprisingly, many people turned to cycling as an alternative means of both transport and exercise.

Yet policymakers were unsure if the popularity of cycling would outlive the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions.

Data released last week from Transport for London suggests that is has.

Cycling during the pandemic

Cycling in London has been on an upward trend for some time. Successive mayors have placed cycling at the heart of their transport policies – introducing new cycle routes, hire schemes and protected bike lanes across the city. As a result, cycling in London more than doubled between 2000 and 2018.

Data released today from the 2021 Census has shown that cycling as a means of getting to work has followed this upward trend.

In 2011, 4.3 per cent of people in London aged over 16 who travelled to work were cycling to work. In 2021, that had gone up to 5.1 per cent – an almost 20 per cent increase. It’s also much higher than England and Wales as a whole, where only 3.0 per cent cycle to work.

The 2021 Census was conducted in March during a national lockdown, so the data reflects not just longer-term trends but also the unique impact of the pandemic.

While many people were not travelling to work, the pandemic provided an opportunity to put into action even more initiatives to encourage active travel in the city. Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, segregated cycle schemes, and pop-up bike lanes proliferated throughout London as policymakers tried to prevent reduced use of public transport leading to increased dependence on private cars.

TfL data showed that the mode share of cycling for Londoners during the pandemic was on average twice as high as pre-pandemic. This was supported by a 2021 Halfords survey that found that 62 per cent of adults who owned a bike in London said they had cycled more in the previous 12 months compared to past years.

While these trends were encouraging, the question became: would cycling remain a key feature of transport in London after the pandemic?

What happened next…?

New data from TfL has shown that weekly demand for cycling is now at 140 per cent of the pre-pandemic baseline.

Hire bikes have also remained popular. Santander Cycles have seen demand stay above pre-pandemic levels, at 111 per cent this September.

In contrast, all forms of public transport are still yet to reach their pre-pandemic levels of demand. Daily demand on the Tube is at 82 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. Bus demand is only slightly better at 84 per cent.

Cycling data in inner London vs outer London

Is this the same across London?

We know that in autumn 2020, cycling in outer London had increased 22 per cent above the spring 2019 levels.

But the cycling data used in this latest TfL report is based on just a small sample of sites in central and inner London. So it’s unclear if increases in cycling have also persisted in outer London.

For anyone interested in increasing cycling in London, outer London is very important because:

  • Overall levels of cycling are typically lower in outer London – Data from 2018 showed that relative cycle volumes in central London were more than 10 times higher than in outer London.
  • Cycling to work in outer London has grown less than in inner London –The proportion of people cycling to work in outer London increased from 2.3 per cent to 2.5 per cent between the 2011 and 2021 By comparison inner London increased from 7.2 per cent to 9.0 per cent.
  • Car dependency is higher in outer London68 per cent of households in outer London own a car, compared to 40 per cent in inner London.
  • More journeys could be swapped for cycle trips55 per cent of potentially cyclable trips in London are within outer London.

To add to the concern, the new TfL data has also revealed that traffic volumes in outer London have increased despite a decrease across the rest of the city.


It is very encouraging to see the popularity of cycling continuing after the pandemic in TfL and census data.

The continued shift towards this more sustainable and active form of travel is painting an optimistic picture of London’s future.

But it is important that outer London is not left out of the conversation. As part of our transport research programme, Moving with The Times, we will be exploring what outer London needs to be part of the shift towards cycling and active travel.