The Cycling Boom in Some German Cities - Understanding and Explaining Behavioural Change

The Cycling Boom in Some German Cities - Understanding and Explaining Behavioural Change


A Busch-Geertsema, M Lanzendorf, Goethe University Frankfurt, DE


Change in travel behaviour towards more cycling is not observed in the entire urban population uniformly. Our hypotheses concerning routines and life course events are tested with regional extended national travel data from four large german cities.


In many cities worldwide cycling has become over the last decade an increasingly attractive and important mode for daily travel. For many national and local governments cycling policies have become a both effective and efficient tool for reducing negative environmental impacts of transport and for increasing life quality and health in their cities. Bicycling related policies are an important tool for cities that want to achieve a more sustainable transport system and want to contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions for mitigating climate change.

While the number of success stories of bicycle campaigns in cities is continuously increasing, surprisingly little is known on travel behaviour change of individuals from other modes to the bicycle. Some research refers to the relatively high speed of bicycles in urban areas compared to other modes, to its little operating costs and the convenience of parking the bicycle close to any destination. Other researchers refer to the experience of physical exercise, independency or, additionally symbolic-emotional aspects related to cycling. These benefits of cycling are not perceived by all travelers similarly, since some claim unsafe aspects and vulnerability of cyclists by being exposed to car traffic or other discomfort aspects like f.e. the exposure to bad weather.

However, comparing the relative advantages and disadvantages of cycling compared with other modes of transport, these may not explain why the share of cycling in some cities is much higher than the share of cycling in some other cities of the same country. Some of these differences have been analyzed in earlier papers for several countries and it has been argued with factors like topography, local transport policies or historical path dependence. When assessing the development of bicycling share in some cities over the last decades surprisingly new developments can be found. Cities with a tradition of very low cycling shares increased these number significantly and have the ambition to double or triple these figures within the next five or ten years.

For the purpose of this paper we ask what the reasons for this increase of bicycling on an individual's level are. With the observation of more cyclists on the aggregated level of cities and regions it remains unclear why individuals chose to change their behaviour. Since new cycling related policies or increasingly positive social attitudes towards cycling may be a reason for the observed changes, we do not know how individuals respond to these changes. As travel behaviour research and theories like the mobility biographies research suggest, travel behaviour is frequently a routine and does not change easily. Thus, we expect that the travel behaviour change towards more cycling will not be observed for the whole population of an urban area uniformly. Instead we expect that routines for certain travel purposes are weaker or people affected by key events in their life course will be more open to travel behaviour changes than others.

For the empirical analysis of these hypotheses we employed the German national travel survey Mobility in Germany from the years 2002 and 2008. Our bi- and multivariate analysis of mode choice draws mainly on the regionally extended data sets of Frankfurt Rhein-Main, Berlin, Hamburg and Munich and the travel behaviour changes observed between these two years in each of the cities. The empirical results suggest that individuals in a life phase after major key events (e.g. children in the household, moving) are more likely to increase their cycling shares than others. Moreover, general socio-economic factors like age, gender, and income affect the likelihood of increased cycling as well although the interaction of these variables with other key events in the life course is possible. Even, the travel purposes show significant differences between each other. Ultimately, the effect of bicycle infrastructure and marketing policies are hard to assess from the available data set since they might be perceived as a key event for travel behaviour change.

From the results of our analysis some conclusions on the effectiveness of cycling campaigns may be drawn. First, these campaigns are most effectively if they target specific life phases and key events since people are more open-minded to changes in these moments of life. Second, simultaneously, cycling campaigns as an overall strategy within a local travel demand management strategy may be very successful if they address all groups of society by different elements and, thus, create social-emotional elements of a bicycle friendly city. Finally, the experience of the ambitious cycling cities may be an archetype for the future development of other cities on the path towards sustainable cities.


Association for European Transport