Measuring the Effectiveness of Cycling

With Kingston’s mini-Holland scheme underway, we need to have a means of measuring the success of the projects. Without this, it’s likely that over time projects will be watered down as enthusiasm wanes, and we will revert to the failed methods of the past few decades.

What can be Measured

There are many ways we can measure the effectiveness of cycle routes. Some examples could be:

  • Numbers
    • of peak hour cyclists on a route
    • car journeys under two miles
    • cyclists in KSIs (absolute or number / 1000 cyclists)
    • rat runs eliminated
  • NPS (Net Promoter Score: would you recommend everyday cycling to a neighbour?)
  • km of cycle routes
    • cycle lanes
    • segregated cycle routes
    • longest continuous section
    • % of borough less than 100m from a safe cycling route
  • Health
    • air pollution levels
    • number of borough heart attacks (or similar) for under 60s
    • number of elderly people getting out of the house more than four times a week

This is way too many variables to measure success on. Just like when we try to do this at work, by monitoring this many metrics we end playing whack-a-mole. Changing one metrics causes another to go the wrong way. We need to be more focussed.

Benefits of Focussed Metrics

Having a very few well-chosen metrics allows us to focus on outcomes, putting aside bias and preference. We stop caring about “not-invented-here” syndrome because, if we’re measured on outcomes, we’re going to take whatever works and if we can steal the idea that saves us effort.

What’s more, we cannot game the system. When we have a large number of metrics, we can play one off against another. Any dip in a metric can usually be counterbalanced by a gain in some other. Having only four means that we stop wasting time and get on with making these shift the right way.

At work, the best way of achieving this is to agree a set of metrics with one’s manager that aligns with their goals. Once agreed, you can be left alone to make the difference. This gives us freedom because our manager is now concerned with the outcomes, rather than getting in the way and meddling with how we work or the features we deliver.

When this is applied to mass cycling, councils will have transparent goals to work toward and be assessed on. This prevents them hiding behind bluster as everyone can see the outcome.  At first glance, this would seem dreadful for the risk averse manager or politician. Success or failure is there for all to see. But in reality it is liberating. Once it is clear that there is no hidden agenda, trust is created and everyone can focus on reaching the outcome, not the means of getting there.

Let’s Choose the Metrics

So, let’s have a play with metrics for cycling in Kingston.
Firstly, we know that many people do not recommend cycling to their friends because it feels dangerous and because they believe cycling is a sport rather than transport.
So we can hypothesise that many people won’t currently recommend cycling and that this number will change if the mini-Holland scheme is successful.
Metric 1: NPS. Would you recommend cycling in the borough of Kingston to your neighbours. We can find this out with a regular poll of 500 households.

Related to this is what we hope to achieve through the mini-Holland scheme: high quality cycle infrastructure. This gives us two metrics, measuring what we are building and whether it’s effective.
Metric 2: number of km of separated infrastructure (minimum length 25m)
Metric 3: number of cyclists

Finally, there’s the absolute measure of whether cycling is safe. How many people are being killed or injured while cycling. If cycling infrastructure is implemented correctly, this figure will decrease even with an increase in cycling numbers.
Metric 4: number of cycling KSIs within the borough.


So here is how we can measure the success of Kingston’s mini-Holland scheme. Any new scheme implemented should be created from the outset to move one of the metrics. And its success should be measured against that metric. This should remove nonsense schemes such as magic paint, while focussing on change that give a real return on investment.

My proposed metrics:

  • NPS. Would you recommend everyday cycling to a neighbour?
  • km of segregated infrastructure of minimum length 25m
  • Number of cyclists
  • Number of cycling KSIs within the borough