By Richard Scott
Transport correspondent, BBC News
Cycling England said each town needs to be supported for six more years
A government scheme to boost cycling in towns appears to have increased the number of trips taken by bike by more than a quarter between 2005 and 2009.
The scheme, run by Cycling England, monitored the change in people's habits in six demonstration towns.
More adults and schoolchildren took up cycling, while the number doing no exercise dropped.
The programme has since been extended to another 18 areas, with bids for further funding under way.
In late 2005, six places were chosen to be Cycling Demonstration Towns - Aylesbury, Brighton and Hove, Darlington, Derby, Exeter and Lancaster with Morecambe.
Each town was given about £5 a head to spend per year - which it then matched.
Before the scheme started, the average amount spent by local authorities was closer to £1 per head.
The initial funding was provided by the Department for Transport but Cycling England, which is backed by the government, British Cycling, cycling organisation CTC and sustainable transport charity Sustrans ran the scheme.
Aylesbury used the funding to publicise its existing cycle routes with colour coding and signs, while Darlington doubled the length of its cycle routes.
Brighton and Hove targeted neighbourhoods with personalised travel plans, Derby concentrated on children with afterschool clubs and training.
Exeter added to existing plans such as building cycle routes into schools, while Lancaster with Morecambe upgraded canal path routes.
Cycling England says the first three years of operation have seen the number of trips taken by cyclists in the towns rising by an average of 27%.
This was from automatic counters placed predominantly in traffic-free areas.
Manual counters across towns saw much more modest increases, suggesting people preferred to cycle their new routes in low traffic zones.
Investigators also looked at monitoring information provided by the towns, secondary data sources including school and workplace travel surveys and case studies.
"The high levels of cycling in many European cities are the result of consistent policy and sustained investment over two decades," said Phillip Darnton, chairman of Cycling England.
"If the level of growth seen across the six towns is sustained for 20 years, cycling trips will rise fivefold. This will have a transformational effect on health and make a major contribution to cutting carbon emissions and congestion."
Meanwhile, a survey suggested the proportion of adults doing any cycling rose from 24% to 28%, while the proportion who took no exercise dropped from 26% to 24%.
The ICM telephone survey spoke to 1,500 people in each Cycling Demonstration Town in March 2006 and again in March 2009.
Those schools that were targeted in the initiative saw the proportion of pupils who cycled regularly more than double, to just over 25%.
Cycling England said every £1 invested in the scheme had seen a benefit of £2.59 in reduced mortality. It said each town needed to be supported for up to six years as spending less time than this "risks wasting effort".
Two years ago the scheme was expanded to 18 areas, with Bristol being nominated England's first "cycling city".
Funding will continue until 2011 and representatives from all these places meet three times a year to discuss their experiences.