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Transport / Mass transit

The percentage of people commuting by bike has fallen in most English cities

The latest instalment of our weekly series, in which we use the Centre for Cities’ data tools to crunch some of the numbers on Britain’s cities.

So, a few days back, in the last one of these thingamybobs, we crunched the numbers to find out which English and Welsh* cities were home to the most cycling commuters.

Most of the results surprised precisely no one. Cambridge is way out ahead, Oxford slightly behind, and people are vastly more likely to cycle in flat southern cities than in hilly northern ones. Perhaps the most striking finding was that the east Yorkshire city of Hull was the fourth most pedal-happy city in the country, behind only the two ancient university towns and York.


These figures, though, were a snapshot of how things stood at the time of the 2011 census: they don’t tell us anything about whether more people were cycling than before.

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Helpfully, though, we can use the Centre for Cities’ data tools to do that too.

Some caveats before we get to the charts. The data we’re using here comes from the census, so the most recent available is five years old now, and the numbers will have changed since. What’s more, we only have two data points (2001 and 2011), so what we’re looking at here is pretty rough and ready.

That dispensed with, here’s the league table:

Percentage change in proportion of residents who cycle to work, 2001-11.

London’s cycling revolution is visible in all its splendour. But the trend clearly goes far beyond the capital, and the proportion of people cycling is up over 20 per cent in three of the big regional cities (Bristol, Sheffield, Newcastle, Leeds), and up by smaller numbers in two more (Manchester and Liverpool).

Elsewhere, all those hipsters who’ve been priced out of Hackney and moved to Brighton seem to have taken their bikes with them. The university towns have also seen increases, as have all three of the Welsh cities in our index (Cardiff, Swansea, Newport).


That’s the good news. Here’s the bad. There are 59 cities listed here. Only 18 of them have seen increases in the percentage of commuters cycling. In 22 cities, the percentage is down by over 10 per cent; in eight, it’s down by over 20.

At the very bottom of the league table lie the unexpectedly bike-friendly Hull and its near neighbour Grimsby, where numbers have all but collapsed.

So that’s great.

There’s a danger of overstating this. In most of the bigger cities, the proportion of cycling is up, so there’s a fair change that it’s up nationwide too.

More importantly, in the vast, vast majority of cases, we’re talking about changes in already tiny numbers here. If 1.5 per cent of a city’s cyclists residents cycled to work in 2001, and that had dropped to 1.1 per cent a decade late, that’d show here as a drop of over 25 per cent.

All the same, it’s clear. For all metropolitan liberals like us bang on about it, cycling remains a minority activity in Britain’s cities.

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*Sorry, Scotland and Northern Ireland: we don’t currently have the data for you guys. Nothing personal.
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