Cities are only cities because there are a lot of people in them. Unfortunately, a good proportion of those people bring their cars along. Traffic, and its attendant horrors – fumes, noise, road deaths – are among the first thing we think of when we imagine urban areas, especially big ones.
However, some analysis of commuter congestion in UK cities, from satnav company TomTom, has thrown out some rather unexpected results. The graph below shows the number of hours an average commuter would spend in traffic over a whole working year (which they've calculated as 230 working days) in each city:
Here, the biggest cities haven't necessarily come out top. Belfast has the highest delay times, which amount to around 50 minutes per day. Next up are Manchester and Edinburgh, while London sits in fifth place.
The explanation, of course, is that London has a very developed public transport network and a congestion charge: that cars constitute a problem has long been recognised by the city authorities. In Belfast, by contrast. many commuters live rurally and aren't served by public transport.
Roger Pollen from the Belfast Federation for Small Businesses told the Belfast Telegraph in March that he wasn't sure attempts to make the city more "hostile" to cars would work, given the reluctance of the population to use public transport: "You've got to ask how long do we persevere... and see the figures getting worse and worse before we start looking at what other measures we bring in to make the city more effective for cars."
Manchester, meanwhile, is surrounded by a snarl of motorways which the BBC says are partially to blame for congestion. In 2008, Mancunians voted against a city centre congestion charge; a decision they may now regret...