Here’s everything we learned from the DfT’s database of daily road use statistics

Lovell Street, York: popular with cyclists. Image: Google.

The Department for Transport (DfT) has released averages of daily road use over 22,700 stretches of road across the country, counting cars and bicycles, motorbikes and mopeds, vans and lorries.

While the broad conclusions shouldn’t surprise anyone – motorways are busy, country roads in the Highlands aren’t – there are some interesting findings hidden in the spreadsheet. What’s more, we can look at where each of these places is using the handy co-ordinates supplied with the data.

Generally, higher population densities means more road users. Image: DfT.

Britain’s bike havens

There are only seven places in Britain where bicycles make up most of the road traffic. But where they do, they tend to outnumber it significantly. The crown goes to Lovell Street, a small street in York, which is pictured above. Probably thanks to its path to the quite lovely Rowntree Park in the south of the city, it sees 96 bikes a day pass through, but just 13 other vehicles.

Further down the list is Cable Street in the East End, best known for a 1936 incident in which Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists were robustly challenged in the marketplace of ideas. Cycle Superhighway 3 runs along the street, which is probably a better explanation than an obscure fascist ritual.

With no shade to the residents of Fairacres Road in Oxford, it’s a street of modest interwar semis with unkempt hedges and a bicycle in every other front garden. It’s located between a bike shop, a set of allotments and sits adjacent to the local convent – you get the feeling Jeremy Corbyn would feel right at home there. It’s not top of the list, but while the other roads tend to attract bikes through pragmatism, this feels more than any other like the stereotype we’d expect.


Death on two wheels

The line between A roads and motorways can be a blurry one, particularly when it comes to the routes into and out of major cities. The A2 from London to Dover, for example, is busier than many strips of motorway outside the capital (and about to jam up completely once we crash out of the EU without a deal).

One key distinction is for cyclists, however – it’s illegal to ride a bicycle on a motorway, but not on most A roads.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should, and most cyclists wisely avoid that cascade of cars and lorries heading into Central London – but the data shows that every day, one person insists on making their commute on the A406 from Ilford to Walthamstow by bike, alongside 123,000 other vehicles sharing the 21st busiest strip of road in the UK. If you’re reading this article (and if you’re that into bikes, there’s a good chance) please stop. We’re all very concerned.

 

The road in question. Image: Google.

Londoners love motorbikes (and Scots don’t)

The street with the most motorbike and scooter traffic is Arlington Way in Islington, also one of the places with the most pedal bike traffic: 21 per cent of motorised vehicles travelling down this otherwise unremarkable street behind the Sadler’s Wells Theatre are two-wheeled, which is high, but not that unusual for the capital.

Of the 100 roads with the highest motorbike and scooter use in Britain, 93 are in London, although Wordsworth Avenue in Hartlepool and a stretch of the B6277 in rural County Durham get a confusing shout out. London’s high density, short journeys and thriving courier and food delivery industries account for most of their prevalence, combined with the heavy traffic and high running costs of cars which are more easily avoided with a bike.

High density, easily negotiable geography and dietary variety are the opposite of much of Scotland, so it’s somewhat understandable that 55 of the 100 roads with least motorbikes are located there. The climate won’t help, with wet conditions and winding roads not being conducive to safe riding.

A stretch of the North Coast 500. Image: Google.

But there is one exception – the North Coast 500, a tourist route devised in 2014, is a popular route with bikers, tracing the furthest extremes of the Highlands for 500 miles between Inverness and Ullapool. As a result, the A838, which covers most of the western half of the route, sees roughly 15 per cent of its traffic from motorcyclists.

The busiest counties

The DfT helpfully breaks down its figures by local authority area, allowing us to chart the 209 local areas where daily traffic is heaviest and lightest.

Generally, this tracks closely to population – roads are empty on Orkney and busy in Central London – but it also correlates well with an authority’s propensity for commuting and whether it contains a motorway. Birmingham only comes in middle of the pack in the West Midlands, where the busiest roads are found in Solihull, Warwickshire, Sandwell and Walsall. Leeds comes top in Yorkshire and the Humber, but Sheffield and York are beaten by Wakefield and Rotherham.

Residents of the Scilly Isles see the least activity, with an average of 922 vehicles per day passing through any given road. Since the largest island, St. Mary’s, can be crossed on foot in under an hour, it doesn’t seem like the sort of place that would support a daily commute. On the other hand Slough, containing the M4, a chunk of the M25, and a significant slice of commuter belt, tops the list by playing host to an average of 38,000 vehicles per road, per day.

 
 
 
 

Here are my five favourite London council estates

The Dunboyne Road estate. Image: Steve Cadman/Wikimedia Commons.

The author is a Labour member of the London Assembly. In the name of impartiality, CityMetric would like to extend the invitation to write similar columns to representatives of other political parties.

From successful post-war efforts to move families out of slums and into modern homes, to today’s efforts to construct a new generation of social housing, there’s much to be celebrated in London’s precious council housing stock.

This year we celebrate the centenary of the Addison Act, which established a national building programme with government funding for the first time. So here – in no particular order – are my top five London estates:

1. Dunboyne Road

In 1965, the newly established London Borough of Camden was bold and radical when it came to public housing. Their architect’s department boasted 98 staff, led by Sydney Cook. The Grade II listed Dunboyne Road (pictured above) was Britain’s first high-density, low-rise estate. Designed in the late 1960s and completed in 1977, it was the first major work by architect Neave Brown.

Its concrete construction and geometric layout are eye-catchingly modernist, but the 71 flats and maisonettes fit neatly into their surroundings; a reimagining of the classic London street for the 1960s. Each has a private terrace and own entrance onto the central pedestrian walkway and communal gardens, with stepped levels and dual-aspect windows creating light throughout.

Neave Brown himself lived on the estate in the final years of his life remarking, “Who am I to say, but it’s beautiful”.

2. Lilington Gardens

Located just off Vauxhall Bridge Road, the fourteen blocks at Lilington Gardens were built between 1964 and 1972. Between three and eight storeys each, it was again a rejection of the tower blocks which dominated the era, showing that mid-rise housing could provide both beauty and density.

Image: Ewan Munro/Wikimedia Commons.

At a time when Westminster could be proud of the quality of its housing, John Darbourne and Geoffrey Darke won a competition to design the new estate. The result was something special, eschewing modernist forms for something more rugged and layered. The layout allows for secluded green spaces, while the red brick cladding echoes the neighbouring Victorian church of St James the Less. Like all good estates, it included a pub – the Grade II*-listed Pimlico Tram (now The Cask). It was included not as an afterthought, but an integral part of the estate’s design.

3. Ossulston Estate

By the early 1950s, the London County Council’s architect’s department was the biggest in the world, building housing on a huge scale in addition to showp iece projects such as the Southbank Centre.

Though their suburban estates – Downham in Bromley, and Becontree in Barking and Dagenham – were pioneering examples of low-rise of modernity in metroland, these efforts did not always suit the needs of poor city dwellers who weren’t able to move further out. The Ossulton Estate, however, built between 1927 and 1931 on the site of a Somerstown slum and located between Euston and St Pancras stations, did exactly that.

Image: Stephen McKay/Wikimedia Commons.

Chief architect George Topham Forrest’s work was inspired by visits to ‘Red’ Vienna and Ossulston bears distinct similarities to Karl Marx-Hof, which was constructed at the same time. While the roofs and windows have traditional elements, the overall aesthetic is a modernist classic. Like many estates in post-war years, it suffered from neglect and a lack of investment, but following a £6m improvement programme by Camden Council in 2004, the Ossulston is now back to its brilliant best.

4. Alton Estate

Roehampton’s Alton Estate, completed in 1959, was designed by a team led by Rosemary Stjernstedt – the first woman to serve as a senior public sector architect in Britain.

The two parts of the estate – East and West – are the crown jewels of British post-war council housing. Alton West was Le Corbusier in Albion: six ultra-modernist blocks modelled on the Unité d’habitation in Marseille, set among the landscape inherited from the Georgian Mount Clare house. Alton East was a softer, Scandinavian-inspired design of the “new Brutalists” in the LCC.

Image: Stevekeiretsu/Wikimedia Commons.

Rising above the trees to the north east of Richmond Park, the Alton Estate stands testament to the visionary idealism of post-war council housebuilding. On its completion, visitors flocked from across the globe, with American critic G.E. Kidder Smith calling it “probably the finest low-cost housing development in the world”.

Sadly, Alton West however is now at risk from ‘regeneration’ proposals which would see 288 existing homes lost. While council estates should not be fetishised, with investment, improvement and expansion encouraged, any change must be done sensitively and with residents’ backing. I hope that Wandsworth Council and Redrow will follow the mayor’s Good Practice for Estate Regeneration and hold a ballot before plans go ahead, and that if they do, they build on Rosemary Stjernstedt’s legacy.

5. King’s Crescent

When it comes to regeneration Hackney Council have taken an altogether different approach to Wandsworth.

Located on Green Lanes opposite the magnificent Clissold Park, King’s Crescent’s route to a successful and well-supported regeneration project hasn’t always been an easy one. The early 1970s estate was blighted by poor construction, navigability issues and an ill-fated partial demolition in 2000 which turned much of the landscape into hoardings and rubble. But thanks to a step-change in resident engagement and a transformation programme funded by Hackney Council, by 2023 it will be host to 765 new and refurbished homes.

Image: David Holt/Wikimedia Commons.

In the era of government-imposed cuts to local authority budgets, councils have to be pragmatic about funding choices and the new King’s Crescent does include homes for private sale. This is understandably a source of some consternation, but it’s also the source of funding which has made the regeneration possible. Hackney has ensured that more than 50 per cent of the new homes are genuinely affordable, with 97 brand new council homes for social rent.

The new developments have greatly enhanced the area, using both new build and renovation to stitch the estate better into its Victorian surroundings. Existing homes have been retrofitted with balconies, while disused garage space has been repurposed for modern flats. Hackney have clearly thought carefully about character and open spaces, as well as ceiling heights, windows and internal storage.

It is an exceptional project – one of a growing number of new schemes now being spearheaded by ambitious councils across the capital. In 2018-19, the Mayor of London funded the start of 1,916 new council homes – the highest figure since 1984-85.


…what about the Barbican?

On the fiftieth anniversary of its opening, it would be remiss not the mention the Barbican. It’s a brutalist masterpiece and a fantastic feat of post-war planning and design. The location and design are clearly outstanding, but it’s the bright and modern interiors which are truly to die for.

So why is it not on the list? Although it was built by the City of London Corporation, not one of the flats was ever available at a social rent. The properties were built to let at market rents to workers in the City, who later found themselves in the fortunate position of being able to snap them up under the Right to Buy – still the fate of far too many of London’s vital social homes.

Tom Copley is a Labour member of the London Assembly.