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

Ding ding. Image: Getty.

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.

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.


Tatton MP Esther McVey thinks Leeds is south of Birmingham for some reason

Great hair, though: Esther McVey. Image: Getty.

Earlier this morning, while everyone was focused on the implosion of the Labour party, former work and pensions secretary Esther McVey decided it was the perfect moment to promote her campaign against High Speed 2.

A quick reminder of the route of the proposed high speed rail link. Phase One will run from London to Birmingham. Should Phase Two ever go ahead, it will split just beyond Birmingham to create a y-shaped network, with one arm running to Manchester and the other to Leeds.

The map McVey tweeted this morning suggests that she doesn't know this. But that is, at worst, the seventh worst thing about the map, because, look:

Let’s look at that a big more closely:

Yep. How many things are wrong with it? Let’s count.

1) Manchester is not east of Leeds;

2) Leeds is not south of Birmingham;

3) Both Manchester and Leeds are further from London than Birmingham, rather than, as this map suggests, closer;

4) To get from London to Manchester you kind of have to pass Birmingham, Esther;

5) There is no railway line that runs from London to Leeds to Birmingham because that would be a really stupid way round, what with Leeds being quite a long way north of Birmingham;

6) Should the government decide to boost the north by scrapping Hs2 and improving east-west lines instead, those improved east-west lines will not cross the proposed route of HS2 Phase One because they are quite a long way to the north of it.

Okay I'm going to stop there and get back to staring at the flaming bin fire that we loving call the Labour party. But for the record, Esther: I'm not taking advice on transport policy from anyone who doesn't know where Leeds is.

Jonn Elledge is editor of CityMetric and the assistant editor of the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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