Which English cities have the most cycling commuters?

In 1938, cycling to work was all the rage. Image: Hutton Archive/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 over the Christmas break, while you and I were stuffing our faces, those busy elves at the Centre for Cities quietly added a whole swathe of new numbers to their data store. Huzzah.

Many of the new stats concern how people move around our cities. We're a bunch of transport geeks (and, let's be honest about this, you are too); so in the next few of these blogs, we’ll be looking at commuting patterns in different English and Welsh cities. (Cities in Scotland and Northern Ireland are sadly not included in the data.)

First up – in which cities are people most likely to cycle to work? Place your bets.

Percantage of workers who commute by bike. Source: Centre for Cities/ONS.

No big surprises at the top of the chart. As one would probably expect, it's beautiful medieval cities with universities in them that top the rankings – not just Oxford and Cambridge, but York, too.

That said, the scale of Cambridge's lead gives you pause for thought: nearly a third of people in the capital of the Fens cycle to work. That number is still low compared to Amsterdam, where over 60 per cent of residents are estimated to cycle every day, but it's an order of magnitude higher than most UK cities. The fact Hull is in fourth place is also a bit of a surprise.

One other thing worth noting – with the exception of Bristol, all these places are famously flat. Go figure.

What of the bottom 10?

Percantage of workers who commute by bike. Source: Centre for Cities/ONS.

Source: Centre for Cities/ONS.

Two observations, here. One is that, most of these cities are in the north (all except Chatham). It's tempting to blame hills again – the north is generally hillier than the south – but that's the sort of un-informed guesswork you should probably ignore. All we can say with confidence is that, in a lot of northern cities, basically nobody cycles.

And that's our other observation. In the cities at this end of the table, the number of people who cycle to work is tiny. It's less than 1 per cent in four cities, and less than 2 per cent in 22.

What's more, those cities where less than 2 per cent of people cycle to work include some biggies. In Liverpool and Leeds it's 1.8 per cent; it's Birmingham it's ust 1.6 per cent. (In London, for what it's worth, it's a more healthy 3.7 per cent.)

For the sake of completeness, here's a map showing how many people commuted by bike in 2011. Hover over any city to get the data. 


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What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.

Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.