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London easiest place to live car-free thanks to public transport, planning, ease of cycling & walking

Want to live car-free? Don't move to Peterborough, Colchester or Milton Keynes. That's the message of a new report from the Campaign for Better Transport, which has identified those three as the hardest places in England to live if you don't have a car.

At the other end of the scale, London's low rate of car ownership and excellent public transport makes it the easiest place in England to live without a car, followed by Manchester and Liverpool.

In scoring the cities for the report, Car Dependency Scorecard 2014: The top English cities for sustainable transport, the campaign took into account public transport provision, facilities for cycling and walking, and land use planning policies that support sustainable transport.

Peterborough does badly because of weaknesses in its public transport infrastructure and heavy reliance on cars. There are some signs of hope, the campaign says, as many people already cycle regularly, showing there is scope for improvement and a will for active travel.

However, Peterborough might be going in the wrong direction. Last year it planned to rip out cycle racks from a main shopping street, and it recently extended a town centre cycling ban to Sundays despite opposition from consultation responses.

Despite its much-vaunted network of cycle routes, Milton Keynes comes last in many of the metrics. The spread out, low density planning means longer distances for people to travel, and a road system much better suited to car use than cost-effective public transport. Milton Keynes' problems aren't unique; the new towns built in the 50s, 60s and 70s have generally higher levels of car dependency.

Colchester was designated as a a Cycling Town before the abolition of Cycling England in 2011, and its couple of years in the limelight seems to have had some effect. The report says that just over one per cent of people in Colchester commute by bike at least five times a week, which is in the top half of the rankings, but only a tenth of the number who commute by bike in Cambridge. However, residents in Colchester are least likely to be able to get to primary school, work or the town centre by walking or public transport.

At the other end of the scale, London is England's least car-dependent city, largely because it has top quality public transport and a great degree of control over planning of both development and transport.

The report says: "With a devolved transport system and the historic advantage of a well-developed public transport infrastructure delivered in a densely populated area, it’s easy for residents and commuters to get about without a car.

"Using public transport is much more convenient than driving and parking in the city, and this has been supported rather than counteracted, through measures such as the Congestion Charge and investment in buses.

"London came top for accessibility and planning and its ranking for the quality and uptake of its public transport is high."

London's cycling provision and increase in riding helped it come top in the use of cycling and walking for transport. The report says: "London’s success is influenced both by its density and unprecedented investment in cycling infrastructure. Large increases in numbers of people cycling over recent years should be an example to other cities."

Manchester and Liverpool score well because development in the cities has focussed on brownfield sites. The report sys: "This has meant that ‘city centre intensification’ has been encouraged, achieving urban densities amenable to efficient public transport provision and encouraging walking and cycling.

Stephen Joseph, Chief Executive, Campaign for Better Transport said: "To be good places to live and work, towns and cities need good transport. The most successful places in our research give people a choice in how you get around. They have good quality public transport, plan new development thoughtfully and make it easy and safe for people to cycle and walk."

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

8 comments

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hampstead_bandit [614 posts] 2 years ago
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Milton Keynes is a weird city to cycle about (I grew up near there, and regularly cycle back through MK to see my folks) as it feels vast, and empty. The distances suit a fit cyclist on a performance bike, rather than casual shoppers or commuters.

The 'redways' are very easy to get lost on, which means I usually cycle on the roads and have become very good at navigating the endless roundabouts!

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eddie11 [118 posts] 2 years ago
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I find this report questionable. Peterborough has a really strong cycling culture with great facilties and lot of people utilty cycling.

If the authors think its poor they need to get out more, there are many many places in the country light years behind.

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mrmo [2093 posts] 2 years ago
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eddie11 wrote:

I find this report questionable. Peterborough has a really strong cycling culture with great facilties and lot of people utilty cycling.

If the authors think its poor they need to get out more, there are many many places in the country light years behind.

But the report is not about cycling, it is about getting around without a car. Which for many doesn't mean cycling, it means buses/trams/underground/etc.

Which for those of us who don't live in a big city are almost universally s***

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EarsoftheWolf [75 posts] 2 years ago
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eddie11 wrote:

I find this report questionable. Peterborough has a really strong cycling culture with great facilties and lot of people utilty cycling.

If the authors think its poor they need to get out more, there are many many places in the country light years behind.

"There are some signs of hope, the campaign says, as many people already cycle regularly, showing there is scope for improvement and a will for active travel."

Although you can argue over its accuracy and what metrics it uses to measure each town or city, the report clearly does take into account that lots of people already cycle in Peterborough.

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stealth [254 posts] 2 years ago
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Peterborough advertises itself as an "environment city", whatever that means.
What I do know is that transport around the local (Fenland) area is practically impossible without access to a car.
Yes, you can bike about, but distances between anywhere puts most people off.
It is all part of modern life, I'm afraid. Out of town shopping and all that.

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ironmancole [346 posts] 2 years ago
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Yep, MK is a horror to cycle in. Picture a series of Santa Pod dragstrips linked with huge multilane (some smaller) roundabouts that serve solely as a challenge to locals driving through (not around) as fast as they can and the common sense & safety bypass is complete.

Redways are essentially filled with pedestrians meandering about on both cycle and pedestrian sides looking for their cars throwing disapproving looks at 'the dangerous cyclists'.

About as perverse as it gets  102

On the flip side there is a Gourmet Burger outlet  4

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Sedgepeat [93 posts] 2 years ago
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What utter bilge. Of course big cities with a public transport infrastructure so very large will have less car owners with young people, students, foreign workers and so on; it's a no brainer. But don't let's be selective. Even greater London and it's suburbs depends on car ownership as one can easily with on street parking and central London would cease to operate without car users somewhere.

All cities depend on the private car, either directly or indirectly. Most of the public transport staff, on shift-work, get there by car as do those of essential services on shifts.

But to even think that the public transport of London can be replicated in smaller cities and towns is naive.

I grew up and worked in London over 40 years and I still needed a car, sometimes two for an active and busy family life. I would often commute partly by car and partly by PT or at weekends and night shifts totally by car; as did my colleagues.

I am amazed that the anti car writers are unable to admit that we all depend on them either directly or indirectly now. How can dishonesty about transport needs be in anyone's interests?

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pete666 [17 posts] 2 years ago
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I live in MK and that sounds about right!

I don't have a car but cycle everywhere on the roads but mainly out of rush hour! Don't find them that scary but I have in the past time trialled on the A5 and A1 at busy times so nothing scares me after that! Only been knocked off my bike once and that was in one of the old towns that were swallowed up by MK! On the plus side, the car did not come out unscathed! Needed a new windscreen! lol