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2011 Census: Cycling boom in cities masks static national trend

London, Brighton & Hove, Manchester, Newcastle & Sheffield see strong growth - but no change in England/Wales in decade to 2011

An analysis of cycling to work data contained in the 2011 Census shows that the number of people cycling to work in London doubled over the period – but nationally, the proportion of people doing so over the ten-year period remained static at 2.8 per cent.

The analysis was carried out by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Data covering the various principal modes of transport people use to get to work were released last year, with the figures picked apart by cycle campaigners and bloggers at the time.

Yesterday’s release however pulls together the national picture for England and Wales together.

Most of that increase in London came among residents of Inner London boroughs, which saw 144 per cent growth with more than 106,000 people aged between 17 and 74 now using a bike as their main way of getting to work. In Outer London, the increase was 45 per cent.

Brighton & Hove also saw levels of cycling double, while several other cities – Bristol, which benefited from Cycling City status towards the end of the period, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield all saw growth of between 80 per cent and 94 per cent.

A couple of points to note are that the Census captured main mode of travel only, and only relate to inhabitants of the areas in question; so someone taking a train into London from Reading, say, then completing their commute by bike would not feature in the data for both reasons.

That point about the figures covering the main mode of transport only applies equally nationwide, so the data will understate just what proportion of people undertake part of their commute by bicycle; the extent of that shortfall is impossible to gauge.

With big levels of growth in some major centres of population, it’s no surprise that there are some large drops elsewhere, and ONS notes that in nearly six in ten of the 348 local authority areas in England and Wales, the number of people cycling to work fell between 2001 and 2011.

The lowest levels were seen in Merthyr Tydfil where just 3 people in every 1,000 ride a bike to work; the highest, no surprise, was Cambridge, at 29 per cent – a per capita level of cycling around 100 times higher.

Cambridge remains the city with the highest proportion of adults commuting by bike each day, at 29 per cent.

Nationally, while the proportion of people using a bicycle as their main means of getting to work in England and Wales is static, population growth means that 90,000 more people are doing so – 741,000 people in total, an increase of 13.9 per cent across the decade.

People cycling to work are most likely to be males, people living in urban areas, aged 30-34 and working in what are described as “elementary and professional occupations.”

The data were captured on the day of the Census, 27 March 2011 – that’s three years ago today, so they won’t address any changes in levels of cycling since then.

But the analysis does confirm that while levels of cycling are booming in some areas, nationally the picture is a more depressing one.

Rachel Bromley, policy advisor at the sustainable transport charity Sustrans said: “These new figures are telling of the haphazard approach of many authorities to get with the times and improve provision for the increasing number of people wanting to cycle to work.

“The public demand is there and many urban councils have made good progress in training and infrastructure as is shown by the outstanding urban cycling results. It shows when decision makers put their minds into increasing cycling, real progress can be made.

“Cycling is a silver bullet for Britain’s local transport needs through improving access, reducing congestion and tackling air pollution. The benefits to the individual are also huge as cycling is a great way to build physical activity into people’s daily routine.”

You can find the Census Analysis, including a link to download the full report in PDF format, here.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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pmanc | 211 posts | 9 years ago

My calculation has been confirmed by the ONS. In 2011 Manchester had 83% more cycle commuters, but only against a background of 50% more commuters generally - a huge 50% increase in the "resident working population" which went from 142,449 in 2001 to 213,705 in 2011. If the number of cycle commuters went up by 83% then by the same logic all modes of transport also went up - the number of commuters in a car/van/cab went up by 37%.

So again, as a proportion of working population, the cyclists went from 3.2% to 3.9%. We could say the percentage rose by 22%. The right direction but a far cry from the suggested 83%.  2

pmanc | 211 posts | 9 years ago

According to the downloadable excel worksheet of data Manchester has seen an increase of ~83%, from 4610 cycle commuters to 8426 commuters. Getting on for double the number of cycle commuters! Now this sounds impressive, but it's only an increase of 0.7 percentage points, from 3.2% of commuters travelling by bike to 3.9%. How can this be true? That's not nearly double...

Well the sums only work if the total number of commuters (all modes) also increased by a lot; by about 50% in fact. So are there 50% more people commuting in total in Manchester than there were a decade ago? I don't know, but it seems a lot. And even if it is true, loads more cyclists is no real improvement if there are also loads more drivers/bus-passengers/etc.

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