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Data about transport in London!

Change in cycle to work rates between 1971 and 2001 by London borough

For all the data showing more recent trends in levels of cycling in London (such as the main roads count we covered previously), there is very little which tells us about longer term trends. However it is possible to get an idea of long term trends from the Census, which every ten years asks every person in the country a bunch of questions, including one about how people get to work.

We’ve just had a Census in March of this year but the results won’t be out for at least another 12 months, so the latest Census data we have is from 2001. Data going back to 1971 can be downloaded from Casweb or (only back to ’81) from Nomis. In each Census everyone of working age in employment was asked how they travelled to work or if they worked at home (Note: people could only tick one box and were asked to choose the mode of transport they used for the longest part, by distance, of their journey. So this will tend to undercount the amount of walking involved in journeys to work).

The chart below shows the trend in the proportion of people who said they cycled to work in London. There’s very little change over the thirty year period, with the proportion consistently in the 2% to 2.5% range.

Things get more interesting when you go below the regional level. Data is available to borough level, and I aggregated the boroughs into Inner and Outer London (according to the ONS definition). The chart below shows the results.

This shows a fairly remarkable turnaround. In 1971 Outer London residents were twice as likely to cycle to work as Inner London residents, but by 2001 it was the other way around. Cycling to work fell every decade in Outer London (though only slightly in the 1990s) and rose every decade in Inner London.

There are some striking trends at borough level too. In 1971 1% of people in Hackney cycled to work, but by 2001 it was 6%. At the other end, 5% of Hillingdon residents cycled to work in 1971, falling to 2% in 2001.

The two scatterplot charts below illustrate the borough level trends. The first charts the cycling rate in 1971 on the X axis against the rate in 2001 on the Y axis. Boroughs above the line saw an increase in the cycling rate between 1971 and 2001, and those below the line saw a decrease. The second chart plots the rate in 1971 against the percentage point change between 1971 and 2001. In both charts Inner London boroughs are shown as blue diamonds and Outer London boroughs as red circles.


Two things really stand out. First, boroughs with relatively high cycling rates in 1971 tended to see decreases over the next 30 years. Secondly, Inner London boroughs nearly all saw an increase while Outer London boroughs nearly all saw a fall. The only Inner London borough that didn’t increase its cycling rate over this period was Newham.

It’s worth bearing in mind a few caveats about these figures. First, they describe the transport choices of residents of each borough, but not the journeys made in each borough. As many (most?) journeys to work involve crossing borough boundaries, the modal share of journeys made in each borough will be somewhat different (The City of London is an extreme case, as it has very few residents but a huge number of people commute to work there).

Second, these figures include all modes of transport, including rail, which is obviously quite important in terms of commuting in London. It’s possible to instead look at cycling as as proportion of road traffic only, but that doesn’t seem to change the conclusions very much.

Third, this data only describes journeys to work, which are certainly important but still a minority of all the trips taken in London. We’d be interested to see any similar data for non-work journeys if it’s out there somewhere.

Finally, we’ll be making the data available soon, once we work out the best way of presenting it.

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Filed under: Boroughs, Census, Cycling, Data, Historic, London