Cycling grows in popularity as car ownership falls

Cycling in London is growing in popularity

Cycling in London is growing in popularity Pic: Jacme31

Families in Tower Hamlets, Lewisham, Hackney and Croydon are abandoning their cars with fewer households having a vehicle in 2011 than 2001, while the number of bicycle commuters has risen.

All four of the East London Lines boroughs had a smaller percentage of households with access to a car in 2011 than in 2001, figures recently released by the Office for National Statistics from the 2011 census show. The biggest fall was in Hackney, which now has the smallest percentage in the ELL area, 35 per cent, down from 44 per cent in 2001.

Over the same decade the proportion of residents cycling to work has increased in each of the boroughs. The biggest change has again happened in Hackney, where 14 per cent of workers arrive at work on a bicycle, the highest percentage in London.

These data highlight the differences between London and the rest of the country. Only 58 per cent of households in London have access to a car, a decrease from 63 per cent in 2001. Outside of the capital the percentage of bicycle commuters and the proportion of families with a car has barely changed. 2.6 per cent of workers commuted by bicycle in 2011, a slight fall from 2.8 per cent in 2001 and 74 per cent of households have a car, an increase of just one per cent since 2001.

One explanation for this drop is the introduction of the London congestion charge in 2003. The boroughs of Hackney and Tower Hamlets both border the congestion-charging zone, and have car access levels far below and cycling percentages far above the London average.

Croydon, the furthest of the ELL boroughs from the congestion charge zone and central London has the highest percentage of the four at 67 per cent. It is the only ELL borough with higher levels of car access than the London average.

The map below shows the effect that distance from central London and the congestion charge zone has on families with a car, and bicycle commuters. Although car access has fallen and bicycle commuting risen across London as a whole, the areas with the greatest change are in central London.

As none of the ELL boroughs are within the charging zone, residents have to pay the full charge if they want to drive into central London and are not eligible for the 90 per cent discount available to residents. The £10 a day cost for driving in central London is higher than the £8.40 Oyster pay as you go cap for daily travel on public transport in zone 1 and 2, before other car related costs are added in. This makes owning a car in London an expensive choice compared to other areas of the country.

The growing cost of driving may have contributed to the increase the numbers of people cycling. Cycling is a cheap way of getting from A to B and cycling also has health benefits.  TfL’s cycle hire scheme covers much of central London, including parts of Tower Hamlets and Hackney and charges £2 for unlimited journeys up to 30 minutes during one day for those unable to afford the initial cost of a bike.

TfL believe that the congestion charge has played an important part in reducing car use in London, saying: “The scheme has made an important contribution to an unprecedented 9 per cent shift from car use to public and other forms of sustainable transport.”

Motoring organisation the AA disagree with this, believing that the reduction in cars is instead due to a growing lack of places to keep them. Spokesperson Paul Watters said: “I think the numbers are due to massive housing development in central
areas with no space for cars rather than the Congestion charge. The cycling revolution is a great thing for London and is indeed taking traffic off the busy streets and showing that there are alternatives to cars in cities. For some the car will still have a role as long as there is a place to keep it.”

In 2013 Boris Johnson published his vision for cycling in London and announced a dramatic increase in cycle spending in outer London. He said: “At the very heart of this strategy is my belief that helping cycling will not just help cyclists. It will create better places for everyone. It means less traffic, more trees, more places to sit and eat a sandwich. It means new life, new vitality and lower crime on underused streets. It means more seats on the Tube, less competition for a parking place and fewer cars in front of yours at the lights.”

Cycle route CS2 allows cyclists a safer way to bike through Tower Hamlets, and CS5 is due to open later this year from Lewisham into central London.

Sustrans, a charity that encourages healthier and cleaner transport methods believes that despite the increase in cycling in London, more needs to be done across the UK to allow people who want to cycle to do so safely. London director German Dector-Vega said: “If the UK is going to compete as a global city then we need to focus on people’s safety and wellbeing, create spaces where people want to be, as well as lowering traffic speeds and creating more dedicated space for cyclists on our roads.”

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