Figure 1: Data derived from a selection in “2011 Census: Method of travel to work, local authorities in England and Wales” http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/census/2011-census/key-statistics-and-quick-statistics-for-wards-and-output-areas-in-england-and-wales/rft-qs701ew.xls (Office for National Statistics 2013)
In recent conversations with a pedestrian or two I have heard it said that hoping for more bicycles and less cars is unrealistic.
In some ways this blunt appraisal is sane and reasonable. There are so many physical barriers and such deep commitments to the motor car that significant positive change looks very unlikely. It’s also quite clear that many hopeful developments from the recent past are already falling into disrepair and disfavour.
I don’t always see things so pessimistically. Someone recently pointed me towards some Census data that seemed to show things in a more positive direction. From it I extracted the graph in Figure 1. Look specifically at the central region of the graph. Focus for a moment on the “Driving a car or van” cluster. A brownish line represents the 32.6% of Bristolian workers who drive to work. That’s a shade less than 1 in 3. To put that another way most Bristolian DON’T drive to work.
Look at the same thing for South Gloucestershire (49.5% by car or van) and North Somerset (46%). The people who live there are to a large degree and in various ways a part of Bristol. For Bristol to be so congested (given that most people in Bristol don’t drive to work) the people of South Gloucestershire and North Somerset must be part of the pressure on Bristol’s congested roads every day. To separate funding and planning for a single economic unit into three (never mind four or five) authorities is to harm all the parts.
That political question is one that the new Bristol Mayor might be able to address but my main drift is that the variety of transport profiles in such a small and interdependent area suggests that people adapt, that change does happen and that these things are not simply unavoidable or unchangeable. If things can be pulled apart, it should be possible to push them back together.
Bristol, having got to nearly one in four people walking or cycling to work should see no great difficulty in shifting it to one in three. With fewer cars on the road, and none parked along the major routes like Gloucester Road, buses would be able to run on time and at lower cost and even more cars could be kept at home. Second cars would become less “essential”. People from Somerset and Gloucester could start to use the improved buses and trains. Some already cycle in , and more could join them.
On balance, I’m much more optimistic than I thought. Lewis figures for cycling right now, combined with other observable realities, suggest to me that if Bristol City Council and its Mayor got to work on realistic targets, 2021 could look very different to 2011. There is, for example real progress on local rail and serious talk of Quick Win changes that could establish a stronger base for a coherent cycling network that didn’t just cause grief for the pedestrians we started with.