Considerate Cycling 27: Bristol Compared

Percentages of those travelling to work by different means in Bristol compared with England’s other “core cites”, with London and with England as a whole (2011 Census)


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)

I have listed the data in this graph according to the share of those travelling to work each day by different means. A couple of relatively uncommon methods (like taxi and motorbike) have been left out to keep things simple. I am focussing on Bristol because I live there and I have ordered the graph according to the modes of transport in Bristol, a city that is one of the eight core cities in England. As relevant comparators I have also included details for London and for England as a whole.

To my eyes five things stand out.

1 By the methods used for the Census in England, Bristol stands out from its core city rivals as a place where people who live there walk to work. It’s a very compact city. Compared to Leeds or Sheffield, for example a brisk half hour’s walk from the commercial centre, in any direction, can get you pretty close to the city boundaries. Lots of residential areas lie within a mile and a half of the commercial centre.

2. Even with only one in twenty Bristol commuters using a bike, Bristol still makes the other core cities look pretty slack. Hackney might be pushing London’s share upwards, but overall, the Metropolis has a long way to go to catch up.

3. As an affluent sort of place, Bristol (despite its chaotic roads) has a lot of residents in their cars in the rush hours compared to the less affluent cities of the north. London (sensible London) is giving up on the car but there are Leeds, Sheffield and Bristol managing to sustain about one in three of their working residents getting into the driving seat each day. It’s interesting to note how few of them seem to give anyone a lift. Only 3% or so are getting driven to work in someone else’s car.

4. I left trams out (very low numbers in general) but Bristol does seem to have some scope to increase its share of workers getting the bus to work compared to other cities. Efforts are being made, but with so many cars on so very few good roads the buses will always struggle to provide the punctuality, fares or reliability that Newcastle or Nottingham seem to be achieving.

5. Bristol has a lot of railway history, a lot of local stations and clear, well-developed plans to improve and increase the opportunities for commuter rail journeys over the next few years. Many of these are (and would be) from places outside the Bristol boundaries (and therefore not visible in this graph of Bristol residents). Nevertheless, growth in rail journeys from anywhere would have useful consequences for competition on the existing road space within the city boundaries.

My conclusion from this quick look at current numbers is that Bristol is very well placed to make the most of trends in environmental and public health thinking and to markedly increase the benefits it already gets from a propensity to walk and cycle and to invest profitably in rail travel. Bus services (everyone moans about buses) would benefit from such developments, simply by reducing the overloading caused by so many cars. That overload shows itself in tailbacks and in prolific amounts of free car parking – even on narrow roads that serve as bus routes.

Can I also share my morning’s reading? It’s a big fat hint to local authorities (and especially Bristol) that for changes to happen resources might have to be moved from one (declining) activity into something more promising for the future. Dave Horton reflects on a bridge in his Thinking About Cycling blog.

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