The north deserves the same investment as London
The Department for Transport (DfT) has released averages of daily road use over 22,700 stretches of road across the country, counting cars and bicycles, motorbikes and mopeds, vans and lorries.
While the broad conclusions shouldn’t surprise anyone – motorways are busy, country roads in the Highlands aren’t – there are some interesting findings hidden in the spreadsheet. What’s more, we can look at where each of these places is using the handy co-ordinates supplied with the data.
Generally, higher population densities means more road users. Image: DfT.
Britain’s bike havens
There are only seven places in Britain where bicycles make up most of the road traffic. But where they do, they tend to outnumber it significantly. The crown goes to Lovell Street, a small street in York, which is pictured above. Probably thanks to its path to the quite lovely Rowntree Park in the south of the city, it sees 96 bikes a day pass through, but just 13 other vehicles.
Further down the list is Cable Street in the East End, best known for a 1936 incident in which Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists were robustly challenged in the marketplace of ideas. Cycle Superhighway 3 runs along the street, which is probably a better explanation than an obscure fascist ritual.
With no shade to the residents of Fairacres Road in Oxford, it’s a street of modest interwar semis with unkempt hedges and a bicycle in every other front garden. It’s located between a bike shop, a set of allotments and sits adjacent to the local convent – you get the feeling Jeremy Corbyn would feel right at home there. It’s not top of the list, but while the other roads tend to attract bikes through pragmatism, this feels more than any other like the stereotype we’d expect.
Death on two wheels
The line between A roads and motorways can be a blurry one, particularly when it comes to the routes into and out of major cities. The A2 from London to Dover, for example, is busier than many strips of motorway outside the capital (and about to jam up completely once we crash out of the EU without a deal).
One key distinction is for cyclists, however – it’s illegal to ride a bicycle on a motorway, but not on most A roads.
Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should, and most cyclists wisely avoid that cascade of cars and lorries heading into Central London – but the data shows that every day, one person insists on making their commute on the A406 from Ilford to Walthamstow by bike, alongside 123,000 other vehicles sharing the 21st busiest strip of road in the UK. If you’re reading this article (and if you’re that into bikes, there’s a good chance) please stop. We’re all very concerned.
The road in question. Image: Google.
Londoners love motorbikes (and Scots don’t)
The street with the most motorbike and scooter traffic is Arlington Way in Islington, also one of the places with the most pedal bike traffic: 21 per cent of motorised vehicles travelling down this otherwise unremarkable street behind the Sadler’s Wells Theatre are two-wheeled, which is high, but not that unusual for the capital.
Of the 100 roads with the highest motorbike and scooter use in Britain, 93 are in London, although Wordsworth Avenue in Hartlepool and a stretch of the B6277 in rural County Durham get a confusing shout out. London’s high density, short journeys and thriving courier and food delivery industries account for most of their prevalence, combined with the heavy traffic and high running costs of cars which are more easily avoided with a bike.
High density, easily negotiable geography and dietary variety are the opposite of much of Scotland, so it’s somewhat understandable that 55 of the 100 roads with least motorbikes are located there. The climate won’t help, with wet conditions and winding roads not being conducive to safe riding.
A stretch of the North Coast 500. Image: Google.
But there is one exception – the North Coast 500, a tourist route devised in 2014, is a popular route with bikers, tracing the furthest extremes of the Highlands for 500 miles between Inverness and Ullapool. As a result, the A838, which covers most of the western half of the route, sees roughly 15 per cent of its traffic from motorcyclists.
The busiest counties
The DfT helpfully breaks down its figures by local authority area, allowing us to chart the 209 local areas where daily traffic is heaviest and lightest.
Generally, this tracks closely to population – roads are empty on Orkney and busy in Central London – but it also correlates well with an authority’s propensity for commuting and whether it contains a motorway. Birmingham only comes in middle of the pack in the West Midlands, where the busiest roads are found in Solihull, Warwickshire, Sandwell and Walsall. Leeds comes top in Yorkshire and the Humber, but Sheffield and York are beaten by Wakefield and Rotherham.
Residents of the Scilly Isles see the least activity, with an average of 922 vehicles per day passing through any given road. Since the largest island, St. Mary’s, can be crossed on foot in under an hour, it doesn’t seem like the sort of place that would support a daily commute. On the other hand Slough, containing the M4, a chunk of the M25, and a significant slice of commuter belt, tops the list by playing host to an average of 38,000 vehicles per road, per day.