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June 21, 2024

London Leads the UK in Safe and Connected Places to Bike, but England Still Lags Behind Europe

By: PeopleForBikes Staff

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The latest City Ratings, PeopleForBikes' annual program ranking global cities and towns on how good they are for biking, shows that while London continues to lead the way in England, the country as a whole continues to lag seriously behind its European counterparts. This new data may concern local cyclists and transportation advocates four years after the launch of Gear Change, the outgoing government’s flagship approach to bicycling.

Gear Change set out an ambitious target of having 50% of trips in towns and cities taken by foot or bike by 2030, yet this year's results show how little provision there continues to be for safe riding.

This year, the data for England includes London, Greater Manchester, the West Midlands, Yorkshire, Surrey, Cheshire, Oxford, Cambridge, and more. City Ratings scores and rankings measure the quality and connectivity of a city’s bike network, which includes protected bike lanes, bike paths, low-speed limits, and safe crossings.


London Leads the Way 

This year, 83 locations were rated in the UK, up from 53 last year. As with last year, London leads the way in England, with 16 of the 20 highest rated Boroughs being in the capital. The highest rated location, however, is Cambridge (84 out of 100). This is closely followed by Hackney and Islington, (both 82). These areas tend to have fewer ‘’high-stress’’ roads, that fracture the overall bike network, and feature low speed limits (20 mph). 

When looking at averages, London has a rating of 69, followed by Greater Manchester at 49 and the West Midlands at 46. The aim of this data is to spotlight the best cities and towns for bicycling, as well as provide city leaders and local advocates with actionable insights to make bicycling better in their communities. This comes at a time when political parties will be making commitments on transport and laying out their vision for active travel.

According to this year's results, the worst three boroughs in London are Bromley (52), Harrow (51), and Barnet (50). The disparity in provision within London shows the scale of the challenge more widely. 

England Continues to Lag Behind European Countries 

When looking at the ratings for European locations, four countries fill the top ten cities. Unsurprisingly, the Netherlands has five cities in the top ten: The Hague (89), Utrecht (86), Almere (85), Eindhoven (85), and Amsterdam (85). France and Belgium each have two cities in the top ten, with Germany having one. Paris comes in second place, just behind The Hague with a rating of 87. This is testament to the bold and drastic action that Mayor Anne Hidalgo has taken since first being elected in 2014. 

When compared to international cities, three London boroughs are ranked among the top 20 overall. Hackney in 13th (82), Islington in 15th (82), and Southwark in 19th (80). This high performance from London boroughs shows what can be done when there is clear funding and political commitment to more bike infrastructure. Mayor Sadiq Khan was recently re-elected on a strong mandate for a third term, having introduced an Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) and pledged to continue increasing bike infrastructure. 

West Midlands and Greater Manchester 

The West Midlands and Greater Manchester have seen considerable commitments to cycling in recent years. In Greater Manchester, Mayor Andy Burnham initiated the Bee Network, an integrated approach to transport which includes cycling. However, he has faced some criticism for rejecting a Clean Air Zone, which could have positively impacted the level of traffic on roads. The lack of safe bike infrastructure and progress is reflected in the lower average rating for Greater Manchester, lagging behind London with an average score of 49. 

The West Midlands, which includes the city of Birmingham, will be keen to lay its claim as the UK’s second city but lags behind Manchester in the 2024 ratings. The area has seen huge investment and strong delivery progress under the leadership of outgoing Mayor Andy Street — with local advocates highlighting the need for equal ambition from new Labour Mayor Richard Parker.

With England currently in the middle of a General Election, advocates and local authorities will look to any incoming government for clarity on its approach to active travel. PeopleForBikes hopes that this campaign will give activists and key stakeholders the data to make the case for safer bike infrastructure and its many benefits. 

"The data for England clearly shows not only a divide between London and other cities but between England and other European countries. We’re hopeful that the data surfaces valuable lessons for local authorities, advocates, and everyone who wants to see more and better bike infrastructure," said PeopleForBikes President and CEO Jenn Dice. "Cambridge's top ranking and the strong performance of several London boroughs demonstrate what is possible with committed leadership and investment in safe and accessible biking. Through City Ratings, we want to celebrate these successes and provide actionable steps for city leaders and advocates to improve bike infrastructure in their communities. As political parties outline their visions for transportation and recreation, they must prioritize active transportation to create healthier, more sustainable cities."

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Bike NetworksCity Riding
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