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Where do people cycle to work? Popular cycle commuter routes visualised

Research funded by the Department for Transport illustrates where the most popular commuter routes for cycling are around the country.

CDRC researcher Robin Lovelace is part of the team developing the Propensity to Cycle Tool (PCT), an open source transport planning system developed by academics at the Universities of Leeds, Cambridge, Westminster and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Maps produced by the PCT are shown below for Leeds, London and Cambridge to demonstrate where the most popular routes are from the 2011 Census. Only the top 10 most cycled ‘desire lines’ are shown, in the maps below.  The tool also provides evidence on where there is most potential for growth (not shown).

The PCT aims to assist the decision of where to build new cycle infrastructure such two way cycle paths in place of a lane for motorised traffic, as is happening in parts of London.  This should make cycle commuting a more attractive option nationwide, building on research into scenarios of growth in cycling at the city level.

cycling commute

The maps below, generated by an early prototype version of the PCT, show popular cycling routes in Leeds, London and Cambridge to provide a taster of the types of route that are favoured by commuter cyclists.

The types of routes cycle commuters use vary from city to city and in the future the geographical distribution of cycling to work could shift as cycling grows as a form of transport.

The thickness of the line represents which desire lines were most cycled in 2011 and the shade of the zones represent how much cycling there is in each zone: the more yellow the zone, the more people living in that zone cycle to work.


Leeds is a ‘mono-centric’ city, meaning that the most cycled routes head to the city centre. Otley Road is one of the most cycled routes in the city as illustrated by the thick line from Far Headingly in the northwest to city centre and the University of Leeds. Interestingly the most popular commuter routes in 2011 were all from the North of the city centre, raising the question: what are the barriers to cycling in South Leeds?

Leeds cycling



Unsurprisingly in London all the most popular routes head to the City of London. Surprisingly, some of the most popular commutes are more than 5 km in Euclidean distance (or ‘as the crow flies’) with 95 people saying they commute the 8 km from Clapham Junction to the City of London in the 2011 Census.

London cycling



Cambridge is the city with the highest proportion of cycle commuters in the UK, with 18% cycling to work in the 2011 Census. In Cambridge, the commute from the North and East of the City Centre are the most popular:

cambridge cycling

Future versions of the PCT will increase the ‘geographical resolution’ of the tool (making the zones smaller), analyse which road sections should be prioritised for cycling and explore where there is high potential for other types of trip, such as cycling to school.  This is linked to wider research to better understand how to build more cycle friendly cities at the participating universities.