THE RELIANCE on motorised forms of transport means most people in England could not get to work without it - with those in Yorkshire’s former mining towns and rural areas among those most vulnerable, according to new research.
Just 44 per cent of workers would be able to commute by either walking or cycling in the event of a fuel shortage, a study by Dr Ian Philips of the University of Leeds found.
The figure varies significantly depending on location, with some areas of South Yorkshire among the least resilient in the country and at high risk of social exclusion.
Low capacity of walking and cycling to work combined with high levels of deprivation made 27 former Yorkshire mining areas, including clusters around Barnsley and Doncaster, “particularly vulnerable” in the event of a fuel shortage, Dr Philips said.
The study, which analysed statistics from the Census and other sources to map how resilient areas were, found that in the Pennine districts between Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester, for example Calderdale, both the hilliness and commuting distance were linked to low capacity to get to work by walking and cycling.
Sheffield fared particularly badly, with fitness having a stronger negative effect than distance on whether someone might commute by foot or bike.
Dr Philips, who will present his findings to the Royal Geographical Society’s conference today, said his research could be used by campaigners fighting for more funding for sustainable transport measures, in particular cycling, in targeted areas across the region.
He said: “This is a piece of a bigger jigsaw to make a better, sustainable transport system. Things like making people healthier, making it safer for kids to ride their bikes to school, are no-brainers.
“Here we have the evidence to target small areas in order to help people, rather than looking at mega schemes.”
Campaign group Cycle Sheffield said just 2 per cent of people in the city currently cycle to work.
Chairman Matt Turner said more needed to be done to make it easier for those who could to commute by bike.
He said: “Cities are the easiest place to get people cycling, especially in Sheffield, where the city centre is within 8km of the surrounding area. When we ask people who they don’t cycle, it’s not that the journey is too far, it’s because they are scared of traffic. That’s why there is such a huge gap between the 2 per cent who do cycle to work and the 44 per cent who could.
“The responsibility lies with the local authority, who need to invest in providing protected spaces on main roads, lower speed limits and reduce the amount of through traffic on residential roads.”
Last year national cycling charity CTC found that both Leeds and Sheffield were lagging behind other core cities in their appetite to become cycling cities.
Campaigns coordinator Sam Jones said the research highlighted the need for provision and encouragement that is “simply is not there at the moment.”
He said: “Despite assurances from central Government that active travel is a priority, when the Local Sustainable Transport Fund dries up in April 2016, unless you live in London or one of the eight cycling cities, the funding will dry up from its already pitiful level.”
The CityConnect scheme, ran by the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and both Leeds and Bradford councils, has received £38m in Government funding for a variety of cycling improvements, including the 23km cycle superhighway between Bradford and East Leeds.
CityConnect communications manager Ginny Leonard said it is also looking at improving accessibility within neighbourhoods, so that all residents were within a 20 minute walk or cycle of crucial services.
She said: “We know in West Yorkshire we have a really low base to go from, but hope that the provisions we are putting in place provide a foundation to build on.”