How Are Londoners Moving Around?

I’ve been intrigued by how Londoners are moving around lately.

This includes:

  1. The growing number of people moving to London (thanks to the great analysis that Mike Moffatt has provided lately)
  2. Numerous discussions on Twitter about how misaligned our City’s stated priorities are from their budgetary initiatives (E.g. declaring a Climate Emergency but continuing to invest in road-widening)
  3. My educational background and work experience in sustainable transportation

On a useful tip from Jamie Skimming, the City of London’s Manager of Air Quality initiatives, I decided to look into the data that Google has gathered on London through its Environmental Insights Explorer Tool.

Here’s what I found when I compared London to other cities that also have data present in the tool.

Cycling

For all the hate that cycling seems to get in London, we stack up pretty nicely compared to other cities when it comes to cycling. As you’ll see, Montreal is a mobility powerhouse, leading the way in many per capita measures. Kelowna (in beautiful Okanagan Valley) and Toronto (huge city) make sense here.

The curious one is Saskatoon — this is a city that just tore up their bike lane last summer — yet ranked 4th on the list in trips/person. More on Saskatoon later.

I’m going to pass over S.S. Marie because the answers to why cycling is so popular are found in why other modes of transportation are not.

Enter London. Leading the 3rd quartile group at almost 11 trips/citizen/year, Londoners do a decent amount of cycling, yet this mode of transportation gets almost no love with regards to planning. London even outpaces Calgary in trips/person, despite Calgary investing huge amounts of money into cycling infrastructure. I suspect Calgary will pass London next year, despite being a far colder (albeit drier) place to live.

One final note: GTA suburbs have aggressively low levels of cycling. Who knew?

Bus

Montreal, the mobility powerhouse, leads in trips/person yet again, with Toronto coming in second. Edmonton, London, and Hamilton are clustered relatively close together in 3rd, 4th, and 5th, respectively.

Edmonton recently rolled out their LRT, so I imagine bus trips will remain steady or increase due to synergies present with multiple modes of transit in an integrated network (a rising tides lifts all busses — er — boats. Hamilton recently had their LRT plan nuked, so their bus numbers should continue to stay high as there is clearly demand for improved transit in the city.

London is curious. The city invests the lowest amount of money per capita of any medium-large sized city in Ontario, yet they have huge ridership numbers. The average trip distance is also on the lower end of the spectrum. Quite curious indeed. London does have a huge number of students relative to the size of the city (~50–60,000), all of whom are provided a bus pass.

Remember Saskatoon? Our cycling darlings are middle of the pack on bus ridership. Service levels must not be meeting demand.

One final note: like cycling, bus usage in the GTA is tragically low.

Walking

Montreal. Again. Look at all of those Habs fans getting their exercise! Toronto second yet again.

Kelowna ranking high once more in active mobility. Is it that magical Okanagan air? Calgary not far behind — all of those weekends in the Rockies are paying off.

London rounds out the top 5.

Final thoughts: people in the GTA really need to get active. Those walk trips are painfully low. You too, Windsor.

Driving (in-boundary)

This is interesting. Kelowna — cycling and walking powerhouse, also ranks very high in driving. But it’s likely because no desirable intermediate transit mode exists. Look at bus ridership: Kelowna ranks in the bottom half of ridership with highest average trip distance. That tells us that the people riding the bus in Kelowna are the people that can’t afford to drive and have no other option.

Saskatoon — also very high. High cycling scores, medium bus and walking scores, but what gives? Well — it’s really cold (lowest avg. January temp of any on the list at -13.9 degrees Celsius) and bus isn’t super frequent. Other than that I have no idea.

Sault St. Marie: High cycling, low walk, low bus. Cars need to fill that gap. Also: cold.

Kelowna and Sault St. Marie also have very low population density. Saskatoon ranks intermediate.

London ranks reasonably high because it’s a very large city with below average population density. Most of the bus ridership is skewed towards students taking shorter trips. Non-student heavy bus routes have had services cut recently with cuts to gas tax revenues.
So the gap is filled with cars.

Driving (outbound)

Here’s where things get interesting and where we start to see all of the GTA cities emerge as leaders (but for all the wrong reasons). The top 5 outbound trips/person/year totals are from the GTA. People live in these cities but leave them in their car to go to work. Look at the drop off from Mississauga to Kitchener. And from Kitchener to Kelowna.

Now what’s interesting is when we filter the data not by total trips, but by distance.

The data for London support the trend that more people are moving to London to commute. While London isn’t a commuter city judging by the frequency of trips to the tune of a Vaughan, those that do commute are taking longer trips (whether its to Woodstock to work at Toyota, to KW, or to the GTA to work). The GTA cities that ranked top 5 for trips are ranked in the bottom 5 for distance.

The Rail data is also telling here:

London doesn’t have that many rail commuters, but the average distance suggests that almost all of these commuters are traveling to Toronto.

So while London has historically been quite isolated from Toronto due to the distance between the two cities (~200km), it is quickly growing into a commuter city as more young families are driving down the 401 until they qualify for a mortgage.

Environmental Impact

As we can see, commuters (outbound + inbound trips) are the biggest contributors to CO2 emissions across all modes of transportation that Google tracks data for. Most of the in-boundary trips are stacked at the bottom of the emissions ranking.

What’s interesting is that London is the only city where its in-boundary drivers pollute almost as much as its commuters. Mississauga is the only city that ranks higher than London for in-boundary pollution, and this is likely due to the presence of jobs there. As one of the older suburbs of Toronto, more jobs are now present there. The other GTA cities for the most part remain bedroom communities.

But London, with its high usage frequency and relatively long average trip length, is a unique case. It’s the case of a city that needs to invest in transit and active transportation to mitigate its GHG contributions, because we are punching above our weight when it comes to contributions to climate change.

Director at Riiid Labs — an AI enablement company focused on better education for all.