Traffic down, congestion up; what’s going wrong with urban roads?

“In recent years, road users have been driving fewer miles yet their journeys are taking longer thanks to shocking congestion.  I want to know why.”

Those are the words of Stoke-on-Trent South MP and Transport Select Committee member, Rob Flello, who hopes a new investigation into urban congestion could shed some light on how to make our roads flow more freely.  The committee begins an inquiry today (Monday 9thJanuary) by hearing evidence from a number of learned experts in the field, and Rob hopes what they say could help solve the mystery which has dogged roads management for the past thirty years.

Rob says, “There’s clear data from successive reports of the National Travel Survey to show that car mileage per adult has fallen significantly over the past twenty years and is actually 10% lower than it was in the mid-2000s.  In spite of that, average traffic speeds in many towns and cities are actually falling.  Transport for London admitted recently that the stately progress of traffic in the centre of the capital dropped to a horrifying 7.8 mph last autumn.  My fear is that a lot of it might be because of an increase in the impact of roadworks and the loss of tarmac for vehicles from the introduction of cycle lanes.”

The LV insurance company estimated last year that British drivers spend more than a day a year (28 hours) stuck in their vehicles thanks to roadworks with the obvious knock-on effects not just of frustration but loss of productivity.  

Rob says, “Obviously nobody digs up the roads for fun and it’s too easy to get annoyed with the people doing the work.  What I’m hoping to hear is that there are better ways of managing repairs and upgrades than we’re currently using.  The roads are going to stay crowded and we need to find ways of sharing them more effectively.  The same thing is true of cycling.  Of course it’s a good thing to get people onto bikes in terms of health and environment.  Currently there’s a row going on between bike users who say they’re making things better, and road groups who believe cycle paths are crowding other vehicles out.  I want to know if anyone’s done any credible research on the subject so we can get to the truth rather than constantly slinging mud.  It’s in everyone’s interests to know what’s really happening.”

He continues, “Some of the best placed authorities seem to be casting around far and wide for phenomena to blame for the growing congestion.  The motoring connectivity company, Inrix, looks towards Amazon deliveries from vans (7.7% up from 2012) and roadworks (up 362% in the same period) as being significant factors, while others have cited the proliferation of Uber drivers.  What I don’t get is that if people were buying books or going out for a drink, wouldn’t they be going by car to do these things anyway?  I don’t see how Uber or Amazon can actually be creating more traffic than there otherwise would have been.”

One of the few groups less likely to come in for blame is private drivers, the number of whom entering the city during the morning rush hour has dropped by half this century.  Today only one in twenty people go to work in London in their own cars.

"Traffic down but congestion up, we need answers”, Rob urged.