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Topic: Traffic has been increasing at an unsustainable rate

The stats show how car traffic has spilled over onto side roads
11 Sep 2020 23:11 #5545

Basil Clarke Basil Clarke's Avatar Topic Author

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Here's an informative graph that I found on Twitter, uploaded by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Cycling, but ultimately it draws on official government data. (The original red/green colour coding was reversed by another Twitter user and I've used their version, which more rationally uses red for more traffic and green for less.)

It shows how in cities the brunt of the growth in urban traffic over the past 25 years has been borne by non-A roads. The number of vehicles using urban A roads was almost unchanged, but the number of vehicles using non-A roads grew by 36 per cent. (They use the term "minor roads", but they presumably include B roads.)

By far the biggest increase of vehicles using non-A roads was vans - no doubt a reflection of the huge growth in home deliveries. But cars and taxis also increased significantly, by 29 per cent, while the number of cars and taxis using urban A roads actually fell over the quarter century period. (Contrast this with the big increase in cars using the rural A road network, which has had a big increase in capacity over the period, while urban A road expansion has been constrained by the fact that they are surrounded by houses and other buildings.)

So what I see is car drivers, having pretty much filled up main roads in cities to capacity, using other roads to make up for the shortfall in main road capacity and in the process spreading the problems associated with cars - noise, danger, air pollution - to what would once have been relatively unscathed areas between the main roads.

It reflects a failure by governments and town planners to see that we couldn't go on forever squeezing more (and bigger) cars onto our cities without increasing main road capacity - which couldn't be done without widespread demolition, in the process destroying some of the areas that people are trying to get to in their cars. The demolition and main road capacity increase was at one time actually planned - vast swathes of London, including Covent Garden, would have been demolished to build urban motorways throughout central London, but fortunately these plans were abandoned in the 1970s. Having taken that decision, central and local government unfortunately failed to take steps to prevent the unexpanded road system from being overwhelmed. Attempts were made, in particular Fares Fair in the 1980s, but Bromley Council took the GLC to court and won, with the result that traffic levels increased and there were big cut-backs in tube and bus services.

It also reflects a failure by drivers to see that the network is already full and that they are adding to the problems by driving more and by buying bigger cars. We see the same behaviour as people expect to park ever more cars in the street outside their houses. You can't get a quart into a pint pot.

When you have cases of people who are constantly buying new things, to the point that their houses are completely cluttered up with nowhere to walk, we identify those people as having some sort of psychological problem. Why can't they see that they haven't got room in their house for anything more? Why can't people see that London doesn't have the road capacity for the amount of driving that goes on already, yet they go an buy new cars that are twice as long as the old car and jam the roads up twice as much? (The explanation is something known as the Tragedy of the Commons . which can really only be tackled through action by local authorities or the government.)
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The stats show how car traffic has spilled over onto side roads
20 Sep 2020 00:48 #5570

Basil Clarke Basil Clarke's Avatar Topic Author

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Here's more evidence that people living on residential side streets are not imagining a big increase in traffic along their streets. I found this chart on Twitter, by the look of it derived from roadtraffic.dft.gov.uk .

The chart I uploaded previously was for the whole country - so the urban roads that it referred was for all cities. This one is just for London.

It shows traffic on A roads and B roads in London actually decreasing slightly. But on C roads and unclassified roads there has been a big increase - it looks in the order of 80 per cent, almost all of it in the last ten years, pretty much coinciding with the rise of satnav and more recently Waze and similar apps. So, as I surmised before, having filled main roads pretty much to capacity (and there is little or no possibility of increasing the capacity of London's main roads), drivers have increasingly taken to driving along side streets.

As @GeorgeWeeks2014 has pointed out on Twitter, "Traffic is not like a liquid. Liquids have a fixed volume - this is how hydraulics work. Traffic is like a gas. It expands to fill the space available. Street network design needs to reflect this. Low Traffic Neighbourhoods are key."

Traffic is "like a gas" because the number of cars driving along our streets isn't decided by the laws of nature, it's the result of hundreds of thousands of people deciding to drive or not to drive. Many people have no choice for various reasons - particularly outside of cities, but in London there are a large number of people who choose to drive when they have alternatives, especially for short trips.

Unless something is done to stop traffic filling every square centimetre of road in London, it will just keep expanding and journeys will get slower and slower. There simply isn't enough space for more cars in London, especially given the sheer size of so many new cars. So we have to make it possible to use other means of getting around safely and pleasantly - which means getting cars out of side streets so that people can walk and cycle in tolerable conditions, putting in 24/7 bus lanes where needed, and cycle lanes along all main roads.
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Traffic has been increasing at an unsustainable rate
12 Oct 2020 22:53 #5638

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For those interested in this kind of thing, the government has recently published national road traffic data and trends up to 2019. It’s at: www.gov.uk/government/statistics/road-traffic-estimates-in-great-britain-2019

There’s a lot of detail but some key trends are:

From 2002, despite a broadly linear increase in population and a greater but more wobbly increase in the numbers of cars owned:

• Car traffic remained roughly level until 2009-10, when it increased and then accelerated in 2012 (13.3% increase since 2012), outstripping both population and car stock. In other words, miles per car increased from 2012, having been slowly declining since 2002. The reasons are complex, but fuel duty and the cost of driving has remained static or decreased while other costs have gone up.

• Car traffic on (national) urban minor roads has increased by 25.6% since 2009. Van traffic has increased by a greater percentage, but since cars account for over 80% of urban minor road traffic, they also account for the majority of increase in overall traffic.

Getting closer to home, you can get graphs by region and local authority by following the links from here:
roadtraffic.dft.gov.uk/#6/55.254/-26.312/basemap-regions-countpoints

For London, traffic remained roughly static or declined from 1993 until 2009 but, since then:

• The overall increase in car and taxi traffic was 17.5%, most of this being driven by the outer boroughs (the congestion charge came in in 2003)

• In particular, Enfield’s overall traffic has increased by 26.9% in the same period

• Much of this has taken place on urban minor roads – 72% for London over the same period, and for the same reasons, this is likely to have taken place mainly in the outer boroughs

A continuing increase along these lines is not sustainable. Governments and major parties of all hues have come to the same conclusion. In addition, the switch to electric vehicles will leave a big hole in the treasury’s finances from the lack of fuel duty and some form of road pricing is inevitable, whether it be the “Road Miles” idea from the AA (an annual mileage allowance that you can increase or decrease by purchasing or selling) or something else. All new cars registered in the UK from 2022 are likely to be required to be fitted with GPS devices. This is partly to tell the car’s computer what the speed limit should be and thus limit speed, but they could also be used to track vehicle miles.

In other words, over the next few years, there will be an increasing density of informal and formal (regulatory and financial) inducements to drive less. We are still in the early part of this process, the Congestion Charge and ULEZ being earlier examples, and the Fox Lane LTN is another small step, among many.

Under those circumstances, the majority of us who could reduce our car use (we were doing it until 2009) need to consider how we can do it now. In doing so, we would also free up space for those with vulnerability or disability issues who have less choice in the matter.

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