Saturday, 14 April 2018


The UK needs to have a grown up conversation about traffic congestion and the issues which stem from it.

Coming home from work on Thursday, the dual carriageway was its usual evening crawl;

It is often like this, but it was especially bad because of an emergency (partial) closure for road repairs at a large junction. Given that the schools were on holiday as well, it was especially noticeable.

OK, this was an unplanned event and so it was bound to cause problems, but just think about the daily "drive time" traffic news, or the twitter feeds of transport authorities and this is actually routine. There is no resilience left on our urban highways and as such, they are extremely sensitive to disruption.

The problem is, however, that (the royal) we has no plan to deal with the problems. At the national level (and I include the devolved administrations) we are hopelessly locked into the predict and provide cycle of adding lane miles to interurban roads and motorways, then wondering why they have filled up and then perhaps more seriously, we get surprised when the crunch hits our towns and cities!

We've made it easy to drive between and around towns for so long we have now got to the point where they cannot absorb the daily influx with any efficiency. We know that the roads are quieter in the school holidays and I wonder why people can't make the link. Where secondary roads and residential streets remain easy to use for through traffic, then they have also been subsumed into the daily peak. This perfect storm makes it very hard for people to imagine change and it also makes it hard to make change because the implication is that we have to reduce motor-traffic in the widest sense.

Although we have some encouraging noises from some regional governments, there is an almost total absence of debate about congestion. Local press and radio witter on about roadworks disrupting drivers, they talk about drivers being caught out by bus lanes and speed cameras and they whine about the cost of the latest scrap of walking or cycling infrastructure. We never get the voices asking why we have got to this point and more importantly, how we deal with it.

We could increase urban road capacity by adding lanes, but only if we are prepared to knock down buildings and give further space to tarmac. We need to confront the congestion problem and until we do, every intervention which goes against it will require disproportionate amounts of energy to deal with.


  1. Do you have any data on the road volumes comparing school holidays to non-holiday periods? That data is considered economically valuable/secret in our country and almost impossible to access. Is it just a slightly reduced number of users showing how far we are into collapse of throughput? Or are there really significantly less vehicles on the road during those times?

    1. Surprisingly, even a non-UK citizen can access it.

      The data is there. You just need to analyze it. But that's already the daily job of planners. And it's not working.

      Perhaps a change in thinking is needed instead.

      Greetings from the 3rd world.

  2. Congestion is a natural consequence of high demand for travel and relatively low cost. The amount of congestion is determined by people's tolerance which depends on the availability and quality of alternative means of transport.

  3. Suggest that you knock down a row of houses to add an extra lane to a road and people will consider it. Suggest you do the same to add footpaths and cycling infrastructure and people will laugh at you.