Are Bike Lanes behind London's Congestion?

Cycling in the UK -

Are Bike Lanes behind London's Congestion?

Over the past year we have traced the encouraging progress made toward the 'Golden Age of Cycling', a promising concept where inner urban areas enter a post-car era, transforming into more bike-and-pedestrian friendly spaces.

With the steady rise in the number of cycle lanes, the movement has gained significant momentum over 2020-2021 thanks to the growth of the cycling industry and the reduction in traffic during the pandemic. However, their introduction has hardly been a smooth process, giving way to 'bike lash' - the angry reaction of motorists and residents to these newly-placed bike lanes. What had been a few isolated cases in late 2020 and early 2021 intensified over the summer, and continues in 2022 to be an obstacle to achieving the Government's stated goals for alternative mobility.

The latest flare-up comes after controversial new statistics were revealed by Inrix, the traffic information supplier, claiming that London in 2021 was the world's most congested city. Having only been ranked 16th in 2020, the study claimed drivers will lose an average of 148 hours stuck in jams, up 36 hours from 2020. It also suggested that across the UK as a whole, drivers will have wasted an average of 73 hours in traffic, the economic result of which will cost an average of £595 per person, and £8 billion to the UK overall.

Accounting for this climb up the leader board, the director of operations at Inrix, Peter Lees, pointed to the installation of cycle lanes as having a “negative impact on congestion" suggesting that the "use of roads is all about supply and demand…if the demand goes up but the road space is being shared with other forms of transport, there’s less tarmac effectively for the cars to be on, which then has an impact on the speeds on the road and therefore congestion.” 

Such a damning condemnation of cycle lanes has not been without its sceptics, especially from those within the cycling community. For example, the head of campaigns at Cycling UK, Duncan Dollimore, attested that it was extremely simplistic for Inrix to say that road use is all about supply and demand, without considering how efficiently that road space is used. Dollimore points towards the use of space on Blackfriars Bridge, where "cycle lanes take up 20 per cent of the road space but move 70 per cent of overall traffic across it at peak times, with cycle lanes across London moving more people more efficiently in less space." Dollimore refutes Inrix's focus "on the tarmac available for cars", stating the "the question should be how we use and allocate that space better, changing travel behaviours and reducing congestion in the process."

Likewise, Simon Munk, campaign manager at London Cycling Campaign, branded the analysis "pure speculation [and] a piece of spin", highlighting that cycle tracks are on less than one percent of London's roads, so "the idea that [they] are somehow causing chaos" was absurd.

Indeed, there is another serious structural problem with Inrix's study, being that it doesn’t include data on cities in Asia or Africa, so the claim that London is the world's most traffic-clogged city is practically meaningless. The real problem, however, is that this study has been published and the headline has been seen, and so will likely be continuously rolled out by opponents of cycle lanes.

If we can expect more of this, then the prospect of the 'Golden Age of Cycling' will only get dimmer and dimmer.

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