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A Transport Select Committee member has suggested that “loss of tarmac” for cycle lanes could be a major cause of London’s congestion problems. Rob Flello, Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent South, was speaking to announce the launch of a government inquiry into urban congestion yesterday.

“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,” he said.

“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 7.8mph 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.”

Tarmac has not been lost, Rob – it has been repurposed for a form of transport which uses space more efficiently.

You could argue that Flello is just asking the question and hasn’t yet reached any conclusions. However, his comments seem to make it clear that he sees motorists and cyclists as separate groups who are somehow pitted against each other.

“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.”

Car traffic and overall traffic

Most of us recognise that any given journey can potentially be made by an alternate form of transport. Oddly, Flello goes on to indicate that he is almost certainly capable of the thought process necessary to recognise that.

Referring to possible causes of congestion, he draws a connection between the increases in van and Uber traffic and the drop in car journeys.

“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.”

In much the same way, car journeys can become cycle journeys. So, to repeat ourselves, tarmac has not been lost – it has been reallocated to a more efficient form of transport.

As what was then CTC (now Cycling UK) said in 2011: “It is the most efficient way to use a single carriageway lane – 14,000 cycles per hour can pass compared with just 2,000 cars.”

That CTC quote is taken from written evidence supplied to Out of the jam: reducing congestion on our roads – a government inquiry into congestion.

That report might be something worth taking a look at, Rob.

London traffic on the rise

Flello – who concludes by saying, "traffic down but congestion up, we need answers” – would also do well to read the rest of the INRIX report.

The organisation’s Chief Economist, Graham Cookson, points out that London traffic has grown considerably over the past four years, even if car traffic has been in decline.

As cycling campaigner Mark Treasure tweeted:

Cookson says that while the £15 billion Crossrail programme and Transport for London’s £4 billion Road Modernisation Plan have been responsible for an increase in roadworks, they are long-term improvement projects.

In a blog on the INRIX website, he concluded: “Taken together INRIX predicts that these improvements will ultimately reduce congestion by 20%, whilst completing the projects will obviously stop the temporary congestion caused by their construction.

“In summary, it’s short term pain for long term gain. A key aim of the improvements is to make London’s roads safer and to reduce road traffic accidents by 40%. This would also have a substantial impact on congestion as up to 30% of congestion is caused by accidents.”

Alex has written for more cricket publications than the rest of the road.cc team combined. Despite the apparent evidence of this picture, he doesn't especially like cake.