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Post-lockdown “traffic tsunami” warning due to 1 million extra cars on roads unless authorities act

New report analyses effect of people switching to cars – or to bikes and walking – for their commutes

A warning has been sounded over a looming “traffic tsunami” in towns and cities across England & Wales as lockdown eases if people with access to cars switch to them instead of using public transport for their journeys to work.

With non-essential retailers in England set to re-open next Monday, research from the Westminster University’s Active Travel Academy found that up to 1 million extra cars could be on the country’s streets in rush hour unless local authorities intervene.

The research, conducted as part of a two-year collaboration with climate change charity Possible, also found that as many as 2 million extra journeys could be undertaken by bike, scooter or on foot, so long as local authorities provided support.

The report, Congestion ahead: a faster route is now available – Post-lockdown mode shift scenarios for commuting in England and Wales found that the ‘Negative scenario’ – people switching from public transport to cars –  would be most pronounced in Outer London boroughs, as well as Birmingham and Leeds

The ‘Positive scenario’ – commuters choosing to cycle or walk instead of taking the bus or train – would be most noticeable in Inner London boroughs, as well as in Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield.

Making it safer for people to walk or cycle, including through changing road layouts, would not only help in social distancing, but could also prevent at least 500 premature deaths a year, solely through increased exercise, and would also avoid a potential spike in carbon emissions after lockdown.

> Time running out for councils on new 'pop-up' cycle lanes

Professor Rachel Aldred of the Active Travel Academy commented: “The report shows we are at a crossroads not just for transport but for how liveable our towns and cities are, especially for the most vulnerable.

“The worst case is a jump in car dependency, with people understandably desperate to avoid public transport choosing to drive wherever they can. And we have a chance to do things differently. The past months have been very difficult for many of us, but we’ve also seen roads so quiet that children can learn to ride on once clogged streets.

“If we create safe space for walking, cycling, play and exercise, we can have towns and cities that put people first, where active travel is a real choice for all ages. Or we could have a million more cars on the road, with all the stress, pollution, and injury that will bring.”

The report outlines steps that local authorities can take to avoid congestion and encourage active travel, including pop-up bike lanes on busy commuting routes as well as low-traffic neighbourhoods through closing rat runs while keeping access for local residents.

Max Wakefield, director of campaigns at Possible, said: “Everyone wants those who must travel for work – especially key workers – to be able to do so safely.

“But a million more cars on the road would achieve just the opposite, by poisoning our streets and speeding up climate change. This new research sends a clear message.

“If you need to travel then please stride or ride your journey to keep public transport safe, our streets healthy, and key workers moving.

“It’s up to councils and the government to make this as easy as possible by making roads safe.

“If we get this wrong we face a traffic tsunami with deadly effects. Get this right and we’ll unlock safer journeys, cleaner streets and real action on the climate crisis.”

Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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