Out of the jam: reducing congestion on our roads - Transport Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 37-

Robin Heydon, Christopher Peck and Majeed Neky

29 March 2011

Q37 Chair: Good morning, gentlemen. Welcome to the Committee. Could you give us your name and your organisation, please? This is for our records. I will start at the end here.

Majeed Neky: I am Majeed Neky from Living Streets.

Christopher Peck: Chris Peck from CTC, the national cyclists' organisation.

Robin Heydon: Robin Heydon, Cambridge Cycling Campaign.

Q38 Chair: Thank you very much. Is congestion a problem for cyclists and pedestrians?

Majeed Neky: It very much is a problem for pedestrians, from our point of view. We relate this problem to the lack of an integrated transport strategy. We need to consider congestion reduction and traffic management as part of a broader picture of reducing motor traffic volumes, encouraging modal shifts to healthier and more active modes and, in the longer term, integrating transport and spatial planning more effectively together to create compact mixed use neighbourhoods that are easier to get around.

Q39 Chair: But is congestion a problem for cyclists and pedestrians?

Majeed Neky: Yes. It affects streets as places as well as corridors for movement—things like air pollution and the social effect.

Q40 Chair: Could you focus on whether congestion is a problem for cyclists and pedestrians and explain to me the nature of the problem?

Majeed Neky: Yes. The first point of the problem is that congestion affects streets as places as well as corridors for movement. That affects the pedestrian experience quite profoundly. The second problem is that pedestrians, in the real world, are traffic flow. Pedestrian flow is traffic flow; everyone is a pedestrian at some point. The concept of congestion and the concept of traffic management that we need to have needs to include things like—

Q41 Chair: I understand what you are saying; you are painting a picture, but I want you to focus on the question. Could you give me examples of circumstances in which congestion is a problem for cyclists and pedestrians, if indeed you think it is? What is the nature of the problem experienced?

Majeed Neky: Congestion is detrimental to the pedestrian experience. It puts people off walking. The congestion in pedestrian flows is a problem for pedestrians as well in things like lack of adequate crossing provision. That actually creates congestion for pedestrians as well.

Q42 Chair: Thank you. Mr Heydon, do you have any views on that? Is congestion a problem for cyclists and pedestrians?

Robin Heydon: Absolutely, congestion is a problem. We have significant cycle congestion in some locations in Cambridge. I am assuming by "traffic" you mean all traffic: pedestrians, cyclists and motorised vehicles.

For example, there are entrances to most of the commons and, because the commons have cattle on them, there are cattle grids, and most of those cattle grids are just one cattle grid wide. So there is a place for pedestrians and there is a place for cyclists. But, with the amount of cycling we have now in Cambridge, we have a significant problem of having two­way traffic going through, effectively, a single lane road. That is a significant cause. The other problem, of course, is that there are lots of big metal boxes on the road that restrict the movement of low carbon emitting vehicles.

Q43 Chair: Do cyclists cause the congestion? Mr Peck, do you have a view on that?

Christopher Peck: We would certainly argue they don't. Evidence from Holland suggests that you can carry 14,000 cycles per hour per lane, as opposed to 2,000 per hour per lane for a car. As we have already heard, the average loading of a car is between 1.2 and 1.6, depending on the time zone and the type of trip.

Additionally, Transport for London have done some recent research which suggested that the value of a bicycle was 0.2 of that of a car when they do their traffic modelling of roads in London. Certainly, it has a much lower impact on congestion than personalised motor vehicles. Of course, the other benefit of cyclists, which has been outlined in the previous session and was picked up by Transport for London, is that they can filter through traffic. Of course, they can be grouped in very large numbers at the front of traffic and there are advanced stop lines that are now used in many places. This keeps them out of the way of motor traffic, allows them to filter through it and doesn't cause a problem to other road users.

I would very much suggest that cyclists do not contribute to congestion. Indeed, they are a major solution to it. In places where congestion has got very bad, we noticed that cycling levels have increased. A lot of people have moved from car to bike as a means of reducing their own susceptibility to congestion and delays that are caused to their trips.

Q44 Chair: Does the Highway Code help people who don't drive, or is it just for drivers?

Christopher Peck: Part of the problem is that the Highway Code isn't adhered to very well. It certainly could be improved for vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists, and, indeed, horse riders. I think it is still very much tipped towards drivers. There is a lot of stuff in there about how cyclists and pedestrians should take extra care in certain circumstances.

Yes, it also reflects that drivers have to be aware of cyclists and pedestrians, but certain rules—such as Rule 170, which says that pedestrians have priority at side roads when they have started crossing—are very rarely observed by many drivers.

Certainly, with regard to Rule 163, which advocates that when overtaking a cyclist you give as much room as you give a car, I think our members would agree that that happens very rarely amongst the majority of drivers. Of course, there are a lot of drivers who do overtake correctly, but a significant minority do overtake far too closely, causing both a hazard and a discomfort to cyclists.

Robin Heydon: I would say that cycling here I signalled right, put my hand out and hit the white van that was overtaking me. The law or the recommendation, I believe, is that you should give as much space as a vehicle. I believe a vehicle is around 5½ feet to 6 feet wide and my arm is not that wide.

Q45 Iain Stewart: With the advent of "Boris bikes" and other similar schemes, we are hopefully going to see a significant increase in people using cycles as a means of transport—a lot of people who will not probably have been on a bike since childhood. Do you think there is a danger that a significant number of new cyclists will not have good road awareness of cycling in congested urban areas, and is there a need for a better education of cyclists on how to use bikes properly in urban areas?

Robin Heydon: Absolutely. I can't speak highly enough of, for example, Bikeability, which is aimed at schoolchildren. There are three different levels. I am sure you are well aware of that scheme. I am very happy that the Department for Transport is continuing funding that at least for the next four years.

My concern, though, coming back to your question, is, what about adults? There are, as you say, plenty of adults now taking up adult cycling. Yet, for example, Cambridge County Council have just announced that they are going to cancel all of their cycle training for adults. I can't see how, when the volume of cycling traffic in Cambridge and Cambridgeshire is increasing significantly, cancelling a training budget for adult cyclists, getting them confident on the road, is a good thing.

Christopher Peck: I would very much endorse that view. Child cycle training has been very, very effective. It is very highly regarded by children. Adult cycle training has also been very effective. As Robin points out, in certain areas they are cutting the funding for adult cycle training.

In London, there is a much more substantial budget for adult cycle training and it has been very well received. It is a key part of both the Barclays cycle hire scheme that you refer to, and the Cycle Superhighways scheme, which has been implemented by the Mayor. Both of those are supported by a lot of adult cycle training. They are going out to businesses and they are recommending cycle training to those users.

On your point about safety, there is a concern there, but I would suggest that, where we see very high increases in cycling and places where there is a lot of cycling, the risks to cyclists tend to be lower than in places where there is less cycling. For instance, in the Netherlands, the risk of cycling is twice as low as it is here. That is a contribution of infrastructure and so on.

In the UK, places like York and Cambridge have a much lower risk per cyclist of being injured than other places where cycling is much lower. We think that is partly because driver behaviour improves or drivers become more used to cyclists. They may not enjoy having cyclists coming at them at all crazy angles, but they have become better at anticipating cyclists. The evidence from the DfT is that the majority of all crashes between cyclists and drivers are deemed by the police to be the fault of the driver. So it is improving driver awareness as well as improving the training of cyclists on which we need to focus.

Q46 Chair: Mr Neky, do you want to add anything to that on cycle safety?

Majeed Neky: We would very much support the role of cycle training and encouraging responsible cycling that meets the interests of all road users, including pedestrians. We advocate a broad modal shift towards active travel. We recognise there is a minority of cyclists who engage in antisocial cycling behaviour, such as failing to stop at crossings, riding on pavements, etc. We advocate vigorous and renewed enforcement of that, but we also want to see it within the broader picture of conditions on the roads for cyclists and pedestrians.

Q47 Mr Harris: First of all, can I just point out that I am probably the only person around this table who has passed all three levels of my Bikeability? I have the badges somewhere; I am not quite sure where.

On the Highway Code, it seems that your criticism of it, Mr Peck and Mr Heydon, is that drivers don't obey it rather than the Code itself being a problem. If drivers aren't giving enough space when they are overtaking cyclists, that is the fault of the driver, isn't it, rather than the Code itself?

Robin Heydon: The question really is, is it the fault of the driver or is it the fault of the situation that the driver is in? What if the road is narrow? There are plenty of examples I can give in Cambridge. For example, at the end of Madingley Road, there is a beautiful cycleway segregated from the traffic, which goes right into a bottleneck which is one car and a little bit wide. The cycleway feeds into that bottleneck, basically putting the cyclist in the way of the cars. The question I would ask is this: is the infrastructure of the roads designed to help cyclists?

Q48 Mr Harris: That is not the question I am asking. Is the Highway Code a problem? Is it the way the Code is written? Is the agency that compiles the Code a problem? Or is it simply the fact that drivers don't read the Highway Code? I have to tell you I passed my driving test in 1982. I have not read the Highway Code since then, and I expect I am not all that unusual. But is the Code itself a problem or is it lack of adherence to its rules?

Robin Heydon: I would say that the Code itself starts from the premise of car drivers. For example, the first thing it says for cyclists is "Wear a helmet." Oh my God, it's so scary out there that you've got to put some piece of plastic on your head that does no good whatsoever.

Q49 Mr Harris: If you were to take a show of hands in this room, you would find that most people are drivers. Surely, it's a sensible notion to construct a Highway Code that caters primarily to those people who use a particular form of transport. Given that the vast majority of journeys are undertaken by drivers in their cars, isn't it sensible to assume that the Highway Code, therefore, will cater primarily to drivers and to car drivers?

Robin Heydon: Sir, I am going to disagree with that hypothesis that the majority of journeys are made by car. In Cambridge, in 2009, 49,956 cars crossed the River Cam every day; 50,822 bicycles and pedestrians crossed the River Cam. The cars are a minority.

Q50 Chair: Mr Heydon, isn't Cambridge a special case? Isn't Mr Harris's general point a good one?

Robin Heydon: No. Cambridge is what we should be aiming for.

Q51 Mr Harris: No, hold on a second. Whatever aspirations you have for Cambridge being the template for the rest of the country, the fact is Cambridge is not typical. I went, as a Minister, to all the cycling cities that Cycle England were funding. None of them was typical of your average town or city in this country. The vast majority of people drive. There are more two-car families in this country than there are families with no cars. All I am saying is would it not be surprising if the Highway Code were not to cater—let me put it that way—for drivers primarily rather than cyclists, for example, or horse riders?

Robin Heydon: I think it should be catering for both. If we are going to encourage a country where sustainability of transport is a goal, then you've got to encourage sustainable transport modes, and cycling is one of those sustainable transport modes.

Q52 Mr Harris: We are clearly coming to this point from different directions. Isn't the Highway Code a guide for road users to deal with the road as it is today in 2011? It is not some kind of aspirational document of what we want life to be like in the next century. It is about how to cope with the roads today.

Robin Heydon: Yes, I agree. But, as mentioned by Christopher Peck, there is a rule in the Highway Code that says, when a pedestrian is crossing a junction, they have priority over side traffic. Even in Cambridge not many car drivers abide by that.

Q53 Mr Harris: Can we conclude, then, that the Code itself is not the problem; it is the fact that drivers either don't read it or, if they do read it, they don't adhere to the rules? So it is not the Code itself; it is the users. Is that correct?

Christopher Peck: I think it depends on the rules. There are some rules which we are very happy with but there is a lack of adherence to them. There are other rules we feel could be improved. Obviously, there are aspects of the Code with which we agree.

Q54 Chair: But Mr Harris's point is that the Highway Code does relate to cyclists as well. Would you agree with that?

Christopher Peck: It does, but, backing up what Mr Heydon said, we feel that cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders are very much secondary in the Highway Code. Many local authorities adopt a hierarchy of road users which puts pedestrians and people with disabilities top and cyclists and other non­motorised users below.

Q55 Mr Harris: Can I address one other issue because I think the CTC evidence to the Committee suggested that there clearly is a problem with cyclists being intimidated and sometimes physically assaulted by car drivers or their passengers? What do you say to the argument we constantly hear—Mr Neky referred to this—that if, in central London for example, cyclists even occasionally stopped at red lights, that would help develop a more positive relationship between them and drivers, who have no option but to stop at red lights, otherwise they may lose their licence? You understand what I am saying. There is this resentment, and it is sometimes perhaps irrational, but how often does the CTC tell its members to adhere to red lights and not to go through red lights?

My understanding from way back is that cyclists will justify going through red lights, especially in a built-up area, because they have got a lorry at their back. That is not true because, if you go into central London, the vast majority of cyclists that go through red lights are not being pursued by a lorry. What advice do you give to your members?

Chair: Cyclists and red lights—who is going to give us the answer?

Christopher Peck: I don't think very many of our members are really the problem here. The Cyclists Touring Club are very much the AA of the cycling organisations.

Mr Harris: I am sure.

Christopher Peck: But what I would say is I do think that, as you said, this is perhaps an irrational thought that is going through people's mind. It is a very obvious form of law- breaking, but there is a lot of law-breaking among all road users on the roads. 48% of cars are breaking the 30 mph speed limit, 2.5% of drivers—

Q56 Chair: Is there more or less law-breaking from cyclists compared with drivers?

Christopher Peck: To put it in perspective, in London, over a 10-year period we had evidence from Transport for London which said that about 4% of the pedestrians who were injured following a vehicle jumping a red light involved crashes with cyclists. Cyclists were 5% of surface trips in London. The rest of the injuries to pedestrians involved motor vehicles, of which about half of that were cars and the rest taxis and buses and so on. There were 47,932 fixed penalty notices for drivers jumping red lights in 2005. The only thing that stops them sending out more of these is simply the lack of staff to send out the fixed penalty notices.

Q57 Mr Harris: That is exactly the reason why cyclists don't get fixed penalties.

Christopher Peck: What we would like to see—

Chair: I think we are straying into difficult areas there. Mr Harris, do you want to pursue it further?

Mr Harris: I am fine, thanks.

Q58 Paul Maynard: Mr Neky, in your evidence from Living Streets, you talked about some of the examples of what were called naked streets. We are looking today at effective traffic management. Would you argue that perhaps the most effective traffic management is to have less management, reduced management, or perhaps even no management at all?

Majeed Neky: I think we need to be quite careful when we are considering this issue, when approaches like that are being yoked to things like removing pedestrian crossings, which I think needs to be considered very carefully in the interests of all road users. But I would say that taking an integrated approach to the management of traffic makes sense.

For example, on Kensington High Street, the traffic was slowed down, there were more informal crossing spaces and there was therefore less need to segregate different road users such as pedestrians and motor vehicles. It is easier for people to cross the road ad hoc rather than having to wait for ages with congestion building up, and there has been a 47% reduction in pedestrian casualties as a result. I certainly think that, while it needs to be appropriate for the needs of that place and the users of that area need to be consulted, it can certainly have a part to play.

Q59 Paul Maynard: Do you feel that motorists improve their driving habits in such an environment more than cyclists improve their cycling habits in an identical environment?

Majeed Neky: Evidence from the British perspective is of quite short standing and there will need to be quite a lot more research on this. But I think that a cultural change needs to happen over a number of years, and part of that is going to be needing to try out more of these schemes and evaluate them properly.

Q60 Paul Maynard: Where it has been tried in Blackpool, the problem we have found is that, while motorists improve their behaviour, cyclists see it as a green light to over-exceed the normal rules of the road that they might otherwise have adhered to. That causes particular concern for the more vulnerable pedestrians, who may have a visual or other impairment. How do you think this perhaps well-meaning idea can be finessed to ensure more effective street management and better protection for vulnerable pedestrians?

Majeed Neky: In relation to the point about cyclists, as I have already said, Living Streets advocates more vigorous enforcement of that very small minority of cyclists who engage in antisocial cycling behaviour.

But the second point, more widely, is that we advocate that schemes like this or any redesign of streets should be done completely in conjunction with the whole range of road users in that area. If you do that properly, you get fewer controversies, as there have been in Kensington, because there is joint working from the start and you find places that people are happier to use across the board. That is what we advocate.

Q61 Paul Maynard: In Kensington, how have those with visual impairments been involved within the system, as it were? What have they done to help the blind?

Majeed Neky: As I understand it, they have reached an agreement in Kensington and Chelsea where there is a lot more involvement of visually impaired groups. I understand there was a lot of controversy over that as certain agreements made that an example of a noted shared space approach.

What Living Streets wants to stress is that it is a spectrum of approaches. There is no necessary reason why a level surface needs to be introduced straight away into every area. That is not what this is about. It is about looking at the broad spectrum of streets as corridors for movement but also places, and deciding on solutions that are appropriate to each place in consultation with the people using them.

Q62 Jim Dobbin: This is an interesting discussion. As a driver of 50 years—I suppose I am giving my age away there—I am becoming less and less confident on the road, especially driving in the City of London. I feel under threat at times, and it is basically from cyclists and motorcyclists because you don't know where they are coming from.

Don't you think that there is probably the need for some national campaign of understanding for road users? Don't you think it is time that that happened? It appears to me that we are all in competition for that road space at the present time and it is quite unsafe. The point has been made about the Highway Code. I see cyclists day after day going through red lights and breaking the Highway Code. All I am suggesting is that it may well be that all road users need to go through a process of minor education.

Christopher Peck: We would be very happy to see a campaign and associated enforcement of all road traffic law, because, as vulnerable road users, both cyclists and pedestrians have the most to gain from an improvement in road traffic behaviour and adherence to traffic law. I come back again to the 30 mph speed limits. 48% of cars are observed to be breaking them. It is all road users who are to blame here.

Cyclists can be obvious. The anarchic behaviour of cyclists upsets people, but, when it comes to red light jumping, I think there is a very interesting thing. There has been some research which looked at why cyclists jump red lights, and Mr Harris referred to some of it. Perhaps some cyclists excuse their behaviour—they are escaping danger or they are doing it in order to make progress without interfering with anyone else; whereas when drivers jump red lights they accelerate through the end of an amber phase, putting everyone at risk. They speed up to go through, and it doesn't look as bad.

Chair: Could I just remind you that our focus today is congestion and what causes congestion or might alleviate it?

Jim Dobbin: I just wanted to make the point that I feel I am a threatened driver. I have lost my confidence.

Majeed Neky: I think a road user environment where that kind of competition that you mention is encouraged is exactly what we need to change with better street management solutions. I would like to return for a second to the discussion on the Highway Code.

Chair: In relation to congestion.

Majeed Neky: If it is to be reviewed and improved, I think road traffic incidents would be reduced and the smooth flow of traffic would actually be encouraged if it was to state clearly, strongly and up front the rights and responsibilities of all road users and set that out clearly. I think that is a role it needs to play.

Q63 Chair: Is there any actual evidence that if more people walked or cycled, there would be less road congestion?

Robin Heydon: I can only speak from the context of Cambridge. Cambridge is a very congested city. There are many people who want to drive, but we have had a significant increase in the number of people travelling into Cambridge.

When we look at traffic, I think we have to decide whether we are just focusing on the people in the big metal boxes moving at 14 mph average speed, or whether we are looking at everybody moving through the city. In Cambridge, there has been a significant increase in the number of people cycling and the number of people using the bus services, but no increase at all in the number of people using cars. From a car perspective, you could argue that congestion has not improved—that congestion is exactly the same as it was 10 years ago.

Q64 Chair: It has not improved congestion but it has not made it worse.

Robin Heydon: From a car perspective. But, from a prosperity point of view, the number of people travelling into the city, the number of people able to access jobs—

Q65 Chair: That is not the question. I am asking a very specific question. Is there any actual evidence that increased walking and cycling reduces congestion?

Robin Heydon: Yes.

Q66 Chair: You are saying in Cambridge, yes.

Robin Heydon: In Cambridge, we have gone through, I think, four or five phases now of the Core Traffic Scheme, which has basically been reducing—

Q67 Chair: No. Can you just give me the answer whether it has or it has not?

Robin Heydon: It has.

Q68 Chair: Is there actual evidence from anywhere else in the country that it reduces congestion?

Christopher Peck: In London, for instance, we have had the congestion charge. That has meant there are 60,000 fewer drivers, from the year 2000, entering central London every morning. It is down from about 150,000 to around 85,000 to 90,000. Those people have gone on to other modes and we have seen a big increase in cycling. There has been over 100% increase in cycling over that period. There have been increases in bus use. These multimodal things depend, as it were, on people transferring from bus to walking.

Q69 Chair: There, it is cycling combined with public transport which you are saying has reduced it.

Christopher Peck: In some cases, yes, a lot of people coming to rail, but also a doubling of cycling into central London.

Q70 Chair: Would traffic flow more freely if there were fewer traffic lights? That is one of the suggestions that has been put forward to us.

Majeed Neky: As I said before, that needs to be looked at incredibly carefully.

Q71 Chair: I know that, but I am asking for examples. Is there any actual evidence that, by reducing the number of traffic lights, you would have more free-flowing traffic and not more accidents?

Majeed Neky: We are certainly not aware of any, which is why we are concerned about this happening without evidence.

Q72 Chair: I just want examples. I am not looking for the general philosophy. We have all that in the written submission. It is examples.

Robin Heydon: I have an example on the northern entrance of Cambridge. At Histon Road, there is a new junction which has been put in because of recent development. It takes approximately four minutes for pedestrians or cycles to cross basically four lanes' worth of traffic. That has significantly increased cycle congestion at that location because of those traffic lights. I am not saying we should remove them, because if you remove them, you get the situation that we have at the A14 slip road at Horningsea. Between Horningsea and Fen Ditton, they have just spent a significant sum of money to widen the cycleway but they have not put traffic lights in, which basically means that a cyclist or a pedestrian has to wait five minutes for a gap in the traffic.

Q73 Mr Harris: Mr Peck, I want to pursue this line of inquiry about the congestion charge in London. This is a genuine inquiry because I don't have the information to hand. There has been a reduction in the number of cars that have come into London since the congestion charge was introduced, which has also led to a modal shift to either cycling or public transport. It sounds like a counterintuitive question, but does the fact that there are fewer cars mean that there is less congestion? In other words, has some of that road space been taken up by other modes of transport?

Presumably, we measure congestion by the average speed of a journey within a particular area. How has the average speed of a car journey changed since the introduction of the congestion charge and can we use that measure to decide whether or not that has been successful?

Christopher Peck: I don't have the exact data for you. I am sure Transport for London could provide it or I could provide it at a later date. I believe the average speed in central London of vehicle traffic is about 9 mph and in Greater London it is 18 mph. I don't believe that has changed all that much, but I would come back to what Mr Heydon said. All the traffic must be considered under the Traffic Management Act 2004. We must consider all traffic to be part of that.

I know that part of the movement after the congestion charge was, yes, to reallocate some of that road space to bus priority and also to pedestrian priority, to increase phasing time for pedestrians, who are also victims of congestion in terms of busy pavements around here. You will see a lot of people waiting to cross to Oxford Street or wherever. So I do believe there has been an improvement in traffic flow in central London as a consequence of the congestion charge, and the reduction of private car use has undoubtedly contributed to that.

Chair: Thank you very much for coming and answering our questions.

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