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

Written evidence from CTC, the national cyclists' organisation (ETM 43)


1.  CTC, the national cyclists' organisation, was founded in 1878. CTC has 70,000 members and supporters, provides a range of information and legal services to cyclists, organises cycling events, and represents the interests of cyclists and cycling on issues of public policy.

2.  CTC believes that cycling is a powerful, but currently greatly underused alternative to private car use for a wide range of journeys, particularly in urban areas. In part cycling is little used because current road and traffic management policies have been ineffective, allowing private car use to grow unimpeded for decades. This has created powerful disincentives to cycle, in particular due to fear of injury when using the road network.

The prevalence and impact of traffic congestion and likely future trends

3.  Journey time reliability is now the preferred means of measuring a successful transport system and congestion is the main means by which journey time reliability declines. However, for cyclists, even in heavily congested inner London, Transport for London has found that journey time reliability is extremely good, with exceptionally consistent journey times recorded over a range of journeys.[71]

4.  Cycling can also contribute significantly to reduced congestion. 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.[72] Use of cycles is also a much more efficient use of other public spaces - eight cycles can be parked in the space required for one car.[73]

The extent to which the government and local authorities should intervene to alleviate congestion and the best means of doing so

5.  Congestion is not the only economic cost that results from the failure of transport policy over the past 50 years. The Department for Transport/Cabinet Office concluded in 2009 that in urban areas (where virtually all congestion occurs) the economic cost due to congestion represents just 22-29% of the total, with the damage to public health from crashes, poor air quality and physical inactivity likely to be around three times greater than the economic damage from congestion alone.[74]

6.  With that in mind, CTC suggests that the biggest priority should not be the alleviation of congestion, but the improvement of public health. To achieve that requires not the reduction of congestion, but the reduction of motor traffic volume and speed, the combination of which has created the polluted and unsafe environment in our cities contributing to a physically inactive, unhealthy and injured population. The reduction in motor traffic volume and speed will of course have the ancillary benefit of reducing congestion - but this should not be the sole objective.

7.  Traffic volume reduction can be achieved by measures to reduce demand for travel, such as travel planning, congestion charging and workplace parking levies, whilst at the same time reducing the supply of infrastructure to support car use, through designing out car parking and reallocating road space away from private motor transport to public transport, walking and cycling. Examples of the latter include bus lanes, vehicle restricted areas, cycle lanes and advanced stop lines whilst systematically reducing on and off street parking.

The extent to which road user culture and behaviour undermines effective traffic management, including the relevance to today's road users of the Highway Code

8.  CTC is currently gathering evidence of poor road user behaviour through our "Stop Smidsy" campaign (SMIDSY standing for "sorry, mate, I didn't see you" - the perennial excuse of inattentive drivers). We are aware of a very high level of abuse of cyclists by motor vehicle users, ranging from inappropriate speeds and overtaking distance up to verbal and physical assault, usually carried out by passengers in cars. 74% agree with the statement that "the idea of cycling on busy roads frightens me".[75]

9.  The antipathy of a certain minority of drivers towards cyclists is, we believe, one of the reasons why confidence in cycling has declined amongst the general population.

10.  Despite many attempts by local authorities and other organisations to persuade people to take up cycling, participation rates have only increased very slightly, with 42% of the population saying they cycle, up from 39% ten years ago, while trip numbers per person have remained constant. Over the last eight years the proportion of those cyclists "mainly using the road" has fallen from 46% to 37%, while those reporting that they mainly ride on off-road routes has increased from 39% to 52%.[76] This represents a failure of government policy towards sustainable travel due to increasingly hostile cycling conditions on our roads.

11.  Accommodating cyclists in general traffic lanes requires specific measures to ensure safety and cooperation between road user types. For instance, the use of traffic detecting signals requires equipment to be sensitive enough to detect cycles, while phasing of lights must allow safe passage of slower moving cycles through a junction. If traffic management techniques fail to provide cyclists with a safe and adequate road environment, some cyclists may be tempted to disregard the regulations.

12.  20 mph speed limits and zones create conditions more favourable to equitable sharing of the road. Their use on residential and community streets is recommended in recent Government guidance and supported by 75% of all respondents to one survey.[77] A growing body of local authorities appear to accept the need to shift to lower speeds, however many remain unconvinced that 20 mph speeds will be achieved without extensive physical traffic calming, the expense and unpopularity of which blocks this initiative. The supine nature of traffic law enforcement, coupled with a wilful abuse of speed limits has created a situation whereby half of all cars are still recorded as breaking the 30 mph speed limit - thereby creating a hostile and lawless feeling for vulnerable users of British roads.[78]

The effectiveness of legislative provisions for road management under the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 and the Traffic Management Act 2004

13.  The New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 and subsequent initiatives have been motivated by a desire to reopen roads as fast as possible. Whilst laudable, this should not be pursued at the expense of ensuring that roads are neglected or reinstated below standard. Hasty, botched repairs of road hazards that rapidly reappear are commonplace and pose a particular problem for cyclists - around one in ten of the legal claims settled by CTC for its members occur as a result of road defects.

14.  The failure of the Department for Transport to implement various aspects of the Traffic Management Act 2004 has meant that an opportunity to increase cyclists' safety and the comfort and benefits of cycling has been lost. Whereas the sections of the Act to decriminalise most moving traffic offences have been brought into force, those concerning driving and - even more seriously parking - in cycle lanes have not been. This means that police are still required to enforce mandatory cycle lanes, a duty they are reluctant to perform attentively in the many areas where they have no parking responsibilities.

15.  Road maintenance doesn't just concern the disruption to the road network - road works badly damage the road surface leading to faster deterioration, of often requiring remedial repair. According to the Asphalt Industry Alliance's ALARM road condition survey: "20% of reinstatements [were] found to be [of] unacceptable quality. Remedying inadequate work consumes on average 13% of the road maintenance budget."[79]

The impact of bus lanes and other aspects of road layout

16.  Bus lanes have proved a highly significant factor in reducing capacity for motor traffic, thereby locking in the benefits of other measures to restrain traffic demand. In order to provide a good quality facility for cycles, bus lanes must be at least 4.2 metres in width, to minimise conflict between buses and cyclists.

17.  Cycle-specific facilities can offer an improved experience, however, where used they must be of sufficiently high quality design (and maintenance) to ensure that the level of service to cyclists in terms of journey time is equal to or better than on-road alternatives. In any case, many cyclists will continue to use the road and adequate provision must always be made to allow cycle use of the road can be maintained.

18.  Cycle lanes are generally less effective at reducing capacity for motor traffic than bus lanes. Indeed, part of CTC's reluctance to fully embrace the use of cycle lanes exists because lanes are seldom accompanied with policies to restrict parking and minimise traffic volumes. Where used, cycle lanes are often implemented as an afterthought, fitted in without regard to maximising comfort and safety for cyclists. Although guidance recommends a width of 1.5 metres, preferably two metres, only a tiny fraction of cycle lanes reach this standard, with many falling far below.[80]

19.  Many cycle facilities, be they off or on road, suffer problems at junctions. Facilities such as off-road paths or advanced stop lines may lead cyclists into a position which is both objectively and subjectively unsafe, especially at junctions. Often these circumstances are accompanied with unrealistic expectations that cyclists will yield to traffic, for instance where cycle paths intersect with minor side roads. It is this presumption of priority given to motorised traffic which CTC feels presents the greatest barrier to providing high quality facilities for cyclists. An statement in guidance and law that cyclists (as with pedestrians) be given priority at cycle track crossings of side roads would greatly decrease latent opposition to these facilities.

20.  Build-outs and pedestrian refuges in the carriageway can also create pinch-points, narrowing the available carriageway width to a point at which drivers and cyclists cannot safely interact. The use of such facilities can create conflict between road users and contributes to the feelings of hostility which acts as a barrier to cycling for so much of the population.


21.  CTC is aware of several excellent examples of local traffic management that has successfully reduced motor traffic use - an objective we believe highway authorities should be aiming to achieve.


22.  By far and away the most successful traffic management scheme in recent years has been London's Congestion Charge, the implementation which has been accompanied by huge changes in traffic, including massive increase in both public transport and cycle use, with the numbers of people cycling into central London in the morning peak more than doubling since 2003, with an annual average increase of 15%. Over the same time 15,000 fewer people have driven into central London and 15,000 more have cycled.[81]


23.  Despite huge developments on the city outskirts and intense pressure on space, Cambridge has successfully restricted motor traffic growth in the city centre, allowing a very high level of cycling to be maintained. Cambridge meets and even exceeds levels of commuter cycling common to much of the rest of northern Europe, with 26% of residents cycling to work at the time of the 2001 Census. Individual areas in Cambridge see a third of their employees or students cycling to work or employment.

24.  This achievement has been achieved principally adopted has been to restrict access and deter motor traffic as much as possible, whilst maintaining access for cyclists and buses. In some cases this has been achieved with point closures, rising bollards, turning restrictions and contraflow cycle routes. All of these traffic management techniques are effective if they exempt pedal cyclists.

25.  Cambridge has only quite recently allowed cycles back into the previously fully pedestrianised town centre. This has further improved network accessibility for cyclists, enabling a traffic free and direct alternative.


26.  Restricting private motor vehicle access and giving priority to buses, cycles and pedestrians increases the attractiveness of these modes. One of the means to achieving this is by town centre vehicle restrictions such as those mentioned above. Another step is the design of residential streets to provide pedestrian and cycle access but restrict through movement of vehicles. These streets are then subjected to less noise and perceived risk, but if well designed can remain busy through levels of cycling.

27.  The London Borough of Hackney has pursued the latter approach, gradually creating a residential road network which is fully permeable to cyclists but restricts motor vehicle use. This has involved opening up previously closed streets with short sections of cycle track.[82]

28.  In Copenhagen, on one of the major cycling routes leading north from the city centre - famously with peak flows of over 35,000 cyclists per day - private car access is now restricted for a section of the route, with cycle and bus access maintained. In addition, the street features a "Green Wave", allowing cyclists travelling at around 12 mph to ride all the way along the street without ever meeting a red signal. Cycle traffic increased by 15%, car traffic fell by up to 80% and bus journey times improved.[83]


29.  Ensuring permeability for cyclists can also be achieved by permitting contraflow access to one-way streets, particularly on quiet back streets. Elsewhere in Europe it is very simple to modify existing "no entry" signs to permit contraflow cycling with a minimum of changes to road layout. It is considered entirely safe. In this country, however, the use of a cycle exemption with a "no entry" sign is not permitted. Alternative solutions which allow cycle contraflow access either require expensive engineering or confusing sign changes. As a result many one-way streets persist where contraflow cycle access could be made with little difficulty or problem.

February 2011

71   Transport for London Road Network Performance & Research, Traffic Note 11: Cycle journey time reliability. 2009 Back

72   Botma & Papendrecht, Traffic operation of bicycle traffic. TU-Delft. 1991. Back

73   Lee, A, March, A. Recognising the economic role of bikes: sharing parking in Lygon Street, Carlton, Australian Planner. 47(2). 2010. 85-93. Back

74   DfT, The Future of Urban Transport. 2009 Back

75   DfT, Cycling Personal Travel Factsheet. 2007 Back

76   DfT, National Travel Survey. 2009. Tables 3.13, 3.15 Back

77   National Centre for Social Research. British Social Attitudes: the 22nd Report. 2005 Back

78   DfT, Road Statistics 2009: Traffic, Speeds and Congestion. 2010 Back

79   Asphalt Industry Alliance, ALARM Survey. 2010. p 12 Back

80   DfT. Cycle Infrastructure Design, LTN 2/08. 2008 Back

81   Transport for London, Travel in London Report No. 3. 2010.  Back

82   Cycling England, Scheme of the Month - Restoring Permeability for Cyclists, Hackney. November 2007 Back

83   European Local Transport Information Service, Revitalisation of Norrebrogade - one of Copenhagen's most important thoroughfares. 2010  Back

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Prepared 15 September 2011