All lane running Contents

1Background and context

1.Traffic is forecast to increase on all roads, with the Strategic Road Network due to become particularly congested. In 2015, the Department for Transport forecast a growth in traffic of up to 60% from 2010 to 2040 on the Strategic Road Network.1 One scenario showed that up to 19.5% of the Strategic Road Network could become congested2 by 2040.3

2.The Department intends to address the need for more capacity by permanently converting the hard shoulder into a running lane on around 300 miles of motorway. Highways England has a programme of around 30 all lane running schemes to the value of circa £6 billion over the next 9 years4 (see Table 1). This programme stretches across this Road Investment Period and the next, and covers over 10% of the motorway network.5 It is clear that All Lane Running is considered a settled matter by the Department, though we believe that the argument has not been won, either with ordinary road users or with other stakeholders.

3.We therefore decided to inquire into All Lane Running, and took oral evidence from emergency services, the AA, the RAC, Prospect (representing Highways England Traffic Officers), and vehicle recovery operators. We also received 28 pieces of written evidence. Finally, we took evidence from Highways England and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State Andrew Jones MP. To everybody who helped with our inquiry, we express our thanks.

Table 1: All Lane Running Schemes, current and planned

All Lane Running Schemes – Open for Traffic

Scheme Name

Scheme Length (miles)

M25 J5–6/7 (opened in 2014)


M25 J23–27 (opened in 2014)


M1 J39–42 (opened in 2016)


M6 J10a–13 (opened in 2016)


All Lane Running Schemes – To be added by 2020

Scheme Name

Scheme Length (miles)

M1 J28–31




M62 J18–20


M3 J2–4a


M23 J8–10


M1 J24–25


M6 J16–19


M5 J4a–6


M60 J24–27 and J1–4


M6 J21a–26


M6 J2–4


M20 J3–5


All Lane Running Schemes – To be started but not finished by the end of the current Road Investment Period (2015–2020)

Scheme Name

Scheme length (miles)

Open for Traffic commitment

M4 J3–12



M1 J13–19



M6 J13–15



M27 J4–11



All Lane Running Schemes – To be started but not finished by the end of the current Road Investment Period (2015–2020)

Scheme Name

Scheme length (miles)

Open for Traffic commitment

M40/M42 Interchange Smart Motorways



M53 Junctions 5–11



M62 Junctions 20–25



M56 J6–8



M3 J9–14



M62 J10–12



A1(M) Jct 6–8



M1 Junctions 23A–24



M25 Junctions 10–16



Further All Lane Running Schemes Announced for Development in next Road Investment Period (2020–2025)

Scheme Name

Scheme length (miles)

Open for Traffic commitment

M1 Junctions 19–23A



M1 Junctions 35A–29



M42 Birmingham Box Phase 4



Source: Motorways: Written question—30302; Motorways: Written question—29383

Different types of smart motorway

4.There are several different kinds of schemes that use the hard shoulder as a running lane. At times, these are all referred to as All Lane Running schemes, which causes confusion. In this report, we use the correct nomenclature, where All Lane Running refers to a type of motorway where the hard shoulder is permanently converted into a running lane.

5.All Lane Running is a version of “Smart Motorways”, in which lanes can be individually closed and variable speed limits set. Smart Motorways were previously referred to as Managed Motorways. This is why in some documents All Lane Running is referred to as “MM-ALR” or “SM-ALR”. The conversion of a motorway into a Smart Motorway does not necessarily mean that an All Lane Running configuration is being used, as Smart Motorways are defined by the ability to alter the Variable Mandatory Speed Limits (VMSLs) of the road, and individually close lanes according to circumstances.

6.The simplest type of smart motorway, a “controlled motorway”, retains the hard shoulder entirely, and only installs the new technology. This creates a controlled environment, which has safety benefits. Capacity and traffic flow benefits are achieved by responsive variable speed limits and the ability to close individual lanes. These provisions have existed since 2002 on the M25 J15–16, and numerous schemes have been deployed up to 2012, on the M25 J27–30. As the hard shoulder remains, there is no need for additional provision of emergency refuge areas.

7.The improvements that provide the controlled environment of a smart motorway are not a point of contention. They have a record of performance and have not formed the basis of the majority of concerns raised in evidence. It is the conversion of the hard shoulder, whether temporarily during peak traffic or permanently, that causes us concern. The M42 Active Traffic Management pilot between junctions 3a and 7 was the first scheme in this country to use the hard shoulder in this way. In this scheme, refuge areas were co-located with gantries, nominally at 500m spacing. In this design, there is a maximum speed limit of 60mph when the hard shoulder is in use. As with later designs, there is comprehensive CCTV coverage and a MIDAS system (described in paragraph 15) for quickly detecting incidents. This is by far the most infrastructure-intensive, and therefore expensive, scheme. We also believe that it is the safest scheme currently in operation.

8.Dynamic Hard Shoulder Running schemes are similar to the Active Traffic Management pilot, but make certain adjustments. The spacing between gantries and emergency refuge areas increases to 800–1000m on these schemes, as does the spacing of emergency refuge areas. This type of scheme has been installed on the M1, M4, M5, M6 and M62. As with Active Traffic Management schemes, a solid white line is maintained between the hard shoulder and Lane 1, and the hard shoulder is only used in emergencies.

9.All Lane Running schemes are very different. The hard shoulder is permanently converted into a running lane, rather than being selectively opened during peak times or congestion. This represents a fundamental change in how motorways are set out. The only safe havens available to a vehicle to stop in an emergency are the emergency refuge areas which are spaced at up to every 2.5kms and are no longer co-located with gantries. The national speed limit of 70mph applies, unless reduced for congestion, incident or traffic management. At the moment, All Lane Running schemes only exist on the M25 J5–7, J23–27, the M6 J10a–13, and the M1 J39–42.

10.In 2014, the first sections of motorway using the All Lane Running configuration were opened on parts of the M25, and plans for creation of additional stretches of smart motorway are based on the All Lane Running configuration where possible. Not all roads are capable of being converted into All Lane Running schemes easily or cheaply, as this depends on the strength of the hard shoulder, some of which are too weak to bear the weight of traffic.

11.Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State Andrew Jones MP said “We have had a version of active motorway road management in our system for about 20 years”.6 In its written evidence, the Department for Transport told us that the All Lane Running configuration “evolved from successful earlier forms of smart motorway and was the logical next step in a process of incremental improvement”.7 It is true that controlled motorways (where the hard shoulder isn’t changed at all but new active traffic management measures are put into place) have been in use since 2002. But, All Lane Running, with the permanent removal of the hard shoulder, is a major, fundamental and not incremental change.

12.Given the major change between All Lane Running and that of previous Smart Motorway schemes, the Department is wrong to present this as merely an uncontroversial, incremental step or the logical extension of what has gone before. The permanent loss of the hard shoulder is a radical change and the Department should present it as such.

New technologies and changes made

13.In order to give drivers a less dangerous area to stop in during an emergency if no hard shoulder is available, emergency refuge areas (ERAs) are created. These are lay-bys containing an Emergency Refuge Telephone (ERT). The design requirements and advice surrounding emergency refuge areas are governed by Interim Advice Note 161/13, which gives a design length of 100m, comprising an entry taper of 25m, a stopping area of 30m and an exit taper of 45m, with a width of 4.6m.8 The issue of ERAs was a major part of this inquiry, particularly with regard to their frequency and size.

14.Variable Mandatory Speed Limits (VMSLs) indicators are installed on gantries up to 1,200m apart. These may be supplemented by “MS4” verge-side signals which provide additional information about road conditions or incidents ahead on the road. The signal gantries may also display Red X signals to indicate that a lane has been closed. The ability to close an individual lane is essential for the operation of an All Lane Running motorway. Both the variable speed limits and the Red X signals are enforceable by law, although in oral evidence we were told that the ability to prosecute a driver for circumventing a Red X has only come into being very recently.9

15.CCTV coverage on current all lane running schemes is intensive, and some areas are doubly covered by cameras. However, the effectiveness of this is limited by the impossibility of watching every area at once—there are simply not enough control centre personnel to watch every stretch of motorway at once.10 An incident or stopped vehicle would be immediately noticed using full, monitored CCTV coverage. Rather, this should be considered in concert with the MIDAS system, which would initially alert control centre staff to a possible incident.

16.MIDAS (Motorway Incident Detection and Automatic Signalling) is a system which uses inductive loops set under the carriageway to detect stopped traffic. This data is then used to set signals on the motorway. This technology is limited by the fact that it detects passing traffic only, and is therefore unable to detect solitary stopped vehicles. This was mentioned by numerous witnesses as a possible safety risk,11 as the worst case scenario on an all lane running motorway is a vehicle stopped in a live lane, unable to reach an emergency refuge area, during a period of low traffic (e.g. at night). In such a scenario, MIDAS would be unable to detect the vehicle and alert control centre staff. Highways England told us that a new stopped vehicle detection system has been created, which seeks to address the limitations of MIDAS by use of radar technology. Highways England intends to include it in all future all lane running schemes, and it will be retrofitted to existing schemes.12

17.Collectively, this infrastructure is intended to create a controlled environment that, considered without the use of the hard shoulder, affords safety benefits to the portion of motorway where it is deployed. This is the “smart” in smart motorways.

Evaluations of current schemes

18.As the All Lane Running schemes on the M1 and the M6 have not been running for a substantial length of time, having both opened for traffic only in 2016, the main sources of results for the All Lane Running configuration are the two schemes on the M25. Both of these are the subject of 12-month evaluations running from April 2014 (when opened) to April 2015. These evaluations covered a variety of measures, including journey time, reliability and safety. The M25 J23–27 scheme evaluation also looked at whether public awareness needs were met; this was not included in the M25 J5–7 scheme’s evaluation.

19.The results have shown that journey time and reliability have improved on both of the M25 schemes. Reliability is measured by taking account of the variance of journey times. If more journeys consistently take the same amount of time, road users are better able to plan, making the journey more reliable and helping road users. Better journey reliability shows that the design is more resilient to temporary disruption. It is not only the extra lane that promotes an improvement in journey time and reliability, as the perception of a controlled environment improves traffic flow by causing vehicles to drive at roughly the same speeds, leading to more reliable journeys.

Figure 1: M25 J23–27: Clockwise Journey Time Reliability Analysis13

Source: Highways England, M25 J23–27 Twelve Month Evaluation Report, January 2016, p 22

Figure 2: M25 J5–7: Clockwise Journey Time Reliability

Source: Highways England, M25 J5–7 Twelve Month Evaluation Report, January 2016, p 20

20.Journey times shown in Figures 1 and 2 show a marked improvement in reliability—at all times of day, journey times are becoming more predictable, improving conditions for motorists. The anti-clockwise journey reliability analyses show comparable results and have not been reproduced here. On the J5–7 scheme, shown in Figure 2, the most improvement is shown in the periods that were already highly congested, indicating improvement in these journeys, but limited impact on journeys outside of these times.

21.West Midlands Integrated Transport Authority told us that the use of All Lane Running would “address congestion in the short to medium term”, but cited concerns that it could not replace long-term infrastructure investment.14 Dr David Metz, honorary professor at the Centre for Transport Studies, accepted that All Lane Running increased capacity on the Strategic Road Network, but suggested further attention needed to be given to investment in digital technology.15 The Transport Planning Society also accepted that All Lane Running would improve motorway capacity, but were concerned that this would lead to “peak contraction”, with more journeys taking place over a shorter period because of the increase in journey reliability; this would offset any reduction in congestion.16

22.Overall, we conclude that there are journey time and reliability improvements of All Lane Running, and our concern is that the risks arising from converting the hard shoulder into a running lane are an unacceptable price to pay for such improvements.

1 Department for Transport, Road Traffic Forecasts 2015, March 2015, para 15

2 Above 80% capacity

3 Department for Transport, Road Traffic Forecasts 2015, March 2015, table 3.3

4 Highways England (ALR0011), para 8.6

5 There are 2,300 miles of motorway on the network. Department for Transport, Road lengths in Great Britain 2015, May 2016

6 Q121 [Andrew Jones]

7 Department for Transport (ALR0015)

8 Highways England, Interim Advice Note 161/15, November 2015, page 23

9 Q53 [Simon Wickenden]

10 Q30 [Simon Wickenden]

11 See for example: Metropolitan Police Service (ALR0023), para 6.1; Q57 [Simon Wickenden]; Q82 [Neil Turner]

12 Q156 [Mike Wilson]; Q198-9 [Mike Wilson];

13 Definitions: “M-T AM”: Monday-Thursday AM peak, 05:30–10:30; IP: Inter-peak, 10:30–15:00; PM: PM peak, 15:00–22:00

14 West Midlands Integrated Transport Authority (ITA) (ALR0016)

15 Dr David Metz (ALR0007)

16 Transport Planning Society (ALR0009)

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

15 June 2016