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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 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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OldRidgeback | 3 years ago
1 like

Traffic volumes have certainly increased again in the past week.

Simon E | 3 years ago

And the government is looking at a £6,000 scrappage scheme for people to buy electric /hybrid cars.

So us taxpayers will give people who already have a perfectly good car a wodge of cash to spend on a brand new car.

Electric and hybrid cars are not the solution to pollution, congestion and danger on our roads and streets; and nor will they really help the UK economy. We already know that there's more to emissions than fuel and, apart from the Nissan Leaf, all are made abroad so it won't help most UK factories, according to the Independent.

ktache replied to Simon E | 3 years ago

It's alright though, if we are lucky we might get £50 to help us repair our bicycles.

That is if it works for the LBS.

For me anyway, I'm not going for it if it's bad for them.

brooksby replied to Simon E | 3 years ago
Simon E wrote:

And the government is looking at a £6,000 scrappage scheme for people to buy electric /hybrid cars.

Does that cover the several thousands of pounds it costs to have a 'proper' charging point installed at your property? (not much use buying an electric car if there's one charging point available, fifteen miles from your home...).

Awavey | 3 years ago

if the traffic tsunami is looming, why do the roads already feel so rotten to ride on again ?

I went out just after lunch today, which even in normal times Id expect to be fairly quiet & relaxed, but it felt like a full on rush hour level of traffic on a Monday morning,where everyone was going Ive no idea but they sure were in damn hurry to get there and woe betide any cyclist that got in there way.

David9694 replied to Awavey | 3 years ago

maybe to one of these? Imagine two whole months without.  presumably these are the drive thrus where bikes are banned - sounds like the cars, sorry should that be drivers are doing a grand job of cocking this up without intervention from us.

Hirsute replied to Awavey | 3 years ago
1 like

It's hard to be sure there is a change to what it was before. I think I am sub consciously comparing it to the golden weeks.

I'd say there is more speeding and rapid acceleration but that may be selective memory.

It certainly feels, as you put it, 'rotten to ride on again'.

Seventyone | 3 years ago

How can Leeds be in both the positive and negative scenario?

the little onion replied to Seventyone | 3 years ago

negative for outer Leeds, positive for the city centre. Leeds council are making the right noises, and have some pop up lanes

Spangly Shiny replied to the little onion | 3 years ago
1 like

Plenty cycling infra in Leeds centre has been closed off, not seen any pop up lanes and I work in Leeds centre all day long as a courier. Now as more and more busses and taxis are taking to the roads Leeds central is beginning to grind back to a halt. Still, it was nice while it lasted.

Metal Mania replied to Seventyone | 3 years ago

Leeds station is the busiest outside London and Birminham New Street. Loads of employers, like HMRC have move their regional offices there so there are a lot of commuters. People avoiding public transport could easily massively increase car and cycle traffic. If I have to go in the office I'm looking at cycling in for the first time in 2 1/2 years. I'm due more surgery after ny last ride but riding in is my only way to avoid the train.

mdavidford replied to Seventyone | 3 years ago

The negative scenario assumes that everyone with a car in the household, who at baseline commuted by public transport, shifts to using a car.


The positive scenario by contrast assumes that all commute trips with a route network distance of under 10km previously made by public transport are instead made by active travel.

So if an area has a lot of car owning households that were previously making <10km public transport journeys it will figure prominently in both scenarios.

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