The Transport Committee has published its report on tackling road congestion, aptly named Out of the Jam.
Congestion is apparently costing us up to £24bn per year in missed appointments and late deliveries, not to mention the teeth-grinding annoyance of being stuck in a traffic jam. Normally by this point, the words ‘road pricing’ or ‘new road building’ would have been used but this time it appears the government wants to work with what it has rather than reinvent the wheel; the report states:
One option for reducing road congestion—road pricing—has been ruled out by the government. Extensive investment on new roads is also unlikely given the current economic climate.
We were about to emit a cautious ‘hurrah’ until we saw that reinstatement of the M4 bus lane, which was suspended last year to improve traffic flow and reduce journey times, could be on the cards:
We recommend that the government publish early next year a detailed assessment of traffic flow on the M4 in the year since the bus lane was scrapped. If the evidence shows that the bus lane contributed to faster movement—taking account of all travellers—it should be reinstated.
Leaving that particular fly in the gazpacho aside until we can see some data to indicate if there's a benefit to all travellers or not, the report does acknowledge that there is no single cause of congestion but that a combination of measures including improved driver behaviour, maximising road capacity and providing more reliable information for travellers could reduce congestion. Only a couple of months ago, Boris Johnson was called upon to address London’s congestion problems to which the mayor’s spokesperson said:
‘A wide range of measures have been put in place to ease congestion including the rephasing of thousands of traffic lights, a trial of pedestrian countdown crossing timers, the creation of a roadworks permit scheme and a code of conduct for utility companies.’
TfL backed this up by saying they had seen a 7% reduction in delays at 2,000 sets of lights over the past year and a 32% cut in ‘serious disruption caused by road works’.
Sharing road space more efficiently is also key to reducing congestion – the cycle hire scheme and cycle superhighway in London have gone some way towards this. Many cycle groups feel it hasn’t gone far enough though they can at least rest assured that driver behaviour is under scrutiny too:
The overwhelming view from the evidence we received was that aspects of poor road user behaviour lead to increased congestion. Assistant Chief Constable Nick Croft cited road rage, 'undertaking' and bad lane discipline as all making incidents and accidents more likely to happen, thereby adversely affecting the general flow of traffic and Nich Brown, of the Motorcycle Action Group gave the example of when vehicle users are told that a two-lane road will narrow into one lane 800m ahead, and everyone attempts to get into the open lane at once, instead of filtering alternatively and keeping the traffic flowing. The Minister, Mike Penning MP, said he was concerned about how to ensure that drivers were taught not just to pass a driving test, but to drive responsibly.
It’s certainly reassuring to see that bringing back actual driving skills, improving driver education and consideration for other road users rather than a blind preoccupation with speed is part of the Transport Committee’s recommendations.
Roads Minister Mike Penning said in response to the report:
‘We are committed to tackling congestion and improving transport across the country. We are also focusing on making better use of the road network... improving accident clear-up times, providing better information for motorists and tackling road works' disruption. We will consider the committee's report carefully and respond in full in due course.’
Read the Transport Committee’s recommendations in full here.