In June 2006, car maker Citroen admitted that the average speed of a car in London during rush-hour (which is nearly all the time in London!) is just 7mph and that motorists waste up to half of their commute time going nowhere, stuck in jams. The company commissioned some ‘gridlock’ research to promote a car designed for such conditions, a car that shuts off its engine when stuck in jams.
Motorists may be grinding to a halt but the average cyclist can travel at 12-15mph, twice the speed of a car in rush-hour London.
While cycle commuters sail past motorists stuck in rush-hour traffic, at least those motorists stuck in Citroen cars equipped with ‘Stop & Start’ technology won’t be idling their engines contributing needlessly to climate change. Citroen said this technology has “environmental benefits” but a company statement went on to admit that congestion was now a daily reality for motorists and the best they can do is prevent exhaust emissions and spend up to half of their commute standing still.
To date, most car companies have promoted their wares by advertising the latest models driving on pristine Scottish roads with no other cars in sight. When congestion rears its ugly head the car companies stress how comfortable their cars are when an enforced wait is likely. And such waits are likely to increase.
Although Ken Livingston’s Congestion Charge may have gone some way to reducing the time Londoners are stationary in their cars, the sheer weight of traffic continues to cripple commuter progress, said Citroen. During an average one-hour commute a driver in central London will cover just 6.8 miles during rush-hour. In Cardiff, the average standstill time for a motorist is a whopping 30 minutes, half of the one-hour commute time.
Citroen found that drivers in Birmingham, Manchester and Norwich can expect to be at a standstill for over 20 minutes, and even in the least congested city, Edinburgh, almost 18 minutes were spent stationary. Andrew Burns, Edinburgh’s transport leader warned in February that a 20-minute car journey in the city could take an hour by 2026. The same distance journey by bike will take the same time as today, or if better infrastructure was put in place, cycle journey times could actually decrease.
In November 2005, the then Transport Secretary, Alistair Darling, announced plans to explore potential congestion charging zones in Durham, the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, Tyne and Wear, Shrewsbury, Cambridgeshire and Bristol.
He said congestion remains one of the biggest threats to economic expansion in the next 10-15 years. “It is bad for business, frustrates motorists and hurts local economies.”
Time, then, to get cycling. And the time has never been better. The front cover of The Independent on 6th June 2006 was headlined ‘Revolution! Britain embraces the bicycle as figures show that trips have risen 50% in just five years.”
The newspaper reported that the latest usage stats from Andy Cope of Sustrans says there has been a 15 per cent increase in journeys on the National Cycle Network, a rise to 232 million journeys. In the previous year the rise was 11 percent.