Embassy response to Transport Committee's Urban Congestion Inquiry

The Cycling Embassy has submitted a response to the Transport Committee's Urban Congestion Inquiry. In summary - 

  • We agree congestion is a real issue. However, we argue that it must be tackled in a very different way to the one that has traditionally been followed in Britain. We need space-efficient urban design, that prioritises the most space-efficient modes of transport.
  • This needs national leadership to provide local steer and incentives, and the development of strategies for sustained investment and design standards.
  • The DfT should facilitate knowledge sharing, to learn from success elsewhere, and to make it easily replicable across the country,


Urban congestion is a serious problem, with only one realistic long-term solution – more efficient use of existing road space in our towns and cities.

We agree with the Committee that road space in urban areas is limited. Consequently, the way that road space is used has to be very carefully managed, to prioritise (and enable) modes of transport that maximise the people-carrying capacity of the space between buildings.

This will involve changing the way our urban road and street space is used. Rather than dedicating most (or indeed all) of it to the most inefficient way of transporting people – the private motor vehicle - some of that space must of necessity be used to be prioritise the flow of modes of transport that are many times more efficient.

In practice, this will mean clear corridors for public transport, and, in particular, the creation of dense cycle networks that allow anyone to cycle from A to B in safety and comfort, and with ease.

Cycle-specific interventions

As far as cycling is concerned, a two-fold strategy is required. Firstly, the construction of physically protected cycleways on main roads. Creating safe, attractive conditions for cycling depends on this intervention, removing stressful interactions with motor traffic.

Secondly, the creation of 'cells' of access roads, streets which still allow motor vehicle access, but which do not function as through routes for motor traffic. These cells will then form low-traffic environments which can comfortably be negotiated by anyone cycling – as well as forming more pleasant and attractive environments for residents, for shopping, for leisure, and for active travel more generally.

These two interventions will need councils to make decisions about which roads and streets will function as the 'distributor' routes for motor traffic (with protected cycleways), and which will form the 'access-only' roads.

Taken together, they will create conditions that make cycling an obvious and easy mode of transport for everyday trips, enabling people to choose cycling instead of driving.

Potential for increased cycling

There is enormous potential for shifting a large proportion of those urban trips that are currently made by private motor vehicle to cycling. The latest National Travel Survey shows that nearly 40% of all trips in England under 2 miles are driven; just 2% are cycled. This is a distance that can be comfortably cycled in under fifteen minutes. It is these kinds of short trips that contribute significantly to urban congestion, a problem that can only be solved by modal shift of this kind.

Efficiency of cycling as a mode of transport

The capacity of a private motor vehicle lane is around 2,000 people per hour. Cycling infrastructure is capable of carrying around seven times that number of people in the same space – 14,000 people per hour, or around 200 people per minute.

Monitoring by Transport for London of new cycling infrastructure in the capital is already showing its enormous potential. At congested locations like Blackfriars Bridge, cycleways are already moving 46% of all the people (excluding pedestrians), in just 3-4m of space. Despite being open less than a year, the Embankment with cycling infrastructure is now carrying 5% more people than before the superhighways were built. This is despite the current network being extremely limited.

The potential for massively improving the efficiency of the capital's roads – and by extension roads in urban areas throughout the country – is clear.

We would also point out that there is great potential for shifting ‘last mile delivery’ away from large lorries and vans onto more space-efficient modes of transport, particularly cargo cycles. This is something that is already happening naturally in London, but the process could be accelerated with a policy of using consolidation centres on the perimeter of urban areas, shifting goods and freight away from HGVs and onto cycles and smaller vehicles for the final stage of delivery.

Need for high-level leadership on investment and standards for cycling

If Britain's problems with urban congestion are to be tackled, it is vital that the government leads on the issue, providing local authorities and councils with clear investment strategies, and design standards to match, removing the two major obstacles to developing cycle networks in Britain.

We are already seeing major progress in a small number of notable locations; we need to learn from this success, and make it easily replicable across the country. This is the role that the Department for Transport (and the Treasury) should be fulfilling.