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Congestion a growing problem, says RAC Report on Motoring

City centre traffic speed

Traffic has got worse on the UK’s major roads in the past year, according to more than half of motorists.

Fifty-six per cent of the 1,727 drivers questioned for the annual study, the RAC Report on Motoring, say they believe congestion has got worse on motorways, high-speed dual carriageways and A-roads.

The RAC say that’s a worrying finding considering that 65% of all the motor vehicle miles are travelled on them, despite them comprising only 13% of the UK’s road network by length.

In terms of the greatest motoring concerns highlighted by drivers in the 2017 Report on Motoring, 8% of drivers cite traffic congestion and slower journey times as their number-one worry from a list of 23 common motoring concerns, making it the joint fifth highest ranked issue.

The only bigger concerns are the illegal use of handheld mobile phones at the wheel (16%), the condition and maintenance of local roads (10%) and the cost of fuel (9%). The cost of insurance was also cited by 8% of motorists as their top concern.

Concerns about slower journey times are even more pressing among those who drive for work with 11% of business drivers identifying this as their number-one concern.

Motorways – which alone carry 21% of all traffic despite accounting for just 1% of UK roads – are seen to have suffered the greatest increase with 61% of motorists saying congestion and journey times have worsened in the past 12 months. And, more than a quarter (27%) of this 61% claim the change has been considerable.

High-speed dual carriageways and urban A-roads were both felt by 58% of motorists to have become more congested. Rural single carriageway A-roads fared slightly better with only 45% stating congestion had worsened.

Away from major roads, urban B-roads and unclassified urban roads are also thought to have become busier and less reliable in terms of journey times by 55% of respondents. Only country B-roads and unclassified country roads have not got any worse with 58% saying the traffic levels are the same and just under a third (32%) that they had increased.

RAC chief engineer David Bizley said: “It is essential that the schemes to increase capacity of the strategic road network which form part of the he first Road Investment Strategy are delivered to plan.

“The recent news from Highways England that some projects have been delayed is therefore very unwelcome. And with work well advanced on development of the second Road Investment Strategy which will be implemented from 2020/21, it is vital that proposals are included to debottleneck the most congested stretches of the network which were not included in the first Road Investment Strategy.

“We also believe tackling congestion in the UK’s towns and cities can make an important contribution to improving air quality. The RAC urges local authorities to consider all possible measures – including better traffic light sequencing and installing speed cushions for traffic calming in preference to speed humps – to improve urban traffic flow and average speeds.”

Government statistics support the concerns of motorists that emerged in research for the Report on Motoring as road traffic estimates for 2016 show motorists drove 252.6bn vehicle miles, which is a 2.2% increase on the previous year and the highest annual car traffic estimate ever. These figures go some way to explaining why Highways England has reported a small increase in average delays in journey times on the strategic network since 2014/5.

Bizley added: “Motorists’ perceptions about there being more traffic on the road are entirely understandable given that Government statistics clearly show traffic volumes are increasing.

“While traffic congestion has, not surprisingly, been a source of frustration for drivers over many years, concern rose sharply in 2016 and has remained at the same high level in 2017.

“More than a quarter (26%) of drivers surveyed cited congestion and slower journey times as one of their top-four motoring concerns, whereas in 2015 this figure was just 18% – a level that had not changed for several years.”

Motorists were also asked about the causes of worsening congestion. While a general increase in traffic volumes was largely blamed for increasing urban congestion, reasons given for greater motorway traffic included major roadworks (47%), middle-lane hogging drivers (45%) and lorries overtaking other lorries (40%).

Of the 61% of drivers who have seen motorway congestion worsen, almost half (48%) of the 61% think there should be tighter controls on lorries overtaking other lorries.

Among urban drivers, there is some discontent over the perceived encroachment of bus and cycle lanes into space that was previously available for all road users. Almost a third (29%) thought that bus lanes are primarily to blame for congestion in towns and cities, while 16% blamed cycle lanes.

Of the 29% blaming bus lanes, two-thirds (68%) think other vehicles should be allowed to use them at certain times – a policy already applied in some parts of the country

And, more than half (54%) of the motorists who say cycle lanes are the main cause of congestion think that cyclists should be compelled to use such lanes where they are available.

Cllr Martin Tett, Local Government Association transport spokesman, said: “This survey highlights the congestion challenge we face as a nation. Congestion can have a significant impact on our towns, cities and communities, and act as a drag on local growth. Worse still, it can lead to toxic air and reduced quality of life.

“The average motorist is spending a working week every year sat in traffic on major roads, and losing almost a £1,000 in the process. With eight-and-a-half million more vehicles on our roads since 2000, it’s no wonder it would now take £12bn and a decade to clear the nation’s road repair backlog.

“Councils are working hard to combat traffic and congestion but need to be able to do more to tackle this growing problem. Long-term, consistent funding is needed for them to invest in local roads and introduce attractive alternatives to car journeys, such as through public transport, walking and cycling.”

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