November 2011

More bikes/ less cars in Edinburgh rush hour – and why?

[Updated 25.11.11]   The November Spokes rush-hour traffic count has beaten all records for bike use, whilst the number of cars is the lowest we have ever recorded …

On November 15, Spokes repeated the rush-hour traffic count we have done for the last 6 years on a mid-November Tuesday, northbound and southbound on Lothian Road and Forrest Road.  Some highlights…

  • Between 8-9am we counted 445 bikes, up 12% on Nov 2010, up 15% on Nov 2009, and a higher total even than in our May count (407 bikes)
  • At these 4 locations, bikes comprised 14.9% of all vehicles – a remarkable 20% of all citybound vehicles and 7.7% of southbound.  All these %’s are record figures.
  • At Forrest Road citybound, bikes formed 1 in 4 of all vehicles.
  • At Lothian Road, one of Edinburgh’s most cycle-unfriendly streets, but an almost unavoidable access to the city centre, bikes formed a remarkable 17% of all citybound vehicles.
  • Total cars fell to 1849, the lowest level we have ever counted, with buses and other commercial vehicles remaining at a fairly constant level, just over 700.
  • However, with the Mound now again closed, traffic patterns resembled the previous years of closure, Nov 08 and Nov 09, with car use falling substantially at Forrest Road – and thus the overall drop in car use is probably exaggerated.  Bike use, however,  in both absolute and % terms, is significantly up on those 2 years.
  • Yet again, almost 75% of private cars contained only a driver – occupying far more of the precious roadspace than a person commuting by bike.

Our traffic counts web page includes full count data and a summary table of 6-year trends.  Note that the above highlights all cover exactly one hour, 8-9am; our full count data also includes totals for 7.45-9.15am.

Today the Bike Station, in liaison with Spokes, counted 3 other locations, and found similar results – a 15% increase in bikes on Causewayside, a remarkable 26% at Fiveways junction [perhaps due in part to the Council’s recent Chancelot Path surfacing project [pdf 962k, Tim Smith]] and a marginal drop (-1%) at North Bridge – possibly reflecting increased congestion there due to the Mound closure.

Many thanks to the Spokes volunteers who organised and participated in the count.

Why is it happening?   OK, we’ve not done any research, but here are some speculative reasons, doubtless working in combination…

  • the widespread, visible and growing onroad and offroad bike facilities in the city, thanks to the Council and Sustrans [and pressure from Spokes and Spokes members]
  • the public knowledge that this work is continuing – so it’s worth trying a bike [e.g. every house in large areas of South Edinburgh circulated in the consultation about the forthcoming Quality Bike Corridor and the wide-area 20mph zone][e.g. the exciting solar lights now outlining the canal towpath – a real C21st innovation!][e.g. hundreds of motorists seeing path construction happening beside the horrible Seafield Road]
  • extensive work by the Bike Station with large-size identifiable potential user-groups such employers and families
  • continuing pressure and publicity by Spokes through our bike maps [over 100,000 now sold!], special projects [family cycling, tenement parking, etc], presence at community stalls, and people setting an example by using their bikes for everyday trips.
  • the inconvenience of travelling and parking by car in a congested city
  • and – let’s admit it – the lovely weather in Edinburgh this autumn – it’s just so much nicer on a bike than in a car!

[link added 02.07.12]   And why is car use consistently falling??

This could well be part of the general trend in western urbanised countries such as UK and USA, now referred to as peak car.  If this is happening it has major implications for urban design – as Spokes has been pointing out for several years, as in this mid-2010 Spokes letter about the future of Picardy Place [pdf 116k].

Nobody really knows the reasons for ‘peak car’, but there is a lot of speculation – and it appears to be much more than just the economic downturn.   Here are two interesting articles, from UK and North American perspectives…

[UK] The Independent 25 May 2011

[UK] New Scientist 16.8.11

[Canada/US] The Globe and Mail 22 October 2011


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