November 2022

City centre traffic count: post-covid bike growth continues

The biannual Spokes traffic count, on November 8, found a further substantial rise in bike traffic, whilst private and commercial motor traffic was fairly static (pun intended!) as compared to both November 2021 and May 2022. As a result, totalled at our 4 count points, northbound and southbound on Lothian Road and Forrest Road, bikes rose to 14.5% of all vehicles, from 11.0% last November and 12.7% in May this year.

A top takeaway point is that bikes totalled 20.2% of all citybound vehicles between 8-9am at our two northbound count points, 18.5% on Lothian Road and 22.5% on Forrest Road.

It is important to note that our counts are just snapshots on one day. To make them as comparable as possible we always use the same day of the week, a Tuesday, and the same time of year, but there could be one-off factors which affect particular counts.

City centre, 8-9amNov 2020*Nov 2021May 2022**Nov 2022**
Commercial (bus, taxi, van, etc)679727728688
Private car1321145414031415
Bikes as % of total traffic10.3%11.0%12.7%14.5%
% of cars which are single-occupant79.0%75.4%77.7%74.0%
Spokes traffic counts 8-9am, totals Lothian Rd & Forrest Rd, northbound & southbound. The weather was reasonably good for all these counts, so is unlikely to have affected numbers significantly. *November 2020 was our first count during Covid. **North Bridge closed northbound.

We started doing lunchtime counts (1230-1330) in November 2021. Although commercial traffic levels at lunchtime are as high or higher than during rush hour, there are many fewer cars and bikes, and the numbers of both have fallen in our 3 counts, whilst bikes as a % of all vehicles have dropped by 1.4%.

City centre, 12.30-13.30Nov 2021*May 2022**Nov 2022**
Commercial (bus, taxi, van, etc)788718710
Private car11741041956
Bikes as % of total traffic9.3%9.2%7.9%
% of cars which are single-occupant69.7%70.1%67.6%
Spokes traffic counts 1230-1330, totals Lothian Rd & Forrest Rd, northbound & southbound. The weather was reasonably good for all these counts, so is unlikely to have affected numbers significantly. *November 2021 was our first ever lunchtime count. **North Bridge closed northbound.
Covid recovery

Covid made a massive change to travel patterns, and it is clear that we are still in a period of flux as new patterns begin to emerge. Councils need to be taking advantage of this flexibility, to provide conditions which encourage more sustainable and active patterns than pre-covid.

In particular, our counts suggest that people are returning to workplaces in the city centre, with increasing numbers deciding that bike is the best way to get there, whilst the numbers choosing car are staying static. The lunchtime numbers are puzzling – with our counts suggesting declining city centre travel, both by car and by bike. One suggestion we have heard is that many people who previously worked from home, and perhaps went out at lunchtime, are now at work all day.

North Bridge northbound closure [** in above tables]

Our counts are held at George IV Bridge (Forrest Road) and Lothian Road, both of which run parallel to North Bridge. Yet the ongoing closure of North Bridge to northbound traffic seems not to have increased car numbers on these alternative corridors. Our count totalled 726 cars northbound, compared to 715 in November 2021 – although numbers might have fallen had North Bridge been open.

Northbound v Southbound

Perhaps not surprisingly at commuting time, given likely journey distances, many more bikes travel northbound (i.e. towards the city centre) than southbound, whereas roughly as many cars travel south as north. At lunchtime, however, bikes are fairly evenly spaced between northbound and southbound, whereas more cars travel south than north (drivers leaving work early?)

These patterns result in bikes forming over 20% of citybound rush-hour vehicles, though under 10% southbound, and under 10% in both directions at lunchtime, again more northbound than southbound.

City centre, travel directionnorthbound
Commercial (bus, taxi, van, etc)302386343367
Private car726689405551
Bikes as % of total traffic20.2%8.4%9.4%6.5%
% of cars which are single-occupant77.5%70.2%62.7%71.1%
Spokes traffic counts 8.11.22, totals Lothian Rd + Forrest Rd
Single occupany cars

Single occupancy means a huge amount of roadspace used to transport just one person, as compared to the space required by a person cycling, walking or using the bus. The increasing presence of SUVs makes this disparity even worse.

Single occupancy remains high at all times, but is worst in the peak period at around 75% compared to around 70% at lunchtime.

Portobello count including City Centre comparison

Spokes Porty now does a traffic count in Brighton Place at the same times as our City Centre counts.

Porty bike numbers (72) were almost identical to last November (71). However, there was a big jump in private car use, from 491 to 612, as well as a smaller rise in commercial traffic. As a result bikes formed 8.4% of all vehicles, compared to 10.1% in November 2021.

Although there were almost as many cars at lunchtime as in the rush hour (299 v 313), bikes were very much concentrated in the rush hour (58 v 14).

Overall, the Porty results reveal a very different pattern to the City Centre counts, as in the table below. Of course, these are only snapshots, taken on just one day; and we have no idea if they are representative of other suburban areas. And, we would very likely get further variations if we counted the main ‘leisure’ times of day or days of the week. However, the rise in Porty car numbers at lunchtime, which is to some extent a leisure period, do chime with the anecdotal feelings of our local members that Porty is becoming jammed with cars for more and more of the day.

All data 8-9am unless otherwise statedCity CentrePorty
Bike numbers total, compared to November 2021up (a lot)fairly static
Car numbers total, compared to November 2021fairly staticup
Bike % of all vehicles, Nov 2021 -> Nov 202211.0%->14.5%13.7%->12.7%
Time of day with most cars (8-9am v 1230-1330)8-9am busiestboth equally busy
Single occupancy cars 8-9am74% (higher)70% (lower)
Single occupancy cars 1230-133068% (lower)76% (higher)
Differences between City centre and Porty counts
Greenbank-Meadows Quiet Route

One of our members also did a 8-9a.m. bikes-only count on the Greenbank-Meadows Quiet Route at the Braid Avenue/ Cluny Gardens traffic lights, results in the following table, showing significant numbers of children – some carried, some under their own steam, sorry, foot-power!

Solo adult on bike452974
Solo child on bike617
Adult carrying one or more children (kiddy seat, trailer, cargobike, etc)12113
Total bikes633194

Policy questions and lessons

  • Again, we emphasise that our counts are one-day snapshots, and only during two one-hour slots; but they do suggest trends, some hopeful, some concerning, which need thought and attention
  • The Scottish Government in December 2020 made a remarkable “commitment” (not just a “target”) to reduce car-km 20% by year 2030; and Edinburgh City Council following this up with an even tougher “target” of 30%. See background and links in this article. Actions must now follow these intentions
  • The previous Council developed some encouraging on-paper policies for car demand-management, as in the City Mobility Plan (p44), City Centre Transformation and 20-minute neighbourhoods [i.e. a car-reduced neighbourhood where residents can access most of their daily services and amenities in a single 20-minute round trip walking, cycling, ‘wheeling’ (wheelchairs, scooters, prams) or bus]. However, action on these was disappointingly slow. The new Council must act.
  • Post-covid traffic patterns, at least in the City Centre, are still evolving. This gives the Council the opportunity to shape what is happening, before people get too habituated into new routines.
  • The rise in car use (in our one-day count) in Porty is very concerning. Edinburgh Council’s plans for Portobello to become a 20-minute neighbourhood must be treated urgently.
  • Are the rises in car use in Porty a reflection of its being a seaside opportunity for city dwellers post-covid; or is similar happening in other of Edinburgh’s town centres?
Resources …
  • Full count data are here. See also our count data page for earlier surveys and trends.
  • Please retweet our tweet of the count
  • The report on our November 2021 count is here
  • Covid brought major changes in commuting patterns, as many people began working from home, and many bus/rail users are thought to have changed to car. This early major change, and its impact on numbers and trends at that time, which may still be influencing traffic patterns to some extent, was discussed in our count article of November 2020.

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