May 2024

May Traffic Count : the power of separation .. and connection?

The biannual Spokes city-centre traffic count, on Tuesday May 14, found bikes forming 16.3% of all 8-9a.m. vehicles – exactly the same % as in our May 2023 count. However, this disguised a 10% decline in bike numbers and a 12% fall in private cars, although bike numbers were marginally up on our November 2023 count (cars, however, were down on November as well as May). In contrast to this relatively static picture for bikes at our four regular on-road locations, the automatic counter at Picardy Place Omni separated bike lane found bike numbers rising a dramatic 60% over the same one-year period from May 2023.

Our counts were at the usual 4 city centre locations, Lothian Road and Forrest Road, northbound and southbound. The weather this year was dull, with rain forecast, and drizzle appearing by lunchtime, whereas the previous May counts in the table had all been on dry days. This may have depressed bike numbers marginally, but unlikely to be more than 5-10%.

Of course, the counts are just snapshots on one day. However, to maximise comparability, we always use the same day of the week, a Tuesday, and the same time of year.

Totals at Lothian Rd & Forrest Rd, northbound & southbound, 8-9am
Note: November 2020 was our first Covid count
Totals at Lothian Rd & Forrest Rd
northbound & southbound, 8-9am
May 2021May 2022May 2023May 2024
Commercial (bus, taxi, van, etc)706728730699
Private car1507140313971227
Bikes as % of total traffic8.9%12.7%16.3%16.3%
% of cars which are single-occupant76.4%77.7%77.0%74.3%

The pattern at our lunchtime (12.30-1.30) count was similar, with a 9% decline in bikes and 17% drop in cars. However, as lunchtime commercial traffic (including bus & taxi) rose substantially (up 11%) the bike % of all traffic fell slightly from 10.8% to 10.2%.

As usual, top scoring bike spot was Forrest Road northbound at 8-9am, where bikes comprised 23% of all vehicles, although the northbound Lothian Road figure was also an impressive 19%.

Comparisons with the Picardy Place Omni separated bike path

Publicly available data from an automatic bike counter on the Edinburgh-Leith segregated path outside Omni Centre has been graphed by Edward Tissiman.

As well as the one-year contrast noted above, over the two years between May 2022 and May 2024, bike numbers on the Omni separated bike route doubled (i.e. 100% increase), whereas they only rose by 21% at the four Spokes onroad morning count points.

Whilst comparisons with our one-day, one-hour snapshot counts cannot be definitive, it is hard not to conclude that the facts of a separated bike route, and a growing network aspect with Leith Walk and York Place connections appearing, are primary reasons why bike increases at the Omni path far outstrip those in the onroad traffic counts.

A further explanation could be an increase in delivery bikes, primarily at times of day not covered by our rush-hour count. However our lunchtime count shows only a 3% bike increase over the two years, so delivery bikes are unlikely to be more than a partial explanation, at best, of the Omni bike increases.

It will be interesting to see how CCWEL usage performs in the coming months and years.

LEZ impacts?

There are hints in our count data that the LEZ (with enforcement due to begin on 1st June) may already be impacting on traffic flows, and anecdotally we have heard this said. As can be seen from the table and graph at the start of this article, car numbers fell substantially, down 12% from 1397 in May 2023 to 1227 in May 2024 (the great bulk of the drop being after November 2023).

There are a few question marks over this conclusion. Our count points, at Forrest Road and Lothian Road, are both near entry points to the LEZ, yet car numbers were down hugely at Lothian Road, as can be seen in the table below, whereas they were little changed at Forrest Road. Whilst there has been some alteration in traffic signals at Tollcross, the Lothian Road fall in car numbers is huge, and even the combined Lothian Road/Forrest Road figures (see top table) show a still very substantial fall.

Fall in Lothian Road car numbersMay 2023May 2024
Southbound, 0800-0900437298
Southbound, 1230-1330327223
Northbound, 0800-0900459398
Northbound, 1230-1330325251

A further hint of a possible LEZ effect is a decline in 8-9a.m. car single-occupancy to 74.3%, compared to around 77% in all 3 previous May counts, and our lowest figure of the last 10 years. Are drivers of some non-compliant cars now sharing?

Single-occupancy means a huge area of valuable streetspace occupied to move just one person, though even a full car is of course space-inefficient compared to bus, bike or walk.

Roadspace required by the same number of people using different transport modes
Traffic Reduction policies – Council and Government

Covid made a massive change to travel patterns, including an initial huge decline in morning bike, car and bus commuter travel, although car trips fell proportionately least – probably because some commuters who could not work from home transferred from bus to car, to isolate themselves from other people.

It is disappointing that both the Council and the Scottish Government did little to build on the initial big fall in car use during Covid, and allowed it to recover significantly, despite Edinburgh’s ‘target’ to reduce car-km 30% by 2030, and the Scottish Government’s ‘commitment’ to reduce car-km 20% by 2030. Indeed the Scottish Government delayed publishing its draft car-km reduction plan for a year or so until January 2022, explicitely to allow car numbers to recover – and the final route map has still not appeared, another 3 years later!

Edinburgh’s policies to meet its exacting 2030 target are in some respects bold, but delivery is slow, and may be slowing further. For example, the radical ‘Future Streets‘ proposal to remove through private motor traffic from the city centre, through multiple modal filters, looks set to be delayed by a year or, likely, more [pages 13-16 here]. The top measure to meet the target is through massively improved bus conditions on main corridors: but the long-debated proposal for 7-7-7 bus lanes is now to be subject to an 18-month experiment [page 13 here], details to be approved at an undated future Committee, and on one route only (#44, Balerno to Musselburgh). And, there is a disappointing lack of urgency from the Council Administration on a Workplace Parking Levy, let alone the wider premises parking levy that would make the biggest difference (though a wider levy, to include customer parking at car-based destinations, would need new powers for the Council from the Scottish Government).

Northbound v Southbound

Many more bikes travel northbound (i.e. towards the city centre) than southbound at commuting time. This is not surprising, given likely journey distances. At lunchtime, however, bikes are fairly evenly spaced between northbound and southbound.

Car numbers too are higher northbound than southbound in the rush hour, though the difference is much less marked than for bikes.

City centre, travel directionnorthbound
Commercial (bus, taxi, van, etc)333366375413
Private car673554415415
Bikes as % of total traffic20.8%10.6%10.3%10.1%
% of cars which are single-occupant76.2%73.3%68.9%65.1%
Spokes traffic counts 7.11.23, totals Lothian Rd + Forrest Rd

These patterns result in bikes forming over 20% of citybound rush-hour vehicles, compared to around 10% southbound, and at lunchtime in both directions.

An interesting point is the number of people travelling solo citybound in the rush hour. We estimate, at our count points, this was around 775 people (265 by bike; ~510 alone in a car) so cyclists comprised 34% of those travelling solo, whilst occupying a far lower proportion of roadspace.

Portobello count

Spokes Porty now does a traffic count in Brighton Place at the same times as our City Centre counts. The results are in the full count data file.

Unlike our city centre count above, where both bike and car numbers fell, at Porty both rose. Bikes had the largest rise percentage-wise, though from a low base compared to cars.

The rise in car numbers (up from 600 in May 23 and 598 in November 23, to 642 in May 24, totalling both directions, morning and lunchtime) is disturbing given the council’s target for a 30% car-km reduction by 2030. Is this replicated in other suburban areas, albeit city centre car numbers fell significantly in our counts there?

Porty bike numbers were up both at 8-9am and at lunchtime, a total of 84, compared to 75 in May ’23 and 70 in November ’23, increases of 12% and 20% respectively.

As a % of all vehicles, bikes rose to 9.4% from 8.7% in May 23 and from 8.2% in November 23.

Brighton Place totals 8-9am + 1230-1330May 23Nov 23May 24
Commercial (includes bus & taxi)185189165
Bike % of all vehicles8.7%8.2%9.4%
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 2023 count is here and May 2023 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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