At 7.30am, London’s Marylebone Road is even more congested than usual. Seemingly endless lines of cars, taxis, lorries and vans stretch back for at least a couple of miles. Horns sound; the gridlock is total.
Ever since it was built in the 18th century to catch spillover traffic from busy Oxford Street to the south, this road has been one of the capital’s thoroughfares, a major east-west arterial route connecting the City with the A40 into the Home Counties.
Until recently, it was a six-lane highway, essential for the huge quantity of vehicles — 80,000 every day — that use it.
Then, some years ago, it went down to four lanes for private vehicles after a bus lane was installed on either side.
And now, in some stretches, it is down to a single lane each way for cars, vans and lorries. Hence the gridlock.
As these pictures show, hardly any cyclists are actually using the new lanes on the Marylebone Road — perhaps because the build-up in traffic has caused too much pollution for them to risk it
Why just two lanes? Because London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has taken advantage of emergency government powers — introduced this spring as a result of the pandemic — to install cycle lanes, financed by taxpayers.
Transport for London says this is a ‘temporary measure’ and ‘under review’. But many believe the changes are likely to be permanent — and the capital’s drivers, businesses and local residents are furious, saying the measures are crippling trade and ruining the neighbourhood.
As these pictures show, hardly any cyclists are actually using the new lanes on the Marylebone Road — perhaps because the build-up in traffic has caused too much pollution for them to risk it.
And it is not just London. The same pattern has emerged, almost overnight, all across Britain: cities and towns are facing narrowed lanes, closed roads and interminable snarl-ups and pollution.
For example, on the same weekday morning earlier this month, some 120 miles to the west, Bradford-on-Avon was also stuck in a polluted, Covid-generated gridlock.
The same pattern has emerged, almost overnight, all across Britain: cities and towns are facing narrowed lanes, closed roads and interminable snarl-ups and pollution. Cars are seen in rush hour traffic in Bristol
The tailbacks in this beautiful Wiltshire town have arisen after the local planning department took it upon itself to redesign the streets because of the pandemic.
Some £30,000 of taxpayers’ money has been spent on a new one-way system designed to ‘improve social distancing measures’ by widening pavements.
The result? Chaos, increased pollution and, once more, furious locals and businesses.
Sian James of Harlees fish and chip restaurant said she was losing hundreds of pounds a day after a collapse in customer numbers as a result of the measures.
Meanwhile, the traffic tailbacks have become so bad that it takes up to 45 minutes for drivers to cross the town, which has a population of less than 10,000.
More than 2,600 people — a quarter of the town’s population — have signed a petition, forcing minor changes. But the Town Hall is adamant that the one-way system will remain.
Local councils are taking these steps thanks to a post-Covid government initiative called the ‘active transport’ policy.
This allows local authorities for the first time to impose traffic schemes designed to discourage driving — and encourage cycling and walking — without consulting local residents or going through the normal planning process, which can take years.
The Department for Transport is making £250 million available to local authorities. And Town Hall planning departments are taking up the sums with alacrity, introducing one-way systems, ripping out parking spaces and recklessly ushering in ‘low traffic neighbourhoods’.
The effects have been devastating. Just as independent businesses in town centres are crying out for customers more than ever, traffic restrictions have brought drivers and the local economy to a standstill. And day by day, as normality and higher traffic levels return, the streets become more devastatingly stationary.
The picture is repeated elsewhere. In Liverpool, a pop-up cycle lane on West Derby Road — a key route across the city — has caused so much congestion that residents are planning a blockade to compel the council to remove it. A rush hour road in Liverpool is pictured above
Figures released this week by the satnav company TomTom showed a 25 per cent increase in London’s traffic congestion alone on this time last year. ‘This is a co-ordinated attack on the world’s highest-taxed drivers: they have become cash cows,’ said Howard Cox of the campaign group Fairfuel UK, adding that dozens of MPs support his campaign against the new measures. Drivers pay the Treasury £40billion a year in taxes — but the war on them is deepening.
‘Most of the transport political advisers are young, fit, well-off, urban-based Lycra-wearing cyclists. No pro-motoring groups are included in any discussions. That cannot be fair.
‘Every single driver wants to breathe clean air too, but there is no need to hit them in the pocket, ban them or block their freedom to drive by narrowing the roads for the benefit of a minority of road users who do not pay any [vehicle] tax.’
Given the devastation that Covid and internet shopping have already wreaked on Britain’s high streets, these new measures could not have come at a worse time.
A new survey by Fairfuel UK — shown exclusively to the Mail — found that 38 per cent of small businesses across the UK said they would lose customers as a result of them.
In Worthing, West Sussex, local firms are suffering as new Covid-19 cycle lanes have reduced the A24, one of the main roads into the town centre, to a single lane, often causing gridlock. More than 7,000 residents have signed a petition calling for the new cycle lanes to be removed immediately.
Business groups point out that even in summer only four per cent of visitors travel into Worthing by bike; in winter, numbers are even smaller.
Sharon Clarke, Director of the Worthing Town Centre Initiative, says: ‘When a town is trying to recover after a pandemic, the last thing we want to do is make it more difficult for people to come into it.’
The picture is repeated elsewhere. In Liverpool, a pop-up cycle lane on West Derby Road — a key route across the city — has caused so much congestion that residents are planning a blockade to compel the council to remove it.
Locals insist they were not consulted over the scheme and were given only a day’s notice before it was put in place.
Liverpool resident Chris Giblin told the Mail: ‘It’s become an obstacle course for pedestrians. Our local councillor claims that there are 7,000 cyclists on the West Derby Road. I haven’t seen any.’
In Bristol the new Covid-19 cycle lanes on Lewins Mead offer fast access into the city centre for cyclists — and appalling tailbacks for motorists. Drivers say the new lanes can put as much as 20 minutes on a journey — but the City Council is unrepentant, and more cycle routes are planned.
Meanwhile, in Reading, Berkshire, even the pro-cycling lobby condemns a new Covid-19 traffic scheme to assist social distancing.
The Reading Cycle Campaign says that the scheme, which is supposed to encourage cycling, was introduced ‘on the quiet’ and will increase traffic flow. One street, Westfield Road, has become a ‘racetrack’ for cars, they add.
Many of the most draconian measures against motorists — as in the case of the Marylebone Road — have been installed in London, where Fairfuel UK’s new survey of more than 25,000 road users found that more than 80 per cent of drivers believe Mr Khan is doing a ‘dreadful’ job.
‘We are not against cycle lanes,’ says Tim Carnegie of residents’ group the Marylebone Association. ‘We are only against cycle lanes on trunk roads: they are dangerous for everyone.
The Government’s Covid-19 emergency transport powers will come to an end next spring: after that, local authorities will be forced to hold proper consultations with residents. Many fear, however, that ‘temporary’ measures will swiftly become permanent, and challenging them is difficult. A closed lane is seen above in Lewisham
‘So many local authorities have rushed into these schemes without thinking about them. This kind of congestion is hardly helping the country get back on its feet.’
In the affluent borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, the council has been truly brazen in its attack on drivers.
In what is believed to be a UK first, motorists from outside the borough who dare to drive into certain roads have been hit with £130 fines. To everyone except local residents, these roads are a ‘no-go zone’ — one that has inevitably forced drivers onto busier roads, causing even more snarl-ups.
Critics are concerned this pilot scheme is liable to be adopted by other councils as a lucrative source of revenue.
Further to the west, Ealing council is one of many in London to have introduced what it calls ‘low traffic neighbourhoods’, blocking cars off many minor roads.
Though a cyclist herself, local Labour MP Dr Rupa Huq (sister of ex-Blue Peter presenter Konnie) describes the new measures as ‘poorly thought through’ and ‘pushed through without consultation’. She believes the zones will impact local shops, forcing more people to desert the High Street.
It is the lack of consultation that infuriates so many of those affected. Plenty of drivers also use bicycles — and in most cases would be happy to see more cyclists on appropriate quieter roads, for good environmental reasons.
But motorists object to the way that many local councils have exploited a moment of national crisis to impose draconian traffic restrictions under the guise of measures to stem the pandemic.
Jack Cousens, Head of Roads Policy for the AA, explains: ‘The local authorities did not talk to local residents, they didn’t hold public meetings.
‘They just took the money. The Government’s intention was good. But if the Government wants people to buy into these new schemes they have to ensure a proper consultation process.’
The Alliance of British Drivers (ABD) has considered taking the Government to court over the lack of consultation — but has been advised that the Department for Transport acted within the law.
Andrew Taylor, the ABD’s chairman, told the Mail: ‘The legislation gave the Government enough wriggle room to make sure that any legal challenge was rejected.
‘Introducing these measures can happen only at the expense of other road users. Congestion doesn’t go away — it simply gets displaced.’
Transport Minister Grant Shapps, perhaps stung by some of the criticism, this week admitted some local authorities are ‘abusing’ the scheme.
In a newspaper article, he castigated councils for installing pointless one-way systems and barriers that offer ‘no benefit to anyone’.
Mr Shapps warned them: ‘Speak to local residents, get it fixed or no more cash.’ The money is being made available to local councils in tranches and Mr Shapps has the power to turn off the tap. But many believe he should have been more cautious before turning it on.
The Government’s Covid-19 emergency transport powers will come to an end next spring: after that, local authorities will be forced to hold proper consultations with residents.
Many fear, however, that ‘temporary’ measures will swiftly become permanent, and challenging them is difficult.
Fairfuel’s Howard Cox, however, anticipates a long fight. ‘There are practical ways to reduce emissions and reduce fuel consumption,’ he says. ‘So why are the politicians ignoring these solutions? It’s simple: drivers are seen as pariahs, demonised to the hilt and a source of speedy cash for money-strapped local authorities.’