In Manchester, businesses, commuters and private motorists are currently having to deal with a treble whammy of congestion;
- the M60 smart motorway upgrade in progress on the ring road
- the Metrolink tram extension necessitating roadworks and closures across the city centre
- the after-effects of the sink hole that occurred in Mancunian Way
A study jointly carried out by the Centre for Economics and Business Research along with INRIX predicts that by 2030 congestion in the UK will have risen by a further 63%, resulting in the economy losing £21.4bn. Greater Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, alone, estimates that congestion costs local businesses £3m every day.
Smart motorways are currently being hailed as the chief solution. The opening of the hard shoulder as an extra lane at certain times, along with a variable speed limit governed by live traffic data sent directly to cars, claim to improve traffic flow and allow more vehicles to use key stretches of motorway.
Six months after the M42 smart motorway was introduced in Warwickshire, the Highways Agency reported that journey times had been reduced by an average of 27%, complemented by fuel consumption being reduced by 4%.
With more and more vehicles taking to the road each year, it is feasible that by the time the smart motorways go live, the increased volume of traffic will nullify their advantage.
After the M60 smart motorway upgrade has been completed, it hopefully will improve traffic flow on the motorway itself. With arterial roads such as the A6 and A57 experiencing increasingly worse congestion especially during rush hour, a wider suite of improvements and initiatives need to be rolled out to produce any real improvements. Perhaps businesses need to look at implementing flexible working hours to reduce most employees driving during traditional commuting hours.
Bus lanes frustrate many motorists, especially in cities where lines of buses aren’t a common sight. Cars, vans and HGVs find themselves having to compact themselves into one lane simply to provide room for an individual bus every so often.
Traffic light sequences and priorities also need to be assessed and optimised, additional one way systems introduced, and incentives devised to encourage car sharing, park and ride and electric or ultra-low emissions vehicle uptake. Various notorious pinch-points would benefit from being remodelled, too, to alleviate congestion.
With motorists in the North West having to wait until at least autumn 2017 for their smart motorways to be completed, the disruption in the meantime will continue to escalate, with more pain for businesses and private drivers.