Edinburgh reaches top ten list of congested cities

EDINBURGH'S roads are the second most congested in Britain, runner-up only to the traffic jam-ridden roads of London.

Scotland's capital is also ranked as among the worst in Europe, coming in the top ten in a poll of the most congested cities on the continent.

The city was one of 16 from the UK to appear in a list of the 50 most gridlocked cities across Britain and the continent. Edinburgh was rated seventh in the table, with 31.7 per cent of its roads classified as being regularly congested, down from 34.5 per cent last year.

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London came in third, as the survey found as many as 34.5 per cent of its roads were clogged with congestion – a decrease of 0.2 per cent in the past year. But the annual report, compiled by satnav manufacturer TomTom, was topped by Brussels which suffers from 38.9 per cent of its roads being strangled by traffic.

The figures are based on the percentage of main roads suffering daily congestion, calculated by using up to 800 billion pieces of data automatically updated from TomTom's network.

Congestion is defined as a journey which should last one hour taking at least 20 minutes longer because of traffic flow.

The issue of congestion has dogged Edinburgh during the past decade.

An attempt to introduce a traffic charging scheme based on London's existing system of ringed cordons was rejected unanimously in 2005, when 74 per cent – 133,678 residents – voted against it, compared with 45,965 in favour.

The current controversial tram project had also been mooted as a means of cutting congestion, though the lengthy, on-off road works have been the source of severe disruption for motorists, with, in some cases, road layouts and diversions shifting on a regular basis.

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Despite the potential benefits of the tram scheme, spiralling costs means that completion of the work has been delayed as Edinburgh City Council considers its future.

Paul Watters, head of roads policy with the AA, said that in tackling Edinburgh's congestion, the council needed to look at fixing traffic hot-spots rather than seeking a one-off "big fix".

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"Even in cities where some of the congestion is caused by inadequate capacity, and there's not a huge role for building new roads, you can fix some of the junctions which sometimes have a knock-on effect across a network of roads," he said.

"So one bad junction can make quite miserable journey times and if you can sort out one bad junction, it can have quite a significant impact across the local network of roads. It's not one big bang that is going to solve it, it's lots of small things that on the face of it don't seem much, but if you do lots of them it can make a big difference."

He added that Edinburgh could look to London for pointers on tackling congestion: "Many motorists in Edinburgh will know the hotspots, as will the highway authority and it's just having the will to really tackle them."

These include treating route corridors as whole networks rather than individually connected roads, ensuring bus lanes worked effectively and examining the role of traffic light timings in the smooth running of traffic.

The necessity of finding some form of solution to the city's problem was highlighted earlier this year, when a radical overhaul of Edinburgh city centre was agreed in principal by the council. The plans include diverting buses off Princes Street, reducing parking spaces in George Street, giving more space to pedestrians and holding special events in normally traffic-clogged thoroughfares.

However, Dr Geoff Riddington, visiting reader in transport and economics at Glasgow Caledonian University, said that tram works offered a great opportunity to reduce congestion but that as it stood they were contributing the city's traffic problem.

He added that he believed that the council should have persisted with the full tram project, as opposed to its current truncated form.? "I think that it would have made an appreciable difference," he said.

He added that he believed a combination of pedestrianisation of parts of the city, combined with a properly rolled-out high-frequency tram system, would have brought about the desired reduction in congestion.

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However, Cllr Gordon Mackenzie, transport convener for Edinburgh, said: "While it is encouraging that Edinburgh is presented as this year's most improved city after Dublin, I would again question the reliability of the data, which would seem to be based on a very narrow, and potentially misleading, measure of congestion," he said.