An increase in cycle lanes during the coronavirus pandemic contributed to London becoming the world’s most congested city, according to new analysis.
Traffic information supplier Inrix told the PA news agency that segregated spaces for cycling were one of the reasons drivers in the capital will lose an average of 148 hours stuck in jams across the whole of 2021.
That is just 1% down on pre-coronavirus pandemic levels, which is a much smaller decline than many other major cities across the globe.
In 2020 London was ranked only the 16th most congested city.
New cycle lanes were installed in the capital last year following the coronavirus outbreak to encourage active travel.
Several councils reversed the schemes following vocal opposition by motorists who claimed they caused delays, but some of the lanes remain in place.
Inrix operations director Peter Lees said the installation of cycle lanes had a “negative impact on congestion”.
He said: “Use of roads is all about supply and demand.
“If the demand goes up but the road space is being shared with other forms of transport, there’s less tarmac effectively for the cars to be on, which then has an impact on the speeds on the road and therefore congestion.”
But Duncan Dollimore, head of campaigns at charity Cycling UK, disputed the claims.
He said: “It’s incredibly simplistic for Inrix to suggest that the use of road is all about supply and demand, without considering how efficiently that road space is used.
“On Blackfriars Bridge, cycle lanes take up 20% of the road space but move 70% of the people across it at peak times, with cycle lanes across London moving more people more efficiently in less space.
“Car dependency locks in congestion. By building more cycle lanes, London is rebalancing their roads, offering a safe, healthy and space efficient alternative.”
Will Norman, London’s walking and cycling commissioner, said: “Congestion isn’t caused by cycling or cycle lanes, but by too many motor vehicles.
“Decades of credible research shows that cycling, walking and public transport are key to reducing traffic and pollution in cities.
“Our long-term approach to managing congestion in London is focussed on reducing car use and making the best use of the space we have by prioritising the most space and energy efficient modes of transport.
“Cycling is a much more efficient way of traveling around London.”
Mr Lees said the main reason for London’s surge in the traffic jam ranking was its relatively strong economic recovery from the pandemic compared with other global cities.
“One might argue it’s a good thing that the congestion is there because it’s showing that the economic recovery has been particularly quick, but the downside to that means congestion has returned,” he said.
Paris was in second place in the global ranking for most congestion (140 hours lost in 2021), followed by Brussels (134 hours lost), Moscow (108 hours lost) and New York (102 hours lost).
“This report shows that congestion is lower in London than in 2019 and our investment in walking and cycling has made it safer and easier to choose sustainable ways of travelling, but TfL is determined to work with the mayor to do everything possible to make London a greener, less-congested city.”
Across the UK as a whole, drivers will waste an average of 73 hours in traffic this year.
That is up 36 hours from 2020, but down 42 hours compared with pre-Covid 2019.
Inrix estimated that the economic hit from drivers being stuck in traffic this year will cost an average of £595 per person, and the UK £8 billion.
Trips to larger city centres still lag behind normal levels, but smaller cities are experiencing “minimal decreases in travel” which is maintaining congestion levels, according to the company.
This has led to Cambridge becoming the UK’s second most congested city, followed by Bristol, Exeter and Cheltenham.