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Vectos leads major international study into traffic congestion

How do Europe’s biggest cities keep growing without traffic causing them to grind to a standstill? Has London’s Congestion Charge actually reduced congestion and why is car use declining in some of the continent’s richest cities?

Those are some of the questions that a major new European Union project is setting out to answer.

Led by British-based transport consultants Vectos, Congestion Reduction in Europe: Advancing Transport Efficiency (CREATE) brings together some of the leading planning, policy and transport experts in Europe to get to the heart of how some major EU cities like London and Paris have managed to reduce car use while their economies continue to grow. By 2031 the population of London will increase by the equivalent of adding Birmingham and Glasgow.

Traffic congestion is estimated to cost EU member states €100 billion annually and that number is set to rise to €150 billion by 2050[1].

Prof Laurie Pickup of Vectos explained the project had two fundamental aims – to establish which policies were most effective at reducing congestion and promoting sustainable transport and then work out how that can be applied to cities of the future.

He said: “The transport network is a city’s lifeblood and if it is blocked then the economy will undoubtedly suffer. Some of Europe’s most populous cities have long since reached ‘peak car’ but still their economies and populations continue to grow. We want to work out exactly why this is.

“There is a huge wealth of untapped evidence in the policy measures and political decisions that have been taken in the past and our aim is to find out what worked and what didn’t.

“For years car use in London was increasing but since 1990 there has been a fall both in car ownership and the total distance travelled by cars in the capital. Even though less car journeys are now made compared to public transport, cycling and walking, congestion has not reduced and that’s because, since 1990, road capacity for vehicles has fallen by a quarter.”

Greater Paris reached ‘peak car’ in 2001 and in the last 10 years the percentage of journeys taken by car has fallen from 44% to 38%.

The project’s first step is to examine the weight of under-utilised traffic data that has accumulated over the last 20 years to find out which policies have been the most effective in battling traffic congestion. Have bus lanes been more successful than cycle lanes, for example, do cycle hire schemes work and does building more roads reduce or actually add to congestion?

Researchers will investigate five cities where car use has fallen – London, Copenhagen, Vienna, Paris and Berlin – and contrast them with five developing European cities where car use is rapidly increasing – Bucharest, Adana, Skopje, Tallinn and Amman.

The project aims to use the lessons of cities that have already reached ‘peak car’ to help other growing cities avoid making the mistakes of the past and help ensure a rapid increase in population does not overload all types of transport systems.

Vectos will be working with its European partners to produce the guidelines for reducing traffic congestion, and these will become the benchmark for the movement of both people and goods in European urban areas. 

The project will also develop a future vision for the participant cities where car use is declining. It will assess the potential of new technologies and changes in business and social practices to help better manage mobility in cities and reduce the need for travel among all sections of society.


[1] These figures are from the EU’s Transport White Paper 2011. The increasing cost was based on the expected increasing congestion resulting from increasing population (more so in the west), increasing urbanisation or car ownership (more so in the east).