Edinburgh named UK's most congested city for fourth year

Edinburgh has been named as the UK’s most congested city for the fourth year in a row, despite the impact of the Covid-related lockdown on traffic levels.

The Capital saw a sharp decline in traffic hold-ups during 2020 but retained its unenviable crown, with drivers facing longer delays than even those in London.

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Data from location specialist TomTom’s global traffic index showed a 22 per cent decline in congestion levels in Edinburgh but revealed that over the year drivers still faced a “congestion level” of 32, meaning journeys at the busiest periods took 32 per cent longer than during times of free-flowing traffic.

That put the Capital ahead of 24 other UK cities, including London (31), Hull (28), Brighton and Hove (28) and Belfast (26), and made it the 43rd most-congested city in the world.

Drivers in Edinburgh still faced longer delays than in any other UK city, despite the impact of lockdown (Photo: Shutterstock)

The TomTom Traffic Index showed that after starting at similar levels to 2019 with congestion of up to 43 per cent, traffic levels plunged in March as the entire country was placed in lockdown and all non-essential businesses closed.

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Congestion in Edinburgh plummeted in April and May to just eight and 11 per cent respectively but began to creep up again in June, reaching 34 per cent in September.

The data showed that despite the decline, drivers caught in Edinburgh’s rush hour wasted almost five days (119 hours) stuck in slow-moving traffic, with the busiest periods adding more than 50 per cent to the average journey time.

February 20 was pinpointed as the single worst day on the city’s roads, with peak congestion of 61 per cent.

(Data: TomTom)

Around the UK, congestion levels fell by an average of 24 per cent but rush hour hold-ups fell by a more significant 35 per cent over the course of the year and a huge 78 per cent during April.

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Preston was revealed to be the least congested city in the country, with a traffic index congestion rating of 16 per cent.

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Stephanie Leonard, head of traffic innovation and policy at TomTom, warned that the data suggested traffic levels are rising once again and rush hour could return in earnest unless action is taken to encourage a change in work and lifestyle, including embracing working from home long-term.

She said: “Early last year we announced that congestion levels were rising in the UK, and the country was moving in the wrong direction, but then everything changed in March 2020. Driven by the global pandemic, the UK saw a massive drop in traffic levels. From lockdowns to closed borders, people movement changed – and it changed very fast. Rush hour, once the bane of drivers and traffic planners, disappeared almost overnight as office workers set up their home offices.”

“However, we shouldn’t expect UK roads to remain quiet forever. As COVID-19 vaccines continue to be created and industrialised, we may see traffic levels shoot up again – as people get back to work and back into old routines.

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“Unless there’s a concerted and deliberate change in driver behaviour, supported by policy makers and employers, we’re unlikely to see a permanent end to the rush hour. That’s why we need action from UK city planners, policy makers, employers and drivers to ensure flexible working hours, working from home, and a smart approach to using traffic data to determine the best travel times.”

The data also showed a stark change in behaviour between lockdowns. On the day before the first national lockdown (March 22), the highest congestion rates were 14 per cent (in Edinburgh, 12 per cent (Brighton and Hove) and 10 per cent (Reading). By contrast, on the day before the second English lockdown (November 4), London, Brighton and Hove, and Hull saw their congestion rates soar by 58, 52 and 47 per cent respectively as people rushed to shops to get supplies and left the major cities in large numbers.