Pretty early on Monday morning final week I acquired a name from a radio station: might I come on to debate a research exhibiting London is the world’s most congested metropolis, and that is due to cycle lanes. Grasp on, I replied – say all that once more?
Because it turned out, I by no means appeared (another person acquired the half). However, intrigued, I seemed into the analysis which supposedly confirmed all this. And that was when issues began to get unusual.
Each claims: London being the world’s most congested metropolis, and cycle lanes being a part of the issue – have been all around the media that morning. This included retailers you’d anticipate (Every day Mail: “Cycle lanes put in at begin of Covid pandemic assist make London most congested metropolis in world”) and a few you’d hope higher of (BBC London: “Cycle lanes blamed as metropolis named most congested”).
And but … each arguments have been seemingly nonsense. They have been primarily based on a report referred to as the International Visitors Scorecard by an organization referred to as Inrix, which sells visitors information.
The primary drawback was the declare of London being the world’s most traffic-clogged metropolis, a place no comparable rating has ever given it. One clue got here after I acquired maintain of the report – it doesn’t even checklist a single metropolis in Asia or Africa. This wasn’t a world research, it was one primarily based on the place Inrix occurs to function.
Much more of a puzzle was the concept of cycle lanes being at the very least partly accountable. The papers carried the identical quotes, from an Inrix worker referred to as Peter Lees.
“Use of roads is all about provide and demand,” he stated. “If the demand goes up however the highway house is being shared with different types of transport, there’s much less tarmac successfully for the automobiles to be on, which then has an affect on the speeds on the highway and due to this fact congestion.”
There are two issues with this, the primary and extra urgent being that it reveals a reasonably worrying ignorance concerning the fundamentals of visitors. I don’t want to rehash many a long time of analysis, however the fundamentals are that you could’t liken visitors to water, with the width of the pipe figuring out how a lot can movement. Visitors may be very completely different, as proven numerous occasions by the concept of induced demand.
The second drawback is that even the International Visitors Scorecard doesn’t make this argument. Cycle lanes don’t even get a point out in its 21 pages. So the place did it come from?
Seemingly, it was straight from Lees, who was interviewed by PA Media, the information company. PA included them on Sunday in an embargoed story, which was then picked up by the opposite retailers.
The PA story recognized Lees because the “Inrix operations director” however his official title is definitely “director of operations – media”. He’s head of press, not a visitors wonk.
How did all this occur? Inrix and Lees have been considerably coy. After a number of emails final week, Lees stated he might reply queries in writing, which I despatched. However regardless of a number of followups, all I acquired was digital tumbleweed.
One slight plot twist got here in a tweet which reprinted a reply from Lees to an Imperial School London scientist querying the findings. The No 1 rating for London, Lees stated, “signifies a constructive financial rebound [from Covid] for the UK”. Cycle lanes have been talked about amongst “a lot smaller contributory elements”. A few of the headlines have been “not precisely representing what we stated”.
With out desirous to get too Hercule Poirot, I feel we now have a believable sequence of occasions right here. An organization that makes its cash from the auto trade, and which is a component owned by Porsche, tries to get some free PR by publicising its analysis in arguably questionable phrases.
The pinnacle of media does an interview and floats the additional, newsworthy concept. Was this a deliberate ruse? Maybe we’ll by no means know.
Both approach, we now have a pair of myths escaped into the wild, the place they are going to lurk for years, turning up often as proof within the bizarre tradition struggle towards biking. Already one has appeared: a Sunday Telegraph article this weekend arguing towards low-traffic neighbourhoods confidently named London because the world’s most congested metropolis.
What can we do? Not a lot, I supposed, besides merely, and but once more, observe the miserable and slippery slope from press launch to information story to unkillable delusion with regards to biking tales. I’d prefer to suppose some folks would study classes from this debacle. However I’m not precisely assured.