Do you have to suffer one of the region’s slowest roads on your daily commute?
- Credit: Gregg Brown
The early-morning commute is a journey many of us undertake but few enjoy – now a new report suggests the rush hour could be getting slower and longer.
The tired legions of early-morning commuters stare glumly at the queuing traffic ahead.
Engines rumble amid a hazy fog of exhaust fumes as the stony-faced motorists creep slowly towards their destination.
For the thousands of drivers who must endure this daily journey, rush hour can be a huge frustration, which the cheery demeanour of the breakfast radio host does little to resolve.
And, unfortunately, it appears to be getting worse.
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Official figures released last month show that council-run A-roads in Suffolk and north Essex now take longer to navigate during peak morning hours – 7am to 10am – than in any year since 2007.
The report, published by the Department for Transport (DfT), suggests the nationwide slow-down may be due to economic growth, which in turn has led to increased traffic volume and worsening congestion, with town centres – particularly Ipswich – faring the worst.
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The southbound A1022, Civic Drive, in Ipswich was the region’s slowest, with an average rush-hour speed of just 13mph over the first six months of this year. Five more routes within the county town also feature in the region’s ten slowest council-maintained A-roads. Others include roads in Newmarket, Bury St Edmunds, Lowestoft and Colchester.
Highways chiefs in Suffolk stressed the slow-down was less significant than in other parts of the country and said the county council had introduced measures to encourage more to use alternative modes of transport and ease congestion. Frustrated motorists, however, have called for more to be done to improve journey times and end their commuting misery, with many blaming the number of traffic lights, particularly in Ipswich, on the slow-down.
Jason Player, commenting on Facebook, called for the Civic Drive roundabout to be restored and traffic lights removed.
“Since the lights have gone in there’s nothing but congestion and the junction is downright dangerous, with no clear direction which lane motorists should be in,” he added
“There have been many accidents, with a death waiting to happen – very short sighted of the council.”
Alex Malcolm agreed that the traffic lights had worsened congestion.
“Now I find pedestrians dashing across the road before the green man, whereas before the underpass was used,” he added.
Inconsiderate motorists parking on double yellow lines were to blame for some of the trouble, Jonathan Williamson said, suggesting increased police patrols may help solve the problem.
Many motorists said they avoided Ipswich town centre altogether because of the traffic problems, with some suggesting the congestion was harming the economy.
Rebecca Foster said: “People just go elsewhere to shop and Ipswich is becoming a right dump.”
Overall, the average speed recorded across Suffolk in the year up to June was 29.6mph, down from 30.6mph when the statistics began for the year up to July 2007. In Essex the latest average was 29.1mph down from 30.6mph.
The slow-down was particularly evident along the southbound A1308 in Stowmarket, which was 4.7mph slower on average in June this year compared with July 2007; the eastbound A1017 near Haverhill (3.4mph) and the A120 in Essex (3.1mph).
The fastest A-roads tend to be large out-of-town routes such as the southbound A12 in Suffolk, which averaged 42.5mph over the first six months of the year during morning rush hour and the northbound A140 from Needham Market towards Norwich, which averaged 40.6mph over the same period.
A spokesman for Suffolk County Council said: “Suffolk is actually faring better than the average across the region when it comes to average journey times and also comparatively well compared to other areas of England, which is good news for Suffolk’s road users.
“The upturn in the local economy and lower fuel costs are a potential cause for these increases in traffic and it is to be expected that speeds will be lower and journey times longer with greater volumes of traffic using the road network at particular times of day.
“We are working with the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce and New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership to secure much-needed improvements to the A14 trunk road and we support the ‘No more A14 delays in Suffolk’ campaign.”
Nationwide, London showed the greatest reduction in average speed, down 4.1% in the past year to just 14.9mph, which was also the slowest of all nine regions in the UK. The East of England, with an average speed of 28.6mph, remains the fastest.
The DfT report states: “The general downward trend in annual average weekday morning peak speeds observed over the last three years can be partly attributed to intermittent periods of high rainfall over this period, as well as the continuous growth in levels of traffic on A-roads over the last two years.
“Between March 2015 and June 2015, preliminary estimates suggest that GDP has increased by 0.7%, with traffic levels on A-roads (in Great Britain) increasing by 0.6% and average speeds on local A-roads falling by 0.6%. A stronger economy often results in more traffic on roads.”
Motoring groups said the slowdown may be due to people travelling further for work.
An AA spokesman said: “Commute distances have grown, probably reflecting the difficulty and cost of moving – with many people having to travel to find replacement jobs.
“As for the future, if current trends continue, more people will want the convenience and flexibility of cars – they just won’t use them as extensively as they used to.”
Essex County Council said it would carry out its own analysis of the DfT’s data.
A Friday morning rush hour in Civic Drive
It was just another Friday morning rush hour in Civic Drive in Ipswich.
Cars and vans crawled along the region’s slowest A-road making painfully slow progress, worsened by the roadworks on Handford Road, which blocked the connecting roundabout with Civic Drive.
Roadside signs warned of likely queues, vehicles edged forward a few feet at a time, some drivers risked changing lanes while queuing on the roundabout, while others peeped their horns in frustration.
And all this on a day which many say was better than normal.
Car owners at the Spiral Car Park just opposite the Handford Road roundabout said most weekday morning were far worse, with many blaming traffic lights for the increased congestion.
Neil Wright, 55, who works in the car park, said the introduction of traffic lights at Handford Road had made the connecting roundabout a “compete nightmare”.
“Why they did it, I’ll never know; the build-up here is worse than it was before,” he said.
“They spent a lot of money on these lights and it’s not made any improvement.”
Mr Wright said days when there were Ipswich Town games at Portman Road were often worse than rush hour, with many motorists struggling to leave the car park to join the traffic.
“Nothing moves at all, it’s total gridlock,” he added.
Neil Brett, who has been driving into Ipswich from Colchester for the past 15 years, said that on some days it could be difficult just leaving the car park to start the journey home.
“It’s particularly bad on football days when the extra traffic really clogs the traffic lights,” he added.
Another, who did not give her name, said she had been making the journey in from Stowmarket to Ipswich most days since 2003 and had noticed traffic becoming increasingly more “chaotic” over the years.
Reducing congestion - the way forward
Highways chiefs in Suffolk say they have a three-strand plan to tackle congestion:
1 – Encourage more drivers to walk and cycle as an alternative for short journeys, which make up much of the county’s road use.
2 – Invest in sustainable transport to improve cycling routes, pedestrian crossing and bus information.
3 – Major infrastructure projects, such as the newly completed northern spine road in Lowestoft, and the soon-to-commence relief road in Bury St Edmunds, as well as further projects to improve traffic capacity along Nacton Road and Ransomes Way in Ipswich.