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Thousands of diesel vehicles are choking Cambridge roads – survey reveals

Published: Wednesday, November 8, 2017

A queue of traffic in Cambridge, including busses, delivery vans, and a refuse collection lorry

Vehicles were captured over five million times, travelling into, out of, and through Cambridge in a single week - a recent survey recorded.

New figures published today by the Greater Cambridge Partnership – a council-business-academic growth consortium - from one of the largest traffic surveys of its kind in the UK. The survey provides an up-to-date snapshot of the city’s road network and to inform transport projects.

The Partnership have released the data as part of their Our Big Conversation series – speaking and listening to residents on Cambridge’s growth story this autumn. 7000 people have completed the travel survey so far and over 30 public events organised – feedback collected to date suggests congestion is a key concern.

The survey was carried out over an eight day period in June by an independent firm, using cutting-edge Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras. Over 90 cameras were installed temporarily around the city, covering an area between the historic city centre and the A14 and M11 surrounding the city. All the results of the traffic survey were anonymous.

For example, over 113,000 individual vehicle were captured on Wednesday 14 June. The overall breakdown of vehicles on Cambridge’s roads across the survey week includes approximately 86% cars and 12% vans/lorries.

Over half (55.5%) of the cars recorded in the survey were diesel, with the vast majority of buses and goods vehicles also being diesel. Cambridge has a recognised air quality problem, with Nitrogen Dioxide exceeding recommended levels. Traffic in busy city centre streets is estimated to contribute up to 70-90% of locally generated air pollution, with 47 associated deaths every year.

The survey provides a comprehensive dataset for the region’s Transport Planners. As an example of information collected, the survey shows that on Wednesday 14 June at Gonville Place, up to 23% of passing traffic was found to be older than Euro 4 emissions standards, and if Cambridge copied London’s recently introduced ‘Toxicity Charge’, those vehicles would face such a charge.

Alternatively, if a charge was based on the forthcoming London Ultra Low Emissions Zone principles (levying charges on petrol vehicles older than Euro 4 and diesel vehicles older than Euro 6) the survey results indicated that around 60% of vehicles would face that charge.

Improving air quality is a key priority for the Partnership. They are currently researching creating a Clean Air Zone in the city, which could involve a pollution charge or restricting vehicles due to their age or emissions.

Councillor Francis Burkitt, Chair of the Greater Cambridge Partnership, said: “This traffic survey provides us with robust evidence and an even greater understanding of vehicle use in Cambridge. We will be using this data to inform future transport projects for the city.

“We hope to make this data publicly available soon, and will continue to work with the community to design transport solutions that are correct for our environment”.

Transport Experts from the Greater Cambridge Partnership team are now working through the high volume of data to help make decisions on future plans and funding. This survey data will be used with other evidence sources to update the region’s modelling system.

Further analysis from the vehicle survey will be published in early 2018. A number of public events are organised until the end of November as part of Our Big Conversation:

Traffic Survey 2017 infographic showing: 56% of cars in city traffic are Diesel, between 70% and 90% of the air pollution in the city comes from traffic, 47 deaths a year in the city are associated with air pollution, and traffic breakdown showing 86% of traffic are cars, 12% of traffic are HGV/LGV, and 2% is classed as other (e.g. busses, motorbikes etc)