The Ranty Highwayman)
I’m often reading about how cycle tracks (and I mean tracks, not painted lanes) are empty off-peak and this is a reason why they shouldn’t be provided. At best, this is crass ignorance and at worse a calculated play by people with something to lose from providing for active travel.
It should be clear to anyone with a modicum of understanding of how transport works, that at peak times the chances are that it will be busy and this will hold true across all transport modes. It therefore follows that off-peak, there will be less people travelling. This is a really simple and basic pair of facts. OK then, if we now think about capacity as the amount of people we can move along a bit of infrastructure for a given length of time, and demand as being the amount of people who want to move along the same bit of infrastructure for the same given length of time.
I don’t think I have stated anything particularly baffling and to take this just a little step further, where demand exceeds capacity, then those people trying to move along that bit of infrastructure will experience congestion and delay.
Let’s now imagine that we are a government (local, regional or national, it doesn’t matter) and we want to get people travelling in a particular way. At a national level, we might think that everyone having the wondrous freedom of driving their own motor car is the way forward and so we start to add capacity to make our chosen mode more attractive because we don’t want our voters inconvenienced by traffic jams – OK, you don’t need me to go on, you know where this leads.
At the regional or local government scale we generally don’t have the space to keep adding motor capacity, unless we fancy knocking down some homes or tarmacking the parks (and some UK local authorities are perfectly happy to do this), so the challenge is to use the space we have efficiently to move people and goods around.
With congestion (regardless of mode type), there is always the debate about making sure delays aren’t too great, otherwise people might not use that bit of infrastructure. On the other hand perhaps we don’t want to have the capacity way over demand as then our bit of infrastructure will seem superfluous and profligate. The problem here is that we will always require a basic amount of space for a mode to function, be footway width, the number of rail lines, traffic lane widths/ numbers, runway width and length; and indeed cycling infrastructure.