FORTH ROAD RAGE
As commuters face the on-going battle of navigating the Queensberry Crossing, Rosie Morton asks why the ‘old’ Forth Road Bridge remains blissfully free of stressed commuters
The new Queensferry Crossing has done little to alleviate congestion
Every day, several of my colleagues at Scottish Field drive across the Queensferry Crossing from rural Fife. It is a uniquely stressful existence. From mid-afternoon onwards they feverishly check the status of the bridge. If all is well, they will be home in time to tuck the children into bed. If things go awry, they can sit in their cars waiting to get over the bridge for literally hours. And things go awry far more often than non-commuters could ever suspect. It has long been thus, but now commuters no longer just have to bear the injury of sitting in traffic as they attempt to cross the Forth, they also have to endure the added insult of gazing across at the virtually empty – but useable – old bridge. Perhaps it is just me, but I find it hard to resist looking longingly at the now-retired Forth Road Bridge where the quiet roads are blissfully free of the 65,000 vehicles which used to carry stressed commuters across it each day. The Forth Road Bridge’s motto, ‘Guid Passage’, now holding an unbearable irony, has never been so true. The question begs to be asked, though: why? Why, when the Forth Road Bridge is still apparently safe to use for
years to come, is it not being employed to ease at least some of the traffic? Figures suggest that southbound waiting times have only improved by five minutes since the new bridge opened, while rush hour crossing times heading northbound have not improved at all. Surely, the perfect solution would be to open the old bridge to prevailing traffic heading into Edinburgh in the morning and out of it in the evening? Or how about using the old bridge while devoting some of the capacity of the Queensferry Crossing to traffic which is seeking to head to the M8 or the bypass and has no desire to come into Edinburgh at all? This would undoubtedly ease some of the traffic flow at a stroke. Of course, there were concerns that the Forth Road Bridge would no longer support high-sided, heavy goods vehicles, and repairing the extensive corrosion of the cables on the old bridge is not economically viable – it would take around seven to nine years to complete, and closing it for that length of time would cost businesses between £0.54 and £1.3 billion. A few years ago, the closure of just a single carriageway on the Forth Road Bridge cost the economy £650,000 a day. But imagine, then, what the economic gain would be if both bridges were open. As it stands, only public transport, motorcyclists, pedestrians and cyclists can use the bridge. Why is it still closed to cars? While the almost deserted 2.5 kilometre stretch remains, it is hard to see the new Queensferry arrival as an improvement on the daily gridlock faced by commuting Fifers. As it stands, it is ridiculously difficult to divert traffic across the old bridge should the new bridge be closed for any reason. It’s only a matter of time before an accident closes the new bridge and drivers are left to sit in a traffic jam while staring at the empty old bridge. Insult is added to injury if we look across the pond, where examples of congestion being successfully reduced are commonplace. From experience, everything is in perfect motion in Montreal and the stress of rush hour is more or less removed. Driving from Laval into Montreal, the flow of lanes is reversed, allowing more traffic in and out of the city at peak times. Admittedly, a few horns still blast and some tense moments remain. But, for the most part, the number of angry red faces and white knuckles are much diminished. It is a system that could easily have been mimicked on the Queensferry crossing, but hasn’t been. It seems almost comical that a city of over 1.7 million people can manage rush hour better than Edinburgh, a city of less than 500,000. Quebeckers have mimicked this traffic management system across their Victoria, Jacques Cartier and Quebec Bridges. So whether they are hurrying to reach a 9am meeting in town, or are racing home to be in time for their favourite television drama, it is plain sailing. The same can be seen across the globe. The iconic Golden Gate Bridge, for example, would undoubtedly be the epitome of intolerable congestion if it weren’t for their reversible lane system. Two of the six lanes connecting San Francisco and Marin County are open to southbound traffic in the morning, then northbound traffic in the evening. Similar set ups can be seen in Vancouver, Sydney, New Zealand, and even in other parts of the UK such as Birmingham, Sheffield and Plymouth. So why are we unable to follow suit? The Queensferry Crossing is a remarkable feat of engineering, but as it stands we have spent £1.3bn without making the journey to work appreciably better for legions of commuters. The worst thing is, it doesn’t have to be this way.
minute“Rush hour waiting times have only improved by five s
Above: The new Queensferry Crossing (on the right) over the Firth of Forth with the older Forth Road Bridge (on the left) and the iconic Forth Rail Bridge (far left).