Smeed’s Law

With a name like Reuben Jacob Smeed one could be forgiven for thinking that he’s a Dickensian character. In fact Professor Smeed devised a formula which advanced a theory, much derided at the time, of how London’s traffic would always travel at 9 miles per hour. Using the formula [below] Smeed’s Law calculates that when traffic speeds fall below this magical number of nine drivers’ patience evaporates and alternative modes of transport are sought.

[I]t was Smeed we can now blame for the Congestion Charge when he chaired a committee which recommended road pricing in 1964, it was finally introduced into London in 2003 when average speeds in the capital rose from 8.7mph to a blistering 11mph, but only for short duration before it declined to its optimum 9 miles per hour.


Now for 50 years his theory has stood the test of time, that is, until the rebuilding of London’s roads, a project so vast and far reaching it has not been equalled since the Second World War.

In its annual traffic score-card INRIX found that Londoners wasted more time in traffic than any other European city: 101 hours in fact. The nearest European city was Stuttgart, in Germany at a mere 73 hours. Even Los Angeles, a city where other forms of locomotion have passed it by, scored 81 hours.

So has Smeed finally been defeated by Boris? Are there just no viable alternatives to driving now that the elusive 9mph has been breached? The A2203 Blackwall Lane northbound registers an average of 3.8mph in the morning rush hour, with Tottenham Court Road close on its heels at 3.9mph. In fact the 10 slowest roads in Britain, all scoring fewer than 5mph are to be found here in London.

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