With a name like Reuben Jacob Smeed, one could be forgiven for thinking that he was a character in a Dicken’s novel. In fact, Professor Smeed devised a formula that advanced a theory, much derided at the time, of how London’s traffic would always travel at nine miles per hour.
Using the formula Smeed’s Law calculates that when traffic speed falls below this magical number of nine, drivers’ patience evaporates and alternative modes of transport are sought.
It was Smeed we can now blame for the Congestion Charge when he chaired a committee which recommended road pricing in 1964, finally introduced in London in 2003 when average speeds in the capital rose from 8.7mph to a blistering 11mph, but only for a short duration before it declined to its optimum nine miles per hour.
Now for over 50 years, his theory has stood the test of time, with pre-pandemic average speeds of 7mph with drivers wasting an average of 227 hours a year stuck in traffic, with the A406 from Chiswick Roundabout to Hanger Lane, part of the North Circular, topping the list as the most congested road in the UK, with the average driver spending 61 hours a year stuck in traffic.
The pandemic lock-down speeds in London increased, but not for long. Ensuring Smeed’s Law could still be valid, Sadiq Khan’s cycle lanes have worked wonders at bringing down average speeds to the optimum of none mile per hour.