Road congestion could cost £15 billion a year if current transport habits continue, a cycling charity has claimed.

The impact of rising private car use will be “crippling” unless more is done to make it easier for people to walk and cycle shorter distances, Cycling UK warned.

The charity said the £7 billion annual cost of congestion calculated by traffic information supplier Inrix for 2019 could more than double.

It noted a recent RAC survey indicating a decline in the number of people who would use their cars less once the coronavirus pandemic ended if public transport was improved.

Government figures for late September to early October showed weekday car traffic had returned to 88% of pre-coronavirus levels despite just 59% of employees having returned to their normal place of work.

Cycling UK head of campaigns Duncan Dollimore said many people use their car for short trips “because they don’t think there’s a realistic alternative”.

He went on: “Nobody’s suggesting that every one of those journeys will be walked or cycled, but a lot of them could be.

“What we need to make sure we get right for post-pandemic UK is the creation of other options for those shorter journeys to driving. That means cycle lanes separated from traffic, and low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs).

“For the economy to lose £7 billion a year for people to sit in traffic before the pandemic was wasteful – to potentially double that when there are alternatives staring us in the face is criminal.”

Philip Harrison, strategic project lead for clinical improvement at University Hospitals Birmingham, said: “We see the impact that the overuse of cars, vans and trucks has on our staff and patients on a daily basis.

“Delays to vital ambulance services caused by congestion; illnesses exacerbated by pollution; injuries which are a direct result of our over-populated roads.

“These problems can be tackled if people have safe, attractive alternatives to driving for those shorter journeys.”

Many councils in England have used Government funding to install LTNs, which often include closing roads to motor traffic.

Opponents claim they have made congestion worse, and have convinced some councils to suspend or downgrade their programmes.