Tuesday, 30 October 2012



Most citizens of most countries are truly experienced experts on roads, rails and transport. To the great inconvenience of tidy civil servants, we all travel and clutter up the otherwise empty, pristine and manageable routes that THEY are responsible for. We walk, cycle, drive, ride, abuse and generally mess up the traffic systems – that would be better and cheaper …if entirely unused.

The average citizen, in the average pub, after the average number of drinks can suggest highly intelligent transport improvements, with excellent reasoning, for many a happy hour. If only THEY would listen – and learn – and apply. As it is, THEY have all the saying and doing and we, the people, do all the listening and applying. Too often, the first we know of major changes to our travel arrangements is when we find railway lines torn up, streets going one-way only, bus-lanes, bollards and hazard signs blocking our path; holes, ditches, broken bridges and a million other impediments to our smooth and elegant procession; that were definitely not there yesterday.

We do however, today, have notice of one of the more insane and idiotic proposals to discourage our wanderlust. Drivers are to be fined for using the main roads.


There are little known rest-homes, far from any roads and rails, retreats for traffic planners who have had enough, or usually have had far too much and have been reduced to gibbering wrecks. As they are restored to health, they are encouraged to take up their burdens once more – under strict medical supervision – and to frame novel, experimental ideas that can be imposed on their fellow countrymen. This idea emerged from just such a place. Let’s have a jar or two at the bar in the clinic and, kindly, unpick this latest offering from these mentally vulnerable invalids.

Where I live, Oxford, is an old, small city of 250,000 souls, with medieval winding streets, few car parks, at least 10,000 empty buses a day clogging its roads – with a problem peculiar to university cities, namely an endless stream of young learner drivers, a constant river of visiting foreign drivers, a deluge of meandering lost tourists, a scalding spring of cantankerous academics determined to abolish, or at least block, all “wheeled vehicles”, and a sad dribble of distressed, disoriented but still driving very, very old, often titled persons or retired judges who don’t so much steer as tack, like a yacht, and so require two or three clear traffic lanes ahead and to the side of them. Oxford does not suit the impatient. It often takes an hour to drive two miles. At the beating heart of the city is the least intelligent, slowest, most gridlocked central traffic flow ever conceived – serving Oxford Railway Station. This most stupid of all systems (if you imagine I exaggerate – view it on Google Earth) hates pedestrians, loathes cyclists, blocks buses, gridlocks cars and immobilises vital trade vehicles. It serves no travellers. Its purpose is to be the unavoidable hub that gridlocks all Oxford. The designer’s logic and cunning plan is that after a century or so of terrible, raging frustration and apoplectic deaths – all travellers will learn to avoid the centre of Oxford.  

Fortunately, and surely this is true of most small towns, the outskirts are by-passed by fast main roads. The A34 pounds along with thousands of vehicles a day from North to South; the A40 zooms by with more thousands travelling between London in the East to Wales in the West; the M40 thunders day and night with six lanes of passenger and goods vehicles from the East before swinging North to Birmingham. We also have an outer Ring Road, a fast (a relative term) dual carriageway incorporating the main roads and feeding into carefully and consciously obstructed suburban roads; and an inner Ring road, which isn’t a ring, more of a ribbon car park, damned at both ends to ensure hours of gridlock.          

What the combined brains of the civil service and local traffic planners now want to see around Oxford is a set of signs warning drivers on the main roads that if they continue on those roads they will be charged, fined, perhaps arrested and most certainly vilified. The poorest and most timid of those who have previously dared to by-pass the inner and outer gridlocked city streets on the main roads are to be forced onto the minor roads and streets. They will have to get out of the way of the rich, the busy, the impatient and the robust and clear-off their preferred routes as the privileged drivers blast through on their vitally important journeys.

Across Britain, these STOP or PAY or DIE signs will cause confusion on the main roads; which will cause accidents, queues and traffic jams. Once the message gets through to its intended victims – short journey shoppers, school run mums, commuters circumnavigating the city - and other wastrels; ten percent will turn off the main roads onto minor roads and will instantly create gridlock on all the minor roads; will run down suburban cyclists, pedestrians and joggers; endanger local children in the streets; and utterly baffle the foreign tourists.

To those purblind, smug planners who imagine all travellers will simply pay the extra tariffs – please take a look at the almost empty M6 Toll road running alongside the overcrowded but free M6 Motorway. Most travellers will use the free gridlocked routes to avoid paying an extra £5 in cash. It will be chaos on our minor roads.

Go back to your rest-homes, tranquillisers and drawing boards – and start thinking.

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