A Waste of Space

(Original edit – and title – for article written for Taxi magazine).

With twenty mile per hour speed limits being rolled out all over London, buses now have a ten mile per hour speed limit on Tottenham Court Road. Pedestrians haven’t got used to the new two-way working and keep getting hit by buses. I shouldn’t make light of it, as it must smart a bit being hit by a bus. I certainly wouldn’t want it to happen to me, or my cab.

I wouldn’t call Tottenham Court Road a proper two-way street as the southbound lane is buses and cycles only. There’s so little traffic going south that it’s really just an under-used contraflow bus lane: a waste of space. When traffic is engineered to crawl it encourages people to walk in between buses. Gower Street has been a road to avoid for months, and I believe this road will soon become two-way too. God help us.

Even the signs are annoying: as you turn left off Tottenham Court Road into Howland Street there’s a sign at the lights saying “Cyclists Wait for Signal”.  This is in the vain hope that cyclists might obey the signals if the order is displayed in print. They shouldn’t need a sign telling them to stop at a red light!

Earlier in the year, Baker Street and Gloucester Place went two-way. How’s this working out? Gloucester Place southbound moves well, but at the expense of the northbound which has got worse. Baker Street used to work all right and should not have been touched. There’s only one clear lane going south because of the right turn lanes. And you are always behind a bus or coach.

London driving is becoming more difficult through increasingly complex traffic systems. Just about every part of Central London is blighted by complicated cycle lanes and strange traffic light arrangements. The Blackfriars area has one of the most complex road systems. They’ve tried to compartmentalise space into dedicated lanes. I get what they’re trying to do, but when everyone has their own separate set of lanes and lights to adhere to it unwittingly defeats the safety object. Pedestrians think they can cross New Bridge Street because the cycles have stopped, but the vehicle lane next to it has a green light. The only way collisions are avoided is by everyone obeys the rules; and that means motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians. It’s complicated though. I particularly dislike the eastbound slip from Victoria Embankment into Queen Victoria Street. Cycles are all over the place and their riders don’t always care whether you have the right of way or not. There are some tight turns in that area too; such as the left from Southwark Street on to Blackfriars Bridge, or from Webber Street into Blackfriars Road. In both cases, there’s a cycle lane facing you, and if you’re not expecting it you are driving straight into the path of a line of bikes.

The ten mile per hour limit means buses will be travelling at about the same speed as horse-drawn traffic did over a hundred years ago. Hardly progress. In considering a return to Victorian values I’ve often wondered what TfL would say if we tried to licence a horse as a taxi. Surely it’ll fit in with their green agenda. There will be no nasty diesel pollution and no speeding. We’d be in full future-proof compliance. I’m not sure about the twenty-five foot turning circle, but what is there not to like?

What about re-introducing horse-drawn buses now we’re back down to ten miles per hour? Traffic will move at a nice calm pace. Running a couple of horses is probably cheaper than diesel – or until tax on vehicle electricity inevitably rockets in price. Bus garages could be converted into stables, and a team of unemployed blacksmiths could be re-employed after a lengthy layoff. Feeding and watering can be carried out in the Hyde Park, which is already established for horse care. Or on those oases of concrete that have sprung up over the last few years: by Euston Tower, or on the opposite corner at the UCE where they usually put the Christmas tree up. Back in Blackfriars there’s that wasted space by the Black Friar pub (why on earth can we no longer turn left there? Don’t they realise that when drivers have to find another way round, their vehicles stay on the road longer and create double the pollution?). Cattle troughs still exist, and these just need to be filled with water. It’s a shame that little pond was removed from Russell Square some years ago.

One thing that needs to be sorted out is who is responsible for cleaning up emissions (do the police clean up after their horses?). I don’t want to go too far into this, but horse waste has its uses. Perhaps Extinction Rebellion activists could volunteer their valuable time and do something useful for a change? They’d get the public back on their side at least. Tune in next time for more half-baked ideas, and expect a return to the horse idea sometime in the near future.

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