Tag Archives: cycle superhighway

Airport Expansion

(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine).
So the decision’s been taken and Heathrow is getting a third runway. Business experts say we need more capacity in order to compete with European hub airports. Experts have been telling us all sorts lately, and I’m sceptical. Anyway, if we need a new runway, I’m glad it’s Heathrow.
For as long as I remember, we’ve been told that airport expansion destroys the environment and devastates communities. But those captains of industry are saying we need more planes, and more space on which to land them on. Never mind that air quality will plummet, wildlife put at risk, and villages cut in half – this is good for Britain. I hear four thousand homes are at risk in the villages around Heathrow. The fuel aeroplanes use is at least as bad as the stuff our cabs run on – and I’ve heard no calls for electric capability here. Or a Congestion Charge.
Business people are also driving the expensive and damaging HS2 project – all to save twenty minutes on a journey from London to Birmingham. I thought we lived in a technological age. I didn’t think business had to be conducted face to face anymore. Surely most of it could all be done through video conferencing? Technology allows people to work on trains, so I’m not convinced HS2 is worth it. I’m sceptical about anything big business bods tell us: it never seems to be for our good, always for the benefit of big business shareholders, and for those high rollers jetting around the world on jollies. Concerns about community and environment always seem to be trumped by business concerns. I presume it’s the same business people who also said we needed to remain part of the European Union in order to compete. I still suspect they only want us in the EU so they can access cheap labour from Eastern Europe. Fracking is another controversial pursuit, and even if it proves to be clean and safe, you can be sure that the main beneficiaries will be the shareholders involved in the project. I notice that it’s started up north, a few hundred miles away from the bulk of Tory voters.
I’m not sure why Luton Airport wasn’t looked at for expansion, as getting to Luton from Central London isn’t too bad. Speaking personally, for last summer’s annual holiday I left a two-hour carbon footprint driving my diesel-powered filth cart to Gatwick. Luton would have taken me only twenty-five minutes, and I might have been able to do it on public transport. I’ve heard City Airport is a nice hassle-free airport to fly from, but I’ve dismissed it as an airport to use for my summer holiday as I imagine the nightmare of carting suitcases across London by tube and the Docklands Light Railway. I could make it to Euston and get a cab, but I know what dent the fare could make to my holiday funds should we encounter any flak. Stansted is a bit of a slog driving through Hackney and Walthamstow. Heathrow is closer and is reasonably accessible by road.
If expansion at Heathrow results in more passengers it follows that we’ll enjoy more custom too; but to some extent what we’d gain in increased custom would be offset by traffic congestion. We’ll lose some customers as extra congestion will put people off making the journey by road. This is why I would’ve opposed London City Airport or Gatwick. City Airport is closer to Central London than Heathrow, but the journey by road is a nightmare. It can cost the passenger just as much in money and time as the longer run to Heathrow if the Cycle Superhighway is in a particularly angry mood.
I’ve never understood why Gatwick is marketed as a London airport. It’s nearer to Brighton than it is to Central London, and on an average day it takes ninety minutes to drive there. On the rare occasion a customer asks me to take them for Gatwick I always explain that it’s going to be a long, horrible, and very expensive drive through some of South London’s busiest High Streets. I normally try to put them off and drive them to Victoria instead. The only thing that would make Gatwick viable for expansion would be if a motorway was built from Stockwell. I’d only support expansion of Gatwick if Streatham High Road was also expanded.
Birmingham was never mentioned in discussions. Experts say there isn’t the demand outside the south-east, but if HS2 is built we’ll be able to get from Euston to Birmingham Airport in about an hour.
So, most people agree that an increase in air travel is a bad thing, but the government have decided to support it anyway. Planes are Bad, Bad, Bad! That’s why we pay extra taxes to fly these days. Occasional holidaymakers like myself are charged extra taxes, but they should tax the frequent fliers and leave the occasional users alone. Mind you, we won’t see it in action for at least nine years. Call me controversial, but stuck in traffic today, I was wondering whether planes normally using City Airport could land on the deserted strip of the cycle superhighway at weekends?


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Dangerous Roads


(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine)

Dangerous Roads

The long-awaited road modernisation system around Blackfriars is now open – complicated isn’t it?  Thankfully, we’re sitting in the system for long enough to take it all in:  join the queue on Blackfriars Bridge and marvel at the complex arrangement of different vehicle and cycle lanes, traffic lights that apply to different road users at different times; then plan what lane to get in before you get stuck behind a stationary tipper truck.

Exchanging views on social media I found I wasn’t alone in finding the cycle superhighway system confusing.  Vehicles and cycles come from different directions, and pedestrians crossing at a stationary line of motor vehicles don’t always realise that the cycles have right of way and are about to speed into their path.  There are some sharp turns available to motorists, and these turns are only safe if the cyclists obey their stop lights.  It’ll be fun when the traffic lights fail at these junctions.  I also wonder how people might make sense of all the different lanes when there’s a covering of snow.  You won’t be able to make out the cycle lanes, and even the kerbs could be submerged.

As I write this, there is no access to Tudor Street from New Bridge Street.  You have to use Bridewell Place to access the Tudor Street area: a pointless manoeuvre, and yet another restriction that makes people’s journeys longer.  They’ve put a huge concrete block stopping you access the Embankment at the bottom of Temple Avenue.  They stopped the left turn a long time ago; now they’ve stopped the right turn too.  There’s a new unrestricted turn available from Carmelite Street, but for a few weeks there were no warning signs detailing a closure and an alternative route.  This behaviour annoys everyone, and ensures our noisy, dangerous, and polluting, vehicles are on the road longer.

Following a sat nav on unfamiliar roads can be stressful and fraught with danger in big towns, and some road systems only exist in London, or in the bigger cities (a northerner I took to Pancras once asked me what double red lines meant.  A fair question; and more sensible than my vague answer that they are worse than double yellows).

I believe all roads with contra-flow cycle lanes are hazardous.  Do you always remember to look left and right when you cross Royal College Street from Pratt Street?  I’m sure you do, as we know what’s coming; but what if you’ve just driven down from outside London and you’re less familiar the complexities of Camden Town’s one way system?  All manner of dangers are lurking behind those plant pots in Royal College Street.

More and more you notice parts of roads given over to contra-flow cycle lanes.  Have you noticed the cycle lane on the east side of Chancery Lane?  (obliterated by scaffolding lorries at the weekend).  Maybe you’ve been surprised by a cycle emerging as you turn from Malet Street into Montague Place?   In the event of a collision, m’lud will point out in court that there is a warning sign.  But if you’re not familiar with the area, you might not think to stop and peer around to your right in case a cycle is coming into what appears to be a quiet one way street.

My favourite is the short eastbound section of Jermyn Street.  As far as most people are concerned it’s a fairly narrow one-way street.  There’s a sign at the junction of Haymarket indicating it’s no entry apart for cycles, but there are no markings indicating a cycle lane, and there are no clues that a cycle – or rickshaw – might be speeding towards you as you turn in from Regent Street.  Amazingly, buses sometimes use this street.  Another accident waiting to happen.

Some roads don’t need cycle lanes to make them hazardous.  You might not confidently know which bit of Exhibition Road is for vehicles and which bit is for pedestrians.  How far you can drive up the western side before you hit a bench or a rank of Boris Bikes?  Is the junction at Prince Consort Road a roundabout?  There are no definite markings, just vague circular paving.  There’s no roundabout sign.  Everyone treats it like a roundabout, but maybe it’s not?  Maybe we don’t need to give way to traffic on the right?  An interesting query for the insurance companies, I think.

Road space has been reduced all over London, yet demand continues to increase.  Driving has become harder work; not just because of traffic levels, but because of such complex systems.  It would be more helpful to simplify rather than make more complex.  Vauxhall junction has always been nasty and I dread going there.  The re-modelling was probably well-meaning, but the junction’s complexity doesn’t make it any safer.

Sometimes junctions are hazardous purely because the arrangement of traffic lights isn’t what you are familiar with.  The junction of Marlborough Road and The Mall is less busy and less complex than Blackfriars, but we’ve all seen cars speeding through a light that wasn’t meant for them.

However familiar we think we are with the roads, we still have to pay attention to signs and to the increasingly complicated arrangement of traffic signals.  Oh, and look out for pedestrian only areas too:  I recently copped a PCN for tuning around in Petty Wales.  If you don’t know Petty Wales, look it up!  Be careful out there!


Copyright: Chris Ackrill, 2016.

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