(Original edit of article for Taxi magazine)
The police have been criticised for being slow to prosecute drivers exceeding London’s 20mph speed limits – probably because they’ve more important work to do, like apprehending fire engines crewed by Extinction Rebellion, and yachts on Oxford Street. The bad news is that new 20mph roads are coming soon, and the authorities are calibrating more cameras to catch speed freaks. These 20mph limits are just another money-making scheme dreamed up by hard-up councils. Anyway, can you remember when you last exceeded 20mph on any road in Central London?
Speed is reported to be a factor in 5% of road accidents. Distraction is the biggest cause. Mobile phone use gets a lot of coverage, but there are many more distractions. I’d venture that some of the biggest distractions are those 20mph signs. As soon as you see them your eyes are involuntarily taken off the road and drawn down to your speedometer. The signs don’t usually exist in isolation either; they are just added to the cluster of other signs that we feel compelled to read as we try to concentrate on the driving. While scanning both sides of the road for red and white warning signs, and yellow diversion signs, you’ll also be checking the road below as you negotiate miles of speed bumps. If you are in Islington and want to avoid the horrors of the new system at Highbury Corner, Liverpool Road proves to be a very bumpy and frustrating short cut to Holloway. We all know that Islington like their traffic cameras.
The yellow road closure signs are the hardest to read. The closure details are often crudely written in marker pan, or contain so many words that you’re never going to take in all the information in one go.
We all have our favourites coming in and out of work. Driving in and out of London every workday my eyes are always drawn to the large yellow signs around the junction of Finchley Road and Hendon Way. The signs warn of pointless time-bound closures of Briardale Gardens and Pattison Road. There are a lot of words on those signs: I thought about counting them for the purposes of this article, but that’s like giving in to madness. They’re huge signs, but on a 40mph road like Hendon Way I defy anyone to read every word as they fly past avoiding the buses and coaches pulling in to the middle lane as we merge into Finchley Road. Further down towards Swiss Cottage I’ve sometimes wanted to read the parking restrictions, but you can’t make sense of complex parking rules while you’re moving, and Finchley Road isn’t a place to stop and sightsee.
The signs are often inaccurate: I noticed September’s closure of Fetter Lane started several days early. I never got to read the signs at the southern end of Gray’s Inn Road before the closures. I assume the closures came and went; but a new sign went up the following week at the new closure caught me out. I like the way they keep these signs up to warn us off London completely. I suppose it’s the modern equivalent of putting heads on spikes outside the Tower of London. As I write this I’ve noticed a yellow sign in Brook Street just before Hanover Square. Unless I’m the first cab at that junction I’ll probably not get to read that, so I’ll prepare myself for a nasty surprise if I need Hanover Square in the next few weeks.
I don’t know if driving standards have got worse over the years. Possibly. Driving conditions have certainly got harder. Current road closures are the worst I’ve ever known – and this is before Extinction Rebellion’s October uprising. Bridge Street, New Bridge Street, Oxford Street, Piccadilly Underpass, Brompton Road and Hammersmith Bridge don’t even get mentioned on the traffic reports any more. There are too many to report on, so only a selection of new ones make the bulletins. Hopefully, these closures are temporary; but you never know. I’m surprised they’re working to fix Hammersmith Bridge. It’s going to take three years, and I’m surprised Boris didn’t commandeer it as his garden bridge.
Those are the closures for works. It’s the other closures that are more troubling. All too often we are prevented from doing our job effectively and providing a door to door service. Just recently I’ve come across unexpected restrictions in Bute Street and Enford Street. Time-bound restrictions are the most irritating of them all. Lloyd Baldwin listed many closures in Taxi 452. It made grim reading. As Lloyd pointed out, the timings vary too. Many roads are now closed at certain times of the day around schools. There were no road closures when I was at school. We had to walk on the pavement. We could try driving on the pavements like the cyclists, but there’s probably a law against that too.