I drove into London on Friday night to collect my wife from St. Pancras station. She was returning from a week’s work in Paris, and since her train got in at 9:40 p.m. I thought it would be a mercy for her not to have to travel through the underground to Waterloo and then catch a train to Teddington. My wife was grateful, but the journey was like entering Hades, and London seemed reluctant to let me leave.
Three points stand out .
The first was the sheer arbitrariness of traffic regulations. Bus lanes would appear à propos of nothing with a warning of prosecution if they were entered between times which varied from one bus lane to the next. Straight-ahead lanes would become compulsory right-turn lanes. And what appeared to be direct routes from A to B were confounded by arbitrary one-way systems. As a private driver I got the basic message: you are scum, these streets are for buses and taxis: get lost.
The second point was the complete absence of a system for collecting or delivering people to the station. At Heathrow, when I collect my wife, I am directed to a car park where I pay around £5/hour to leave my car. There is no alternative, but the car parks are clean, unthreatening, and convenient for the relevant terminal. And at least I am told where the car park is! At St. Pancras, I identified the car park entrance just as we were leaving, after circling St. Pancras for the third time. As a private driver I got the basic message: you are scum, how dare you try to collect your wife: get lost.
The third point was the appalling nature of traffic control. At intersections, the portion of road in the middle of a junction is precious. To avoid congestion, this critical region of road needs to be filled with moving cars at all times. In London, the traffic controls seem designed to minimise the use this precious resource. A traffic policeman of average intelligence (!) in the centre of junction would improve traffic throughput by (I estimate) 50% at least. And the astonishing number of traffic lights dramatically worsened traffic flow. As a private driver I got the basic message: you are scum, we don’t care how long you wait or how much fuel you waste: get lost.
And the final point – I don’t care what I said at the start – the fourth point is the sheer volume of traffic in London at around 10:00 p.m. on a Friday. It was astonishing. And yes, I know that I was part of the problem. This city really doesn’t know when to go sleep, but I do. And that is what I am going to do right now. Goodnight.