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TOPIC: Stories from the carriageway

Stories from the carriageway
17 Jul 2015 23:45 #1390

David Hughes David Hughes's Avatar Topic Author
We all have our stories from the carriageway, often told time and again as an illustration of stupid, selfish or rank lack of skill of others; preferably of people who in a different travelling group - walker, cyclist, motorist - to the one we happen to be in at the time. Just at the moment it's cyclists who are at the sharp end of criticism, mainly by people who don't cycle, and want to make very sure no one else does. But here I want to highlight cars; actually not in the context of a particular incident, but in the context of saturated streets and roads and the inevitable junctions.

On the rare occasions when I drive it is often to the Crouch End area which I generally approach via Alexander Palace. Which makes me feel guilty because it's a route which necessarily involves rat-running, a practice I often criticise and have hoped to have a hand in reducing locally. So this morning I squared my shoulders and decided I'd find a main-road route, but not via Muswell Hill because that can be very slow and always hard on people who live there. Which landed me at the junction of Hornsey Road (I think), Turnpike Lane, Wightman Road; it's a a large junction of roads and complex traffic lights. Crikey!

You could drift slowly through it giving way, being polite, but drivers seem to have chosen to fight it out in a cross between dodgem cars and a Grand Prix racing: bursts of fast acceleration, swerving into gaps, hard braking; goodness knows what the air-quality is like. Utter madness, utter selfishness, in the middle of what, fundamentally, is a place to live. There must be a better way - replace some cars with bikes, and/or giving higher priority to public transport/walking would seem more civilized choices.

And imagine what it like for older people/people with disabilities/less confident drivers, who need their cars far more than the pseudo-racing drivers who seem to dominate now.

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Stories from the carriageway
09 Apr 2019 15:19 #4489

David Hughes David Hughes's Avatar Topic Author
There it was, bold-as-brass on page 4 of the Opinion section of the 7th March edition of ‘The Guardian’, an article titled “Cars ruin our lives. Within 10 years we must phase them out.” It was written by George Monbiot, a regular contributor who is regarded by many to be something of an environmental firebrand. And the title did sound a bit over the top, even to someone like me who has rarely owned a car, and just as rarely has driven more than 3000 kilometres a year.

But it soon became clear that George M didn’t mean that all cars should be taken off the roads, only 90% over the next 10 years. In fact he acknowledged that cars have their uses, but suggests that rather than being good servants they have become bad masters, spoiling everything they touch. Beginning with poor air quality which kills three times as many people worldwide as Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria combined, whilst, according to a recent ‘paper’, fossil fuels like petrol, and particularly diesel, are the most significant threat to children’s health.

Next he tackles the question of pedestrians killed by cars; killing which since 2009 has risen by 11% (in the US by 51%), apparently due mainly to the advent of sports utility vehicles (SUVs), and using mobile phones whilst driving.

Then he moves on to an issue which has ‘bugged me’ for years, and quite a few other Palmers Green campaigners as well: the way purely residential streets have been swept clean of adults meeting, greeting and socializing, and kids playing. In my childhood-street boys played cricket on the road using a tin-can for wickets, a soft ball and a penalty for striking the ball into a garden; not that I’m recommending that now, but there need be no reason why kids should not practice and enjoy their cycling skills there. In fact, helped by my friends, I learned to ride a bike in the street where I lived, and without adult participation. At the same time adults made friends within the street, kids walked to infant schools from five years old partly along a main road supervised by the ‘big girls’ (all of seven or eight years old)’.

The above is only a fraction of George M’s wide-ranging argument; I’ve brought it down to a few issues in my life which touch on things I remember. But finally he summarizes by saying that transport should be planned with social aims while minimizing harm: I quote ”…there should be…a wholesale switch towards electric mass transit, safe and separate bike lanes and broad pavements, accompanied by a steady closure of the conditions which allow cars to rampage through our lives.”

Finally, quoting Amsterdam, Pontevedra and Copenhagen, George M thinks we really can get quite close to eliminating cars from our big towns and cities. Personally I look forward to that though there is no chance I could live to see it. But she and me have managed with less than 2500 kilometres a year by car, the rest is walking, biking, bus and train. Within this year that will drop to much less than 2000km, and hopefully next year we will say goodbye to the car. After all, if the adaptability of a car is needed, there are always taxis.

PS. Sorry this wasn’t written at the time George M’s article was published; things happened.

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