What You Can Get Away With » Transport

There’s a lot of talk this morning about the Institute of Advanced Motoring going on a tilt against cyclists, trumpeting up the results of an unscientific ‘survey’ that supposedly shows 57% of cyclists regularly going through red lights. Until, of course, you go into the actual figures – as this Guardian article does – and discover that even on their self-selective terms, less than 2% say they do it regularly.

I’m not denying that some cyclists do jump red lights, but the idea that it’s some great problem has entered our national urban mythology as a fact, helped by prejudice-fuelling supposed surveys like this. Frankly, I find it amazing the hatred some people show towards cyclists, while completely ignoring the amount of comparable law-breaking car drivers too. The CTC and other cycling organisations are far too focused on their own issues to do it, but what might a similar survey of car drivers find. How many break the speed limit, especially in residential areas? How many plough on over zebra crossings despite their being pedestrians crossing or about to cross? How many have pulled out on roundabouts directly ahead of a cyclist, figuring that the person on two wheels will be able to avoid smashing into them? I see all of those frequently, but apparently it’s cyclists who are causing the real problems…

Just to let people know that I’ve had notice from Essex County Council about roadworks that are going to be carried out on Westway (the A134) between the Balkerne Hill and Colne Bank roundabouts. These are some important safety works, centred around fitting in a proper barrier system on the central reservation, but they might cause delays while they’re happening.

They’re scheduled to start next Monday (the 9th January) – weather permitting – and will continue for about six weeks, though the work is only scheduled to take place during the day from 9.30am until 3.30pm, so it should hopefully not be causing delays during the rush hour.

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I know that some of my readers in Colchester and Essex are commuters, suffering the joys of dealing with National Express East Anglia (NXEA) on a regular basis. I’m not a regular commuter any more – though whenever I do travel to London now, I notice just how much worse it is than when I used to do it regularly for work – but those of you who are may find the @NXEAfail Twitter account somewhat useful as a cathartic way to vent your rage the next time you’re stuck for ages with no explanation as to why, or forced to take a bewildering array of tubes, buses and trains because of engineering works.

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Just as a quick followup to my recent posts on parking, the Gazette have discovered that the owner of a parking firm is against a ban on clamping. Apparently “the police would have anarchy in the UK”, if such a ban were to be brought in.

Coming soon, shock revelations about the Pope’s religious beliefs.

Obviously it’s a travel day today. I’ve been using National Express on the East Coast a lot recently, and while I have issues with some of their services, it’s at least better than this vision provided by Simon Hoggart in today’s Guardian:

A witty reader (he’s not sent his name, fearing legal reprisals) sends in a wonderful fantasy in which Michael O’Leary of Ryanair buys our east coast railway and runs it like his airline. The ticket prices will look like amazing bargains, say London to Edinburgh for £1.

“But these principles will apply: fee of £5 for internet booking, £5 for timetable inquiries, £5 for credit card payments, £20 for clicking the OK – pay button, admission charge to station, charge for compulsory on-board ticket inspection, £5 alighting fee, £10 penalty for not pre-ordering £5 alighting fee, and that’s before we’ve started on the baggage charges and the £10 for those mini-carrier bags from the buffet if you want to get back to your seat (£7.50 compulsory reservation charge) without spilling coffee all over you. The company dismissed the £1 blowing-your-own-nose fee as pure speculation.”

Of course, the universe makes fools of us jokers, with any joke about Ryanair soon being fulfilled by Michael O’Leary’s relentless drive for profit and publicity. I used to joke about them making an extra charge for seats, for example. So, while jokes about Ryanrail may seem funny now, imagine just what horrors O’Leary could inflict on rail passengers by combining his ability to slap a price on everything with the petty bureaucracy and officialdom that has been part of the culture of British rail since, well, British Rail.

‘You may well have a ticket for that train, sir, but you’ve yet to pay your gate transit and platform access fees, and while it might be the last train home tonight, it’d be more than my job’s worth to let you get on it.’

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Amongst the Guardian letters today, Godfrey Eland wonders:

Having carefully read about Greyhound buses coming to the UK (Report, 20 August), I am at a loss to understand how these buses will be any different from National Express, Megabus or any other of the existing services on our motorways. Can someone enlighten me as to what all the fuss is about?

The fuss, of course, is quite simple to explain. Whil your average travel journalist would never think of travelling anywhere by coach in Europe – after all, why slum it with the plebs for days on end when you can just hop on an EasyJet to your destination? – they’re quite likely to have taken at least one journey in the US on a Greyhound coach, possibly going between Los Angeles and Las Vegas whilst wearing a trucker-style baseball cap in an ironic fashion. They’ll have hundreds ofways of telling the story about the slightly strange man who sat near them at the bus station, but they’d probably look at you blankly if you asked them where you get a bus from in this country.

Meanwhile, of course, their American counterparts – who’d never take a Greyhound, especially when you can fly so cheaply with Southwest – are no doubt lamenting just why they can’t have those cool National Express coaches over there.

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I do love how the AA and the RAC Foundation can get headlines merely for stating the obvious on behalf of their nebulous memberships. Today, for instance, we learn that the AA are against cars being clamped by private companies, which the RAC Foundation also told us they were against about a month ago. Interestingly, the pictures BBC News use for both of those stories appear to be of the same car, just from a slightly different angle, which is somewhat apt.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a problem with some of the private parking companies, though one of the reasons they’ve had so many complaints around here is because of the number of new roads and new estates that have been built over the last few years. As there’s a delay in getting these roads adopted (often because the last thing developers pay for is the work to get the roads to an adoptable standard), drivers realise there’s nothing to stop them parking there for free – especially when somewhere’s convenient for the town centre or train station – and the developer or management company has to call in a private parking firm to police the area. Going back to my earlier post on parking issues, this is how parking issues develop as a symptom of other issues with planning and development.

Of course, with the splurge in house-building tailing off and the backlog of roads finally being adopted, it’ll be interesting to see what happens to the private parking market as their field of operations becomes smaller. Why do I expect that it will only take a few years before the AA and RAC Foundation are calling for more parking enforcement by Councils?

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With Oxford Airport having chosen to rebrand itself as London Oxford Airport – and the real surprise in that story is that Ryanair aren’t involved in this latest attempt to redraw the map – are we nearing the point where we might as well just rebrand every airport in the country with ‘London’ at the start of its name? After all, a fast Intercity train from Birmingham International might get you to the heart of London even faster than venturing onto the Tube from Heathrow.

But, I suspect the conflating of London and Oxford as a single location might just be the key to pushing a visitor to Britain over the edge into a full-on gibbering breakdown, possibly when they get lost in the streets of London Oxford and find that the fabled Tube has four wheels and travels on the road.

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I discovered the Subterranea Britannia site when I was writing my post about the Redditch rail tunnel the other week and intended to browse some more through it, but had forgotten until reading Jonathan Calder’s post today about disused railway stations.

While it’s interesting to just browse through some of the old station names – and wonder if anyone in the years when they were opened travelled between Hope High Level and The Dyke – I noticed a mention of the Stour Valley Line, and discovered that not only did there used to be a line running from Cambridge to Sudbury (and thence to Colchester and beyond) but that there was a group campaigning to bring it back.

I’m mentioning it here more as a reminder to do more research into this area in the future, but I’m interested in their estimate that rebuilding the line would cost around £90-100m pounds. While it’s a large sum of money, it also seems rather cheap compared to the £500m suggested as the cost of upgrading the A120 from Braintree to Marks Tey, and I’d be interested to know more about whether that estimate is reasonable or not. So, if anyone out there reading this has more information on the costs and economics of building new rail lines, please let me know.

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Interesting article in the Guardian by David McKie about the naming of train stations -often after the nearest pub – and how those stations then went on to provide a name to the areas around them. Of course, were that to be attempted now, confusion would reigh supreme as people tried to work out which of the many Station Stations they were trying to navigate between while Colchester’s North Station would find itself renamed Norfolk, just to confuse even more commuters.

Though the story about the attempt to rename Bond Street tube station as Selfridge’s does create interesting visions of alternate tube maps, which could serve as an interesting hook for an alternate history story – Farringdon station would have to become Guardian station, of course.

It’s one of those interesting little pieces of social history that shows how much the coming of the railways changed Britain, in a way that will no doubt prove very useful for the long-future generations of historians and archaeologists.

And, to add in a little bit of railway-influenced geography, Redditch (where I grew up) has a road called Tunnel Drive, which confuses many drivers by not being a tunnel or seeming to go anywhere near one. However, it is where the old railway tunnel used to emerge when what’s now the Cross-City Line carried on all the way down to Evesham rather than terminating at Redditch.

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