Thursday, 21 July 2011

London's aggressive road culture

Goodge Street junction with Tottenham Court Road, London W1, evening
London's aggressive road culture gets to everybody, however many wheels they have, including none, and whether they are private, commercial or public service vehicle drivers. The purpose of a stop line? A thing to be ahead of at the moment the signals go green. And that bus must have gone through a red light. The shabby patched, depressed road surface and pathetic narrow advisory cycle lane (which is parked on just behind the camera's viewpoint) contribute their elements to the scene.

I don't blame the drivers and I don't blame the cyclists. I don't think the problem is the size of London or its poverty. London is a rich city. I think in the end it comes down to problems with democratic structures, which lead to failure to invest efficiently (not heavily, but efficiently) in the urban realm, for the benefit of all. I was struck by a paragraph in David Hembrow's blogpost From cycle path to cycle route, describing the creation of a cycle route in 's-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands:
While the streets had to be redone completely, the city took the opportunity to also change all the sewer pipes, the telephone, data and electricity cables and the water and natural gas pipes. This is the usual thing to do in the Netherlands. There is good coordination between all the companies responsible for all these systems under supervision of the city or municipal authorities. This dates back from the time (not so long ago) that all these services were run by the councils themselves. Since all cables are underground in this country [as they are in central London] it is a very good thing that there is this coordination. You wouldn't want streets to be dug up separately by all the different companies.
You certainly wouldn't. Ha ha. Tell that to Eric Pickles, right-wing Tory Euro-sceptic Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

Give people a messed-up, basically incompetently administered urban environment, poorly planned and worse maintained, and having minimal law-enforcement, and they'll bend all the rules they can to get through it as quickly as possible. London's aggressive road culture is an expression of a poor environment.

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