Life is a Highway and Mad Mad World: track recommendations for Ruth Kelly

March 3, 2008 at 3:52 pm | Posted in DfT, Hard shoulder, Highways, Life is a Highway, Mad Mad World, Motorways, Music, Roads, Ruth Kelly, Tom Cochrane, Traffic | Leave a comment

My ‘switch from tarmac to technology‘ means I enjoy my changed lifestyle. Instead of driving round the M25 between Heathrow and Gatwick every day when I was not taking short-haul flights to Europe and long-haul to the US, I now:

  • telecommute ~ working online from home, on transatlantic and local projects
  • walk ~ from home to school, shops and appointments in town
  • use public transport ~ whenever possible to get to meetings in London

By contrast, Ruth Kelly’s idea for implementing the ‘switch from tarmac to technology‘ is on an entirely different planet altogether.

Instead of working with another government department to promote telecommuting and use of public transport, her Department FOR PRIVATE Transport wields power on surface access that bears no relation to the lack of sense it is capable of displaying. For example, DfT is keen to hand out penalties and fines to rail companies. Meanwhile, to alleviate congestion on the roads, Ruth Kelly proposes using hard shoulders (she’s sticking with tarmac) to add more capacity, supplemented by traffic management measures implemented with electronic signs and cameras (that’s the technology bit).

So much for emergency vehicles using the hard shoulder to bypass the usual motorway lanes to reach breakdowns, accidents, incidents and emergencies—all of which cause gridlock in the first place!

Apparently, by extrapolation from today’s news, Ruth Kelly’s wacky approach indicates how Heathrow expansion will be tackled. The doubling of passengers as a result of Department for Transport proposals for ‘Adding capacity at Heathrow airport‘ is obviously of no concern to ministers if they are indeed capable of this degree of disconnected thinking.

So, the ‘Crazy Idea of the Day’ Award has to go to Ruth Kelly for her reckless disregard for safety, per today’s Daily Mail story:

Cameras will police the hard shoulder in cut-price bid to reduce gridlock

Speed cameras will be used to help enforce a cut-price attempt to reduce motorway gridlock.

Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly plans to allow drivers on the busiest stretches of motorway to use the hard-shoulder.

Sensors will measure the volume of traffic and, when it reaches a certain level, electronic signs will tell drivers they can use the shoulder.

Gantries carrying variable speed-limit signs will then slow traffic from 70mph to 50mph.

Ministers say the measure will ease congestion without the need for further road building.

However, the overhead gantries will also carry cameras which will be used to catch drivers who use the hard shoulder when it is not open.

Motorways likely to be among the first to be targeted are the busiest stretches of the M6 around Birmingham, the M1 south of Watford, the M4 from Heathrow to London and near Bristol and the M3 around Southampton and running into the capital.*

Ultimately, all major motorway pinch-points across Britain will be covered.

The decision follows a year of trials on a stretch of the M42.

* If you look at those sections of motorway on a map, you can see that the south-east of England is pretty much covered. For example, we live between the M3 and M4 just beyond Heathrow, and any direction in which we choose to travel – north to Yorkshire, south to Southampton, east to London, or west to Wales—will involve one of those busiest stretches of motorway. This is before Heathrow expansion!

The BBC explains how the emergency services will get access to the hard shoulder (aka emergency lane) when necessary:

Extra lane scheme to be widened

Sensors detect traffic build-up, which trigger signs telling drivers to slow down and use the extra lane.

If accidents happen, messages appear telling drivers the lane is closed, allowing emergency services to get through.

So, if the hard shoulder lane is open because of congestion, and then an accident happens, how do vehicles from four lanes squeeze back into over-congested three lanes to allow the emergency vehicles through what used to be an emergency lane?

I guess the answer is that when cars are effectively parked on a motorway, they take up less space than if they were moving!

If cars were simply individual packets or frames, and had to get to their destination by any route through the road network, a prioritisation scheme could be designed to direct them the long under-congested way round the snarled section, but that’s not a viable solution when relying on British drivers to follow instructions on screens. The latest hair-brained plan to use hard shoulders may ‘work’ after a fashion, but it won’t solve the real problem: we have to get people off the roads, and encourage other ways of communicating and sharing information. We all need to change our behaviour!

Earlier details on related costs were provided in a Daily Mail story from three weeks ago:

The cut-price solution to traffic gridlock? Stop building roads and put in more speed cameras

Meanwhile, back at the Stansted expansion ranch, Ruth Kelly says:

Stansted growth ‘no problem’

Eastern England’s road and rail routes could be developed to cope with any growth of Stansted airport, Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly has said.

She said owners BAA would contribute to the cost of widening the M11 if an assessment found it was necessary.

Network Rail has also been asked to produce plans to expand the West Anglia main line between London and Cambridge.

So, there you have the key points (details):

  • airport expansion is no problem
  • roads and railways will be developed to cope
  • BAA will be happy to pay

In response, perhaps a gentle reminder that things are not quite so simple:

  • Please note 1: airport expansion is vehemently opposed on many fronts:
    • noise
    • air quality
    • congestion
    • climate change
    • … to name a few concerns from residents and our elected representatives in councils and Parliament, environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and Plane Stupid, as well as organisations such as the National Trust, representing thousands of members and important heritage sites
  • Please note 2: roads and rails are not included in current proposals for airport expansion, and we are living in a permanent construction zone as it is, here on the edge of the world’s largest parking lot (between the M4 and M3 approaching London, crossing the M25)
  • Please note 3: BAA is now owned by construction company Ferrovial, Spanish for railroad, which also owns Cintra, an international toll road and car park operator.
    • Grupo Ferrovial is experiencing tough times financially. It is facing pressure from:
    • the UK Civil Aviation Authority (regulation of prices due soon)
    • the Competition Commission (investigating BAA’s monopoly holdings of airports around London, preliminary statement due soon)
    • and it is not having an easy time with:
    • banks (Ferrovial’s highly leveraged acquisition of BAA, with the intent to effect a quick fix through refinancing, has not come to fruition as banks restrict lending due to the credit crisis)
    • staff are being shed in various ways (Ferrovial’s corporate lawyer who advised on BAA acquisition jumped ship last month, and, more recently, BAA’s CEO has been earmarked for replacement)

All-in-all, not a pretty picture.

Ruth Kelly deserves today’s award twice for being able to turn a blind eye and deaf ear to these manifest problems.
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