Driving around the city a lot, dodging potholes, death-defying pedestrians, reckless cyclists, labyrinthine one-way systems, speed bumps, washboard tarmac surfaces, and a plethora of road works, I begin to wonder if it is all a council conspiracy to stop people using cars. Edinburgh, for example, roads reminiscent of a bomb zone, looks as if twinned with Kabul. If every driver, suspension ruined, or pedestrian injured by the crappy roads and pavements, sued the council, The City of Edinburgh would be bankrupted.
There are a few benefits to commuter gridlock. The constant stop, start, slow down existence that is driving allows time to observe. If you are in a line of cars waiting at traffic lights the brand of car first in line has a bearing on your temper. A woman in (say) a small Korean car usually gets blasted by a hoot of horns from male drivers if she is slow in moving off on the green. If a driver is behind the wheel of an aspirational sports car he is shown tolerance. Perhaps that is why a lot of women prefer to drive large SUVs. They feel secure in them.
Chelsea tractors – 4×4 tanks
The only time those 4x4s go off-road is when the tyre hits a kerb and damages the alloys. Many women use big vehicles to take their children to school and home again. That was never the case years ago. The Tory government altered all that when it gave parents the right to choose which school to send their bread snappers. The further the journey to the school of choice the greater the need to use a car. Consequently, entire streets are crammed by lines of SUVs waiting to pick up little Abigail or wee Michael lest the brats get molested by a passing rogue male. I see a lot of women driving SUV Lexus cars. The council should legislate for our bus lanes to be shared by those drivers, called “Lexus lanes.”
In Edinburgh and Glasgow pedestrians walk at you whatever the speed you are doing, but in Edinburgh they take an oblique path towards your car. Somehow they think odd-angled geometry lessens the injury should they make contact.
The Los Angeles Way
In Los Angeles pedestrians are as sacred as cows in Calcutta. There, drivers exercise a wholly benign attitude toward jay walkers. It matters not if you are a drunk staggering across the road, or fail to use the proper crossing, or do backward somersaults wearing a paper bag over your head. Drivers stop immediately yards back to give you all the time you need to reach the other footpath … or travel back across the road again, if that takes your fancy. A normal “surface” road, (inner city road not a free-way) is often six lanes wide. No matter the width Los Angeles drivers are invariably courteous and patient.
The reason for the deep respect is said to be the thought in the driver’s mind the pedestrian might be toting a gun in his back pocket, but it is more likely the cause of the right to sue, California being home to one-third of all lawyers in the USA. In any event, Los Angeles drivers practise a refreshing culture of strict adherence to pedestrian rights.
The Edinburgh way
I tried exercising that attitude in Edinburgh. It was a dreich, blustery day, the rain lashing down. I let an elderly lady pass from footpath to traffic island in the middle of the road. The driver behind turned homicidal, banging his fist off his horn boss in fury, then shot out from behind me almost knocking he down in his effort to keep pace with his day’s tasks. The murderous glare he gave me as he drove by would freeze a charging bison.
Our ancient, narrow streets invite anarchy. Double parking is the lazy driver’s prerogative. Traffic regulations are broken with abandon. Driving in today’s cities should incur use of small cars, city or micro, large vehicles banned. What is the point of all that empty space behind the driver?
Buy a car and park it
A car spends 90% of its time parked. Is it not better to get regular “vacant parking bay” announcements from radio stations rather than accident reports? Driving in the city wants for fairground dodgem cars.
I have my own pet traffic hates. I would like to see all cars given signal indicators that guarantee the driver will turn in the direction signalled. Any car driving slower than 10 mph should be regarded as a house. Why clamp a car when it is causing an obstruction? Lift the damn thing and trailer it off to the police compound. One way of solving the problem of our congested streets is to ban all cars from using them until paid for. When listening to music speed restrictions should be relaxed. It is impossible to hear the last movement of Rachmaninov’s First Symphony and drive slowly!
I can’t complain too much. Compared to other countries we are still civil to each other, in the main. We still respect the Highway Code. Italians take a different view of the rules. In Milan, traffic lights are instructions. In Rome, they are suggestions. In Naples, they are Christmas decorations. In France you park by using your bumpers to push the car parked behind and in front aside to give you more space.
Rat faced cheek
A woman in Edinburgh did exactly that to me. I got out to protest at the damage to my car and she said, “What’s the problem? That’s what bumpers are for,” winked and walked away. I toyed with, “Here’s what a foot is for!” but she disappeared around a corner by the time her audacity got the better of me, leaving the scene of the incident illegally. No point in kicking the hell out of her car. It was a rusty old Nissan.
Anyhow, I’m just as intolerant of our crappy roads and indifferent city officials. We’re a capital city, for god’s sake, with roads to embarrass Lithuania.
I’m off on another hurdle avoiding journey across Edinburgh. I’m forced to veer left or right if I spot a deep pothole, but if filled with rain water a wheel disappears down into it, and the shock absorber takes another hit. The driver behind must think me under the influence of drink or drugs.
Annual service and repair costs invariable include replacing a leaky shock absorber. We pay for our roads twice, in the Road Tax they take and spend it on things other than roads, and in our constant need for repairs. I am certain the wee Smart car I drive would be seen in greater numbers if our roads were not potential death traps for micro cars.
Somebody should sue
A close relative is who sustained serious injury. And only months before I had enticed a Roads official to the very crossing point where it happened to warn her of the danger to pedestrians. It was easy to predict accidents would occur sooner not later, so I showed her the gaping gaps between loose cobbles where people would trap a foot.
The official wrote it down in her notebook. Naturally, confronted by an actual accident weeks later the official denied she was there listening to my advice. It was the end of a perfect relationship, that is, my support of Edinburgh City Council’s wilful blindness.
As for ignoring traffic regulations, I like the sign erected in Nigeria at the start of a cliff edge road, “Dead slow, or dead. Please yourself.”