Saturday, September 20, 2008

Late Summer and Empty Roads

We seem to be enjoying an Indian Summer here – that is to say despite being late September we are enjoying a high-pressure system giving sunshine, gentle breezes and a summer vibe.

Saint Mary With All Souls Church, West Hampstead

For the last couple of days there have been road works on Maida Vale, on the stretch just before Kilburn. They’re resurfacing and seem to have closed the road completely – I’m not sure where the traffic has gone, but presumably I imagine Finchley Road and Abbey Road to be (even more) horrendous (than usual) during rush hour.

Anyway, I wandered along Maida Vale, barely a car in sight. A vast expanse of tarmac, asking to be reclaimed by the people from the cars that usually choke it up in a giant artery of pollution cutting through the otherwise leafy flesh of suburban London. The air felt fresh. I enjoyed the walk.

This prompted me to think (it happens occasionally) – wouldn’t it be wonderful if the majority of the main roads could be recovered – huge stretches of London are devoted to traffic, right into the centre of town. I’ve long expected Oxford and Regent Streets to be turned over to pedestrians, but let’s do the same for Piccadilly, the Strand. How about Embankment becoming a beach à la Seine? Let's bury them all deep underground like Boston in the US.

Something needs to be done - what portion of central London is turned over to streets? 20%? Whatever it is, it's too much! I'm really becoming a bit of an anti-traffic fascist - I suspect 90% of non-bus traffic in central London during the week is business types taking black cabs for convenience. Perhaps we should ban cabs from the congestion zone too, instead insisting that anyone who really can't manage public transport like the rest of us takes one of those "cyclo" rides, with the chap on a bicycle pulling you along carbon-free at a sedate speed. Get buses out of the zone too, turn 'em round at Marble Arch, Hyde Park Corner, Waterloo, Aldgate, Angel, King's Cross and Baker Street. Make me the London Transport Tsar, Boris!

And on a similar but more personal vein, why the h*ll do the 46 and 187 buses go down my street?! There’s no need for it, run ‘em the same way in both directions, i.e. along Clifton Road to Maida Vale rather than turning left into Randolph Avenue, motoring past a school and a Gordon Ramsey pub (and my bedroom). Then block my street off at one end and, hey presto, no through traffic! There’s not much traffic, but there shouldn’t be any, and there's certainly no need for buses down one's street, what?!

Another related topic of interest – the suburban rivers in London. Apparently Boris Johnson is planning to uncover as much of the Fleet as is now possible, creating a "Venetian" pedestrianised walk. Other rivers are also due for a make-over or an uncovering, including the Wandle, the Bourne and the Brent. Fantastic!

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