diamond geezer

 Friday, April 18, 2008

When I lived in Suffolk, and owned a car, I used to think nothing of speeding around the county. I could do 30 miles up the A14 in half an hour, or 50 miles up the A12 in an hour, no problem. I drove my car at speeds close to those for which it was designed, and reached my destination with satisfying velocity. OK so my exhaust pipe was busy killing the planet, and all the time I was trying very hard not to think what would happen if I propelled myself into a hedge at great velocity, but I could never have held down a job without my own four wheels.

In London a car is rather less of a necessity. And, for those who still feel they need to own a vehicle, considerably slower. It's nigh impossible to drive at 30mph in London, let alone 30 miles in 30 minutes. Every time you stick your foot on the accelerator, there's either a traffic light or a traffic jam ahead. Every time you sense the pull of the open road, you're more likely to have to swerve to dodge a jaywalking pedestrian or negotiate a speed bump instead. Every time you think there's a direct route to somewhere straight ahead, there's probably a bus lane or a one-way system sending you minutes out of your way. And even on the rare occasions when you think you've found the perfect length of uncongested dual carriageway for a quick burn, there's almost certainly an evil yellow speed camera standing sentinel beside the road just itching to dispatch a huge fine to your doormat. London's no place for speed. How very tedious.

But that doesn't stop them, does it. Those determined petrolheads in their souped up motors, putting their foot down for a few brief seconds between road junctions just to show off. Light goes green, foot to the floor, roar of engine noise, screeching tyres, sudden halt at red signals. Bastards.

And I met them twice on the way home last night. There I was nonchalantly crossing Bow Road, oncoming traffic seemingly a safe distance away, when a white van came careering towards me like some kind of homing missile. I skipped rapidly to the central reservation, attempting to pretend that I wasn't in fear of my life, and the van zoomed past on its five second journey to the next traffic lights. I listened out, hoping to hear the reassuring crunch of bonnet on lamppost, but alas no such retribution was forthcoming. Shortly afterwards, attempting to cross a garage forecourt, I was nearly flattened a second time. A grey estate car rammed with teenage testosterone shot forward at great speed on the minimal journey from petrol pump to forecourt exit. Ten metres max, but the driver still managed to propel his vehicle at unfeasible speed past the free air and tyre pump before braking hard in front of me. His cargo of spiky-haired hormones seemed duly impressed. I noticed, as he pulled out into the traffic at half the speed of sound, that one entire side of the car was virtually concave as if it had been hit by a bollard several times. The other side can't have been far behind.

Certain killjoy Mayoral candidates have already expressed a desire to restrict London's speed limit even further. Red Ken wants the limit on residential roads to be cut to 20mph, while Green Sian wants every road reduced to 20mph unless local boroughs agree exceptions. I can't see either of those measures being entirely successful, not in a capital where average speeds are considerably lower than 20mph already. But I suspect the underlying aim of such a draconian limit is to make Londoners so incredibly bored with driving that they switch to greener transport. If it took two hours to pootle from one side of the capital to the other, even on an empty road, you might just switch and take the train instead. Unless you're a raging virile boy racer, that is, in which case no mere 20mph limit is going to stop you burning up the High Street in three seconds flat. Only a large brick wall will stop that. And hopefully soon.

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