Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Trapped with No Answers

It's been a funny old day again. The un-predicableness of sunshine and showers, coupled with the complete predictableness of the motoring fraternity.
For the record, and as many of you know, I'm also a motorist. Heaven knows I sometimes wish I wasn't - car insurance up again (despite wasting an hour of my life I'll never get back searching comparison websites), petrol pump prices seemingly clicking round upwards in real-time as I fill up, and of course, the endless traffic congestion (which I freely admit, I'm partly causing as I sit in it).
Some however, don't see it that way.
Take a wily Tweeter this morning. I won't even give him publicity by quoting his Twitter name, but consider this gem:
massive #firstmidland buses create more traffic than they relieve in Worcester. 50 seater buses for 2 passengers? #firstbusfail
"#Firstbusfail" by the way, is the "hashtag" some people use on Twitter to slate First - mostly of course being ignorant of the problem which prompts their angry tweet in the first place.
We later discover that our ill-informed "friend" is actually a car dealer in Worcester. He later tweets to complain about the buses blocking his garage entrance whilst they take a 5 minute break. So someone else with an axe to grind taking his frustration out by posting on Twitter (not that I would ever do such a thing....)
Naturally, I replied to point out his illogical argument. He's yet to reply.
I spent the afternoon waxing lyrical about public transport to a friend with a tape recorder - heaven forbid he'd want to tape my ramblings! (Actually, he's doing a course that requires some thoughts from bus users - not that you'd class me as a "typical" bus user.....would you?)
Then something else caught my eye in the Express & Star newspaper this evening - "Traffic is Crawling at just 18mph in Borough".
Across Centroland, the average speed is 18mph with Wolverhampton the worst at just 16.9mph.
And whose fault is this?
Bus lanes.
Well, not just bus lanes.
"Motoring groups" (not the Association of British Drivers, please!) are blaming traffic lights. Apparently, replacing traffic islands (like the nightmare that was Burnt-Tree island) with traffic lights is not good news. This is forcing drivers to "sit in queues rather than easing into flowing traffic at a roundabout".
Excuse me?
I know plenty of these islands. You have to speed from a standing start at a pace akin to Jenson Button to "ease into the flow". As a bus passenger, I've sat at Burnt Tree for considerable lengths of time awaiting gaps in traffic, as the aforementioned Jenson manoeuvre is neither safe, desirable or achievable in a double decker. As a bus passenger, I suffered. So I welcome conversion of these accidents waiting to happen into something safer and fairer for all road users.
Step forward bus lanes.
Wolverhampton Councillor Wendy Thompson offers the following in the same newspaper article:
Wednesfield Road is particularly bad. Bus lanes take up a good chunk of the road which forces the rest of the traffic into a small space".
Sound familiar?
In all my years of public transport campaigning and observing, this slant on bus lanes is so sadly familiar.
But what is surely baffling is that this comment is being offered up in an article on why traffic is so slow in the City of Wolverhampton!
By the way, the road in question is served by 7 bus routes, including the 559, which is listed as "every 10 minutes or less".
How about this gem?
"Vehicles also stop on the A449 at Coven Heath after the Highway Agency spent £2.9m on new traffic lights".
What is going on here?
Are we seriously being offered that our traffic congestion woes can be solved by putting roundabouts instead of traffic lights and dispelling the evil bus lanes?
Why do we think the Highways Agency forked out for new traffic lights? Because it was bored and fancied putting some there?
Just when you think you've read it all, there's even more.
The Express & Star's (in)famous Comment column also wades in.
"The road to hell is paved with good intentions. In the same way, the road to congestion is paved with bus lanes and pointless traffic lights".
And how about this:
"Some of this sluggishness is caused deliberately. When Councils provide bus lanes, they inevitably restrict the speed of all other traffic".
Do they?
And if they do, what's wrong with that?
The "road to hell", as the column writer puts it, is also littered with needless accidents from those who don't recognise the potential dangers of speeding.
As for "deliberately" causing traffic congestion, well, you have to wonder at the train of thought that comes to that conclusion.
Henry Carver, Chairman of the "Wolverhampton Business Group" says that we need new ways to move traffic efficiently through our towns and Cities. However, he doesn't actually offer any suggestions.
And the best European Cities I've been to actually have no traffic in the centre of them - except for good, efficient, well used public transport in the form of trams and buses.
The Express & Star's anonymous comment column writer ends with this:
Generations of councillors have pursued anti-car policies. Today we see the results. It is time to think again - time to let the traffic flow".
How incredibly depressing.
It is as if we have a generation of tweeters, councillors and ill-informed journalists who are trapped with no answers.
If we have a City whose average speed has dropped to 16.9mph, why do they think that is?
Traffic lights?
Bus lanes?
Have they ever stopped to consider that, when we are stuck in endless traffic jams, the cause of these is actually something quite illuminating.
It is too many cars trying to get from A to B at once.
There. I bet you're shocked at that.
The answer, my friend, is not always blowing in the wind. The answer is for brave local politicians to stand up to this nonsense, acknowledge the real problems, economic devastation and climate-related issues that traffic congestion brings and introduce more pro public transport measures such as well-policed bus lanes, and priority for buses at traffic lights. By all means discriminate against the private car. As a motorist, I have no qualms with that.
There is no doubting public transport can and must improve. But it is the answer to our choked towns and Cities.
Until the powers that be recognise this and grasp the nettle, we will continue to read all this stuff and nonsense, written by the ignorant on Twitter, but more significantly by those who really ought to know better.

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