JohnPullin's Blog

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The Stonehenge muddle

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If I believed in reincarnation, what I’d most like to come back as is a traffic planner, because I think they have the most fun of all. With one sweep of my irresponsible pen, I could bugger up a whole city or a vast tract of landscape without leaving my desk. Oh, the enjoyment I could have just by “playing” with traffic light phasings. And roadsigns.

I wrote earlier this week about the daft roadsigns that you now find on the A303, the main direct route between London and the south west. The joy of the A303, usually, is that it isn’t a motorway and is therefore relatively interesting to drive. Also it doesn’t pass through any towns and only a few villages, so there are no massive hold-ups. And some of the scenery is terrific. Some sections aren’t very fast, it’s true, but speed in these things is relative and overrated: I’m happy to arrive 15 minutes later if it means I don’t feel like I’ve been through some form of racetrack competition.

But the A303 now has “Queues likely” signs near Stonehenge and has lost some of its relaxed charm. That is because of the traffic planners. They have, indeed, created queues: pretty much an hour in each direction when I took the road to Devon and back last week. What fun they must have had. And what little knowledge of human nature they have displayed in so doing.

The difficulty is, of course, that the A303 road passes very close to the ancient monument of Stonehenge, a World Heritage Site. You get quite a decent view from the road and you used, before the planners got their way, to be able to turn off on to a dozier road called the A344 where you could dawdle along to get an even closer view or go into the official car park to pay a proper visit.

That easy turn-off has now been blocked. To get a better, or more lingering, view of the stones of Stonehenge, you continue on the A303 (if you’re coming from London) to a distant roundabout, turn right and then right again and then you’re in the official car park. In other words, you now have to decide to visit properly. The easy dawdle option on the A344 has been removed.

So instead people are dawdling on the A303. Or turning off into a track next to the pig farm on the other side of the road. Or wandering among the cars and along the roadside, where there is no pavement, to get a better view. Or reversing out of the track into the traffic. All of this I saw last week. I had plenty of time to watch it, stuck in the queue for up to an hour each way. Though mostly, of course, I was watching the rear of the car in front.

Of course, the gawpers shouldn’t be doing any of this, and in the idealised world populated by traffic planners they wouldn’t be. But the reality is that people don’t and won’t do as they’re told, and traffic planning should take account of that. I can recognise that Stonehenge’s proximity to the A303 is a difficult problem, but the new “solution” creates a new problem that dramatically affects the road’s value as a through-route.

Anyway, if I’m reincarnated at any point soon, I promise to come back as a traffic planner to see if I can do any worse than the current road scheme at Stonehenge. I suspect I won’t be able to. But it’ll be fun trying. Though not for those wanting to use the roads to get around.

PS, a week or so later, I came through without any hold-up… but it was mid-evening on a Tuesday, cold and blustery.


Written by johnpullin

August 20, 2014 at 4:56 pm

Posted in Transport

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Pentecostal pandemonium

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Sunday mornings in your area may currently be calm and serene: the sounds of sponge on car bodywork, a languid dog bark in the distance, the scraping sound as last year’s congealed carbon is scrubbed from the barbecue. That’s how it is now. But if the government has its way, it’s going to be different: carnage, chaos, crisis will ensue.

The problem that’s looming is the one of lost souls, and the cause of this is going to be the transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, who has just announced incentives for local authorities to “de-clutter” their roads of duplicated and unnecessary roadsigns. A good thing you might think, and I’d agree. But there are consequences.

Around here, a large proportion of the roadsigns seem to relate to places of worship. It’s a pretty non-denominational thing, with signs to churches, chapels, mosques and temples – there do seem to be, however, large numbers pointing, not necessarily in consistent directions, to “Elim Pentecostal Church”. There’s one at the nearest A-road junction to my house pointing north, and one a mile or so south which points, er, south. Maybe there’s a lot of Elim Pentecostal Churches around. Or maybe the gist of the Elim Pentecostal Church is that there are lots of signs, but few destinations, and that north and south are essentially the same. I don’t know.

What I do know is that these signs must have been put up for a purpose in pre-McLoughlin days. Then, presumably, there were hundreds, even thousands, of people descending on my part of south London every Sunday morning, each of them pondering the same question: “I wonder where on earth the Elim Pentecostal Church is? If only someone would give us a sign.”

Well, someone did. And now someone else wants to take it away. That may be biblically apposite, but I do wonder if the consequences have been thought through. Or whether pentecostal pandemonium is about to return to our quiet Sundays.

Written by johnpullin

March 18, 2013 at 12:09 pm

Posted in Transport

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The excellent superficiality of the French

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This is a brief post, as I’m somewhat away at present. Only somewhat, because work doesn’t ever really stop these days. But more away than not. Anyway, it’s been my lot, in the past few days, to travel rather a lot of French roads, and in almost every instance, they’ve been smooth, consistent, quiet and trouble-free. In terms of their surfaces, I mean.

I’ve done a few hundred miles of autoroute, which you have to pay for, but which seem to have blemish-free surfaces. I’ve done quite a bit of the Routes Nationales, which have occasional, but only occasional, patches of roughness, but are mostly fine. And even on the little local roads in a pretty rural bit of France, road surfaces are good.

Very much, I would say, this is in contrast to the UK. I have on my car some fairly silly wide and low profile wheels, of the kind much beloved by people who buy cars for looks rather than any of the more sensible criteria. A consequence is that they feel every surface deformity on the road and they also make quite appalling amounts of noise: on roads in the UK, that is. In France? Rien. Or at least presque rien. Smooth, silent, svelte, sophisticated: my car in France is all of these things, where in England it rattles and jolts and drowns out all attempts at listening to the radio. It’s not just the potholes in the UK. It’s the road surfaces themselves: noisy, poorly-made, rough stuff.

Why is this? Why are French roads so good and/or UK roads so poor? OK, they maybe get less weather, less frost and less damage. But actually, I’ve driven in ice and snow in France: the weather difference is marginal and France is quite a lot bigger. Someone locally here has said that most roads get resurfaced every couple of years or so, and they just pour more tarmac on to the existing surface, where we Brits dig up and patch and make do and mend. Is that the real explanation? Or is there something else going on here? It’d be nice to know, because then one could ask the UK road authorities to go and do likewise.

Written by johnpullin

July 22, 2011 at 6:47 pm

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