We stand now where two roads diverge…

“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road—the one “less traveled by”—offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.”
— Rachel Carson

I don’t think that the road we’re on is easy. I don’t think that, as Gordon Brown said of tackling climate change, “taking this path will not be easy for any of us.” Solving our problems, if done right and done early, doesn’t make austerity, it makes a better, fairer, freer, happier and healthier world.

It’s not easy, for example, to carry on building a city where people don’t want to live and work, don’t want to spend their money or raise their families. A London so choked with cars, trucks, and taxis, and the noise and fumes from them, that people give up on Oxford Street shops, West End cafes and East End markets. A London that creates no opportunities for its children, and shuts away its elderly. A London that people long to leave, and which people do leave, as soon as they can, for the south coast or the countryside.

The urban motorway we have been travelling is a road designed to induce rage in even its most pacific users, a road designed to immobilise children and the elderly, to prioritise anti-social transport over social transport, and a road designed with a high tolerance for the blood of its users.

It’s easy to imagine a better road, a calmer, safer, more egalitarian space. Here, look, the London Cycling Campaign have done just that, with Blackfriars Bridge:

I don’t even think that the LCC’s road is the best possible: the Danish-influenced design is clearly far superior to the road we’ve been on, but even the Danes haven’t quite designed streets for everybody to the extent that the Dutch have.

(And that’s why I disagree with the reason given for the Danish model — that it’s more achievable in the UK. If the Dutch model can appeal to a greater diversity of would-be-cyclists, as the demographics of Dutch and Danish cyclists suggests it does, it should be more achievable. It is true that the Danish model is less alien to us and so easier to comprehend when looking at rhetorical drawings, though.)

We’re on the road to disaster, but we could turn off at any time, build a new road to one of any number of superior designs, Dutch or Danish, they’d all be smoother than this one. All it would take is for Boris Johnson to man up, admit that he has been going the wrong way, and to stand up to the powerful few who are invested in the road to disaster.

Tell the mayor to do it, today at 5.45pm, Blackfriars Bridge.

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One response to “We stand now where two roads diverge…

  1. The Danes would classically stop the cycle track short of the junction, and let left-turning traffic into the cycle lane (a bit like the way that left-turning traffic is allowed into the bus lanes approaching junctions on Euston Road).

    The Dutch would have the track set away from the road, so that cyclists can proceed while pedestrians cross the traffic on an all-green phase.

    Oxford would probably have bus lanes, and make the turning traffic go round the houses if it caused a problem.

    The LCC design is a bit of a hotchpotch, but the basics are clear: however it is done, it should be designed so that walking, cycling and public transport are simple, quick and safe. Cars get what’s left.

    Does the mayor want London to be a place where people can get about to live and work, pleasantly and safely? Or does he want to go on smoothing traffic flow? It’s not possible to do both – we have choose.

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