I’m just off the Deerstalker, having spent a few days trying out the new second-hand-but-unused Dawes Galaxy on the hills. Thanks to the generosity of the Scottish taxpayers the long-distance train ride back, with bed in comfortable single-occupancy cabin and breakfast tea in a spacious lounge and lots of bicycle space, cost £19 when booked several weeks in advance. One side of the political spectrum would argue that we should allow the sleeper trains to “fail”: that subsidy is an indication that the business model has failed and the business should go with it. That there is no place for services that don’t make money.
I just rode over from Euston to Look Mum No Hands for extra breakfast and laptop charge. On Gordon Street a couple of private hire cars were stopped half on the pavement, engines idling, drivers looking bored. A BMW driver sped up to the junction at Woburn Place, abruptly stopped in the junction, looking at the bicycle paths and contemplating the “no left turn” signs for a few seconds, before screeching into a left turn across the cycle paths. At Exmouth Market, a white van was parked blocking the street, just beyond the “no motor vehicles” sign. At Skinner street, where there are proper with-flow kerb-separated bicycle paths (perhaps the only example of such in London?) I stopped for a picture to add to the CEGB flickr pool, and a cab, #68625, promptly pulled in at a gap in the kerb and parked in the bike path across a driveway (or, more likely in central London, a fire access route). I pointed out what he had done, and that several cyclists had already had to either swerve out into the road, or squeeze past: “it’s OK, I’ll only be a minute, I’ve got to pick someone up.”
Outside Look Mum No Hands, two vans are parked in the bus stop: V185 OUG and a “tree management” van FY59 VDT (using his
hazards exempts). Opposite, another van, S619 BTC is parked on the pavement and pedestrian-crossing table and straddling double-yellows at the Domingo Street junction, delivering a package to Sandwich Box. No, that van has now been replaced by Cafe Deli Wholesale YF59 YTY, parked in the same place and using his hazards exempts. He’s delivering bottled drinks to… Look Mum No Hands. Printflow van EX60 KKE has driven up and along the pavement in order to get past on the narrow street.
Four plain white vans, including DK05 WOD, are driven past on Old Street by people using handheld mobile phones. A City Sprint driver is on his phone, a Kier van driver looks like he’s texting. I’ve lost count of the number of private cars driven by people using their phones. Interestingly, a Mitsubishi Barbarian(!) driver is texting, a Mitsubishi Warrior driver is on the phone, and a Mitsubishi Shogun driver is drinking from a thermos. Mitsubishi pickup truck drivers almost overtake Range Rover drivers in the chart of law breakers, but the woman driving the black Range Rover W6 PSW with tinted windows scores an equaliser by using her hand-held mobile phone. A G-Wiz driver demonstrates that it’s just as easy driving electric cars while using your mobile phone. The driver of an empty minibus with a schoolbus sign on the back, KX56 BVW, is driving one handed while drinking; the Casa Flenghi van driver is reading his directions or itinerary while rolling through the heavy traffic; behind him, the driver of Clockwork logistics T6 CWK is more interested in watching LMNH and in his cigarette than on the road space he is driving into. The driver of a large JSM dump truck is taking big bites of his sandwich while closely overtaking a pack of cyclists at speed. A motorbike races down the queue for the lights by using the advisory bike lane, forcing cyclists to an emergency stop as he cuts in. A taxi follows, half on the pavement. Another taxi stops the traffic for a U-turn, neatly avoiding the bike stands as she mounts the pavement. Keltbray, GBN, Kilnbridge, McGrath, and countless other large skip lorries appear to have only the bare legal minimum of mirrors.
Each time I look up, at least one in ten of the passing drivers is doing something at least dubious — careless, discourteous, dangerous — if not flagrantly illegal. They know they can get away with it. The police don’t have time to deal with traffic offenses, and they know that if they hit a pedestrian or cyclist, the CPS and judge will be sympathetic and understand the unfortunate fact that pedestrians and cyclists do tend to just come from nowhere.
Many hundreds of cyclists have gone past. Just one rides (slowly, carefully) along the pavement opposite. I wonder why he doesn’t want to use his right to the road?
Countless business models in our cities are based on moving goods around, and are borderline-profitable, relying on a mix of illegal and legal-but-immoral practices — speeding; parking in bus stops, bike lanes, buildouts, clearways and footways; red light running and no-entry ignoring; eating and phoning and fiddling with satnavs while on the move — to stay in the black. Others are very healthy businesses, using lawbreaking to boost their already ample profits just because they can. Businesses have built themselves into a dependency on bad driving and law breaking. Our cities could easily survive without the deliveries of bottled water and bagged ice cubes; with fewer disposable spoons and paper cups; with hotels doing their laundry in-house; with a few more parking places converted to loading bays; and with employers sacrificing a tiny little bit of profit to allow their delivery drivers the extra time they need to keep to the speed limit, park up to take calls, and walk the few extra yards from legal loading bays. We could even manage with fewer taxis — if they made fewer dangerous and illegal moves, they might not look so competitive compared to public transport or hire bikes. If the road rules were properly enforced, businesses would soon innovate; discover new and legal means of moving things around — or that things don’t really need to be moved around at all.
And a few would fail — because they have invested too heavily in a business model that depends on breaking the law. And they would be replaced by something else — something unburdened by that investment. And that would be fine. We should stop propping up business models based on breaking the law. We should let those businesses fail, if necessary.
My laptop has finished charging.