Monthly Archives: March 2016

Rip out thousands of traffic lights to boost the economy …

Four out of every five traffic lights should be ripped up to boost the economy and road safety, according to a report.

A huge number of traffic lights, speed bumps and cycle lanes have brought roads to a grinding halt, a report by the Institute of Economic Affairs has claimed. It says that delays of two minutes to the average journey cost the economy £16 billion a year.

According to Richard Wellings, one of the authors of the report for the free-market think tank, councils have been taking the same approach as communist East Germany by “trying to force people out of their cars and on to subsidised public transport”.

Despite the number of vehicles on the roads remaining the same over the past ten years, the institute found that the number of traffic lights had increased from 23,000 in 1994 to 33,000 in 2014.

There was also a 20-fold rise in speed bumps to 60,000 over the same period, while signs for cycle routes rocketed from 1,572 in 1993 to 41,188 in 2013, and 100 more miles of bus lanes had squeezed out road space for cars.

According to the report, the surge in traffic regulation measures are an attempt to appease the green lobby but have instead “produced serious environmental costs”.

“From a green point of view you’re better off getting rid of all these traffic controls,” Dr Wellings said. “They actually increase pollution by delaying traffic and making car engines run less efficiently.”

His comments come as the Department for Transport’s own figures show that the average speed for a car at peak times has slowed from 25.3mph in 2012 to 23.6mph last year.

The report highlighted Germany and the Netherlands, as well as areas of the UK, where there was a fall in injury and accidents when “shared space” schemes were introduced. The increase in voluntary co-operation between car users and pedestrians led to a fall in congestion and reduction in noise and air pollution as “vehicles proceed much more smoothly”, the report said.

A spokesman for the Department for Transport said: “Local councils are responsible for managing their networks in such a way as to balance the needs of all users. We provide guidance on designing and implementing measures but it is up to the authorities to decide how best to implement them.”

The Land Rover drives off into the sunset …

The Times, Matthew Parris, January 30 2016

My love affair reaches the end of the road

As the Land Rover drives off into the sunset, I will remember it as classless, daring and virtually indestructible

Time seemed to stop: a frozen moment, wild, terrifying, yet with a kind of stillness. I seemed pinned in space. Below me our Land Rover was plunging into a deep earth ditch. Above me stretched the blue African sky into which I was launched, an involuntary spaceman. I’d been violently bucked from my favourite place, the roof-rack, and was describing a small parabola above a maize field in northern Cameroon before falling to earth some 20 feet from the car.

I was 24. Stanley, our vehicle, was 12. We had crashed. I heard Stanley hit the other side of the gully as I lay on the dry earth; heard the windows falling out; heard from the field that unmistakably African “A! A! A!” from a group of labouring women, which means “Good gracious, can you believe it? — Whatever next?” — or, in this case, “A white boy has just dropped from the sky”.

Was I dead? I raised my head to check. No blood, no wounds. Legs and arms still on. Trying to get up I realised both arms had dislocated at the shoulder in a futile bid to hold on to the roof-rack. Only bruised, my three comrades staggered over to rejoice at my survival. The women ululated. Windows were popped back into frames, shoulders re-located, and we carried on to the Congo, Rwanda, Tanganyika and Nairobi.

We sold Stanley in Nairobi, where I discovered a difference in how best to pitch an all-terrain vehicle to black — or white — African potential buyers. White buyers wanted to hear that our vehicle had led a cosseted life. Black buyers were impressed to hear it had been through hell and survived. I prefer the black African view.

That Series IIA marked the point by which the Land Rover had assumed for ever its iconic form: a sturdy rectangular platform on a brutal steel chassis making up the lower half of the car, two sheets of glass divided by a metal strip serving as the windscreen, and a largely aluminium cabin bolted on top like a box, square and flat. The whole, composed of apparently rudimentary parts, exudes a whiff of expert, de-frilled design. That post-war austerity image, functionality-over-form, became in itself a kind of form, looking forward to the end-century’s craze for “de-constructionism”. The brutalism was the appeal: the vehicular opposite of the chihuahua in the handbag. If your car had a car, it would be a Land Rover.

Yesterday, the last model rolled off the production line in Solihull. A growing web of regulation has finally ensnared the old stager. Entirely predictably it was beginning to fail EU safety standards — and hadn’t met US standards for almost two decades. Jaguar Land Rover say they are replacing it, but my Land Rover co-religionists and I — we who take “Land Rover” to mean the marque that’s been in continuous production since 1948 — know that this week, the Land Rover, if not Land Rover, died. The decision fills me with melancholy but it is the right one. I shall try not to say “iconic” again though there is no better word for the vehicle’s status, but in the end, as the Morris Minor, the VW Beetle, the Trabant and the Citröen 2CV had also finally to accept, fame is not enough: sentimentality will only take a sales-pitch so far.

There’s irony in that. It’s the unsentimentality of the Land Rover that we’re sentimental about. The marque’s utilitarian aura had become its selling-point — yet most buyers’ use for the car doesn’t justify the purchase. The Land Rover was probably doomed from the day the first Toyota Land Cruiser hit the market: cheaper, less brutalist and even more reliable, the Japanese 4x4s were all most owners needed.

Still, though, the legend lived on. The claim that three quarters of the Land Rovers ever made are still on the road was always credible, whether or not true. Certainly a Land Rover’s capacity not quite to die is unrivalled. When the dashboard of my 1959 Land Rover caught fire in Derbyshire I drove on, simply ripping out some wires. In a cloudburst in Saumur we used the crank to start it. At 14,000 feet in the Bolivian Andes and trying to reach the Chilean border, the skills I’d acquired for making the electrics work with bits of old wire earned us admiration — and a ride — from the coca-dazed South American Indian owner of an old red Land Rover that in Britain you’d hardly bother to drag out of a ditch.

This vehicle has always mixed myth with reality. We like to think of the Land Rover as a supremely British original. In fact it’s an automotive tribute act to the American Willys Jeep that earned its spurs and its fame during the Second World War. Land Rover fanatics will kill me for saying this, but I think the more Stakhanovite Jeep takes the gold. We insist the Land Rover was always “tougher” than the poncier and more comfortable SUVs that now crowd the market — but for sheer resilience I’d say Toyota take the gold.

The prize that I’d gladly award the Land Rover is for an un-British quality: classlessness. As a young Tory candidate in Derbyshire in 1979 I found mine ideal for canvassing. On council estates a Range Rover could raise hackles; up gravel drives a Ford Cortina could raise eyebrows.

Of course I didn’t need a Land Rover, but the car elided need and want in a seductive way. It looks like a car of need: I have it because I must drive across fields, drag things, drive down rough tracks or off on a hunting safari. For some people, some of those needs may be real, for many they won’t — but for these many a Land Rover offered reassurance that despite our lives’ appearances we really were somehow rugged, daring, exciting. Those are good things, and a Land Rover reminds us of them, making for us a little boast.

The sparse and visible engineering speak to economic man, a modern equivalent of a caveman’s campfire, the “needs-must” in us all: the — yes — defender. It’s all about necessity, and the atavistic satisfaction that brings. As Peak District off-roaders prove every weekend, life offers no higher satisfaction than getting absolutely stuck, and then getting out of it.

Motoring as a pleasure is dying, a victim not only of jams and traffic lights and motorways that all feel the same, but also of our modern liberation. Owning a car used to be a lifeline to personal independence, but we’re no longer trapped at home. Motor cars as personalities, rescuers, friends, will soon be forgotten. And (oh the horror of the cliché that looms) as that last Land Rover rolled from the production line in Solihull this week, a little bit of me died.

Boris plans longest road tunnel in the world …

Boris Johnson has announced plans to build the longest road tunnel in the world under London to combat traffic congestion.

It would run for more than 15.5 miles, east to west, beneath the city, diverting millions of cars, vans and lorries from the streets above. A second tunnel would be almost 11.2 miles long. The Laerdal road tunnel in Norway is the world’s longest, at 15.2 miles.

The mayor’s plan to ease congestion also involves a possible ban on HGVs at peak hours and a new charge on delivery vans to reverse the trend among office workers of ordering goods online and having them sent to their desks. One solution, he believes, is to make better use of “click and collect” facilities at Tube and train stations.

Traffic in central London is expected to rise by as much as 60 per cent in the next 14 years as the city’s population increases from 8.6 million to 10 million. Mr Johnson, who is due to step down as mayor in May, said the tunnels could be completed by the mid-2030s and would reduce congestion by 20 per cent. They would cost about £15 billion each and would be funded through toll charges.

The northern city tunnel would run from the A40 at Park Royal in west London to the A12 at Hackney Wick in east London. The more ambitious southern tunnel would run from the A4 at Chiswick in the west to the A13 at Beckton in the east. There are also plans for a series of small tunnels, or “fly-unders”.

Mr Johnson’s successor — probably either Sadiq Khan or Zac Goldsmith — might well opt to scrap the scheme, but will themselves be under pressure to resolve the congestion problem.

Mr Johnson said that a feasibility study would be carried out into plans to ban, restrict or charge lorries and vans from entering the centre of London. He told The Times: “At the moment, we have too many huge, heavy vehicles thundering through the streets without anything in them, and we can sort that out.

“We have got 45 per cent growth in white vans caused by internet shopping, and a colossal growth in minicabs caused by the arrival of new apps. So we have to manage both of those phenomena and it is not easy.”

He said he wanted “better use of click-and-collect facilities for internet shopping and making use of Tube stations and other facilities for picking up your goods, rather than everyone receiving goods door to door”.

• The number of people killed on the road in busy city areas rose by 10 per cent in the 12 months to September last year, the Department for Transport said.

A total of 1,780 lives were lost, 49 more than in the previous year or an increase of about 3 per cent. However, the number of deaths recorded on British roads with a speed limit of up to 40mph — officially classed as built-up routes — rose by 71, to 780.

Traffic levels across the country crept up by 2.2 per cent. Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “That might partly explain why the downward trend in road deaths has plateaued in recent years.”

Isle of Man in race for driverless cars …

They have racked up more than a million miles on the roads of California and Texas. Now Google’s driverless cars could become a common sight on a different test track — the winding highways of the Isle of Man.

The self-governing crown dependency is drawing up radical plans to become the world-leader in the development of autonomous vehicles.

Politicians on the island are preparing legislation to allow driverless cars to be used on its streets. If approved, the proposal would put the island at least 12 months ahead of the British mainland, where similar legislation is unlikely to be passed until next year at the earliest.

Google, which has been developing driverless cars since 2009, is believed to have approached the Manx government with plans to hold the first tests of its vehicles outside America on the 221 sq mile island.

Allan Bell, the island’s chief minister, admitted last month that Google’s overtures were initially rejected by civil servants. He said that the company was told: “We don’t do things like that over here . . . we are perfectly fine as it is.”

The Manx authorities performed an about-turn this week and insisted that they were investigating the possibility of allowing driverless cars to share its roads with conventional vehicles.

The environment and infrastructure committee has launched a feasibility study of the reforms. A spokesman told The Times that trials could start tomorrow if a driver were in the vehicle to take over if any problems arose.

It is believed that any final adjustments to the island’s laws could be complete by early summer. The Manx government is also said to be in talks with other companies interested in bringing driverless cars to the island, which has a zero per cent corporate tax rate and income tax of 20 per cent.

The move could prove attractive to Google, the world’s most valuable company, which has been embroiled in a mounting row over its complex structure used to avoid hundreds of millions of pounds worth of UK corporation tax.

Google refused to comment last night on any link to the Isle of Man. But in an official statement, Mr Bell claimed that the island’s plans could put it above the US and countries such as Sweden in the race to develop driverless cars.

The island is already home to arguably the world’s most famous motorcycle race — the Isle of Man TT, which has been run since 1907. It also has a thriving online gaming industry.

Britain is already trying to overhaul the rules of the road to allow driverless cars to be tested on public highways. Ministers said last year they hoped that legislation — including the requirement for all vehicles to have a steering wheel and mirrors — could be redrafted by 2017.

Ben Gardner, a commercial law expert at Pinsent Masons, said the Isle of Man could have the edge because of its small size and less cumbersome legal framework.

“They’re pretty willing to push through legislative changes quickly and you can draw a comparison with the UK government which is committed to changing the law by summer 2017,” he said. “To be honest, that appears to be a very ambitious target because the UK’s road traffic law is pretty wide ranging. It is probably going to take much longer than that.”

Fewer commuting to work by bus or train …

The number of people commuting to work by public transport is in decline as buses and trains fail to keep pace with changing working habits.

Figures from Centre for Cities, the urban think tank, show a drop in the proportion of commuters using buses and trains in more than half of areas as jobs increasingly move to out-of-town business parks.

The number of commuters using public transport declined in 34 towns or cities and rose in 29. The biggest falls were in Glasgow, Dundee, Sheffield, Aberdeen, Ipswich and Sunderland, which were down by between 2 per cent and 3.3 per cent.

An analysis of the data by the CityMetric website showed that almost all the areas that showed rises were in the southeast. Paul Swinney, from Centre for Cities, said: “More companies are in business parks out of the centre and it is difficult to serve many of these areas with public transport,” he said.

In London 44.63 per cent of workers commuted by public transport in 2011, up from 38.5 per cent a decade earlier

Save Swansea Museum …

Swansea Museum is under threat, it’s budget to be cut by at least 50% next year. It is a wonderfully rich treasury of our heritage, as well as being a very active force in education, culture and tourism.

Swansea is Wales’s second city. Its fine 175 year old museum cannot be allowed to perish.

A petition has been set up on the 38 Degrees site:  https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/save-swansea-museum….