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A circle of hell for traffic planners.

THERE IS SURELY a circle in modern hell for town planners, especially those with responsibility for roads. For most of the post-war period they designed everything purely for the motor car, laying down ring-roads, reconstructing town centres for the ease of motorists, demolishing buildings for car parks. At the same car ownership increased and the motor industry was seen as vital to the economic health of the nation (even though British manufacturers were proving incapable of designing and building cars that were any good). The car became a status symbol and an embodiment of personal freedom. For many it also became a necessity.

Then, gradually, but still within a short space of time, the planners changed tack. Environmentalism became the new ethos. Cars were no longer the good thing they had been. They were now the enemy, to be congestion-charged, constrained, hindered or even banished. Pedestrian precincts were extended and new ones created. More one-way systems and road narrowing measures were introduced. Cycle lanes appeared for rarely-existent cyclists. As a result, to make a journey that once took two minutes now takes five and you have to travel three times the distance. Road signs multiply, as do markings on the roads. Often they’re more confusing than helpful. These days if you’re in a strange town you’re better off relying on a satnav to navigate.

Cars are even more of a necessity than ever but now politicians and the green lobby treat you as a borderline criminal for driving them. What does not seem to have changed, however, is the basic modus operandi of the planner, which is to control and constrain the driver: you may drive only on the designated roads and you shall have little choice between the others. The planner is a tyrant in miniature, a perfect example of the arrogant interference of the state. You may respond to their surveys and patronising shows of democracy but the chances are you’ll still get what they want because they know what’s best for you.

So who knows what reversal or radical change will take place in traffic planning over the next 30 years: the banning of all non-electric vehicles from town centres, perhaps, the introduction of the rickshaw? Or the return of the horse? Whatever it is, electric car, rickshaw or horse, you’ll still find yourself being bullied around a one-way system with most of your options for escape forbidden. You’ll be like a soul in a circle of hell except with the comfort of knowing that somewhere deep in the real hell there’s a special ring-road of torment reserved for the souls of traffic planners.

– Michael Blackburn.

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