They said they’d be back …



We have a series of parkways which wind through the city. Two lanes each way, grass and trees on either side, daffodils planted in the spring and so on, because the Development Corporation did a wonderful job back in the ’70s and made room for green spaces and trees along the sides of the main routes. You can drive from one end of the city to the other in some places without even realising that you’re passing through a built-up area with industry and housing estates and so forth all behind that green slope studded with trees. Of course, there are other places where the industry and the roundabouts etc break things up a bit, but the overall effect is quite nice.

And now – thanks to the ever-widening boundaries of our fair city and the inevitable increase in traffic and demand for parking spaces – things are changing. Some of the parkways now sport ugly concrete central barriers instead of a strip of grass and trees, for instance. I think this may be a European thing.

Another change is a plan to turn the parkway through the centre of the city into a boulevard in more than just name, with wider pavements and wider crossings. There will be more traffic lights, but they tell us they’ll be planting more trees – we’ll have to wait and see what it turns out like, but in the meantime some green has been lost and there has been chaos. For most of last summer right up until the Christmas shopping period, we have had slow traffic, dust, mud, traffic jams, and gridlock. We’ve had noise, car parks closing and opening up again, flashing cones, temporary barriers and moveable traffic lights. In short, all that usually goes with redevelopment in a busy city centre. But they very kindly stopped work for Christmas so nobody actually got lynched.

We wanted to go shopping in our brand new giant Waitrose1 yesterday and found that the work had been started again. We hit problems two roundabouts out from where we were headed; traffic in our lane was crawling and the right hand lane was blocked by a stationary car trying to merge into the left. Eventually, of course, some kind soul stepped on the brake pedal and let him in.

While we waited we had a little discussion.

What should we do? Should we move out into the right hand lane and hope that the blockage was after the next roundabout, the one where we needed to turn right? We couldn’t see anything – it could simply be congestion from the works further up, where they were actually, you know, doing stuff.

Or should we stay where we were on the basis that if the blockage was before the next roundabout, we’d be the ones sitting in the right hand lane trying to merge back into the left? And everyone would be cursing and calling us ‘Bloody queue-jumpers’.

We crawled. We stopped and started and crawled some more. Eventually we decided to move over, since … well, we couldn’t see anything. But it was not long before a line of cones came into view and then we caught a glimpse of the roundabout. The traffic was moving round the roundabout quite normally, turning right and everything, but we were being forced into a single, left-lane-dwelling wagon train of vehicles.

So tell me: why did they not put up a sign, before the previous roundabout, warning of congestion ahead? It would have given us all time to choose an alternative route.

Or better yet, why not divide the two lanes with cones nice and early, and make the right lane a ‘right turn only ahead’ lane? Anyone in the left lane who’d got stuck there by mistake could simply go up to the next roundabout2 and turn back, and those who chose the right lane early could smile smugly and just … go!

It seems so simple to me that I surely must be missing something, so what is it I’m missing?

I’m sure, you, dear readers, will have some suggestions to offer. If you can make them humorous, oh, please do! A little comic relief after a journey like that is always welcome!

1 Normally I’m not a huge fan of knocking old buildings down to make way for modern glass and concrete, but in this case it has been an improvement. I like Waitrose, and the one we had before, though conveniently situated inside the big shopping mall, was tiny. Come to think of it, I hate that mall anyway, so this is even better since it means there’s less reason to go into it at all!

2 We have plenty of roundabouts. The things are everywhere, confusing Americans and learner drivers and – it has to be said – making life easier for the rest of us. I think only Colchester has more roundabouts than we do. But I learned to drive in Colchester, so I’m alright.