Tag Archives: London’s roads

Twenty’s plenty

I’ve always thought of the 30 mph speed limit in London as having been imposed since the dawn of time.

The recent seemingly draconian measure by many local authorities to reduce this to a blanket 20 mph to many is a novel and unnecessary step.

Yet for many years 20 mph was the norm it being introduced 80 years ago.

[S]tatically for every 1 mph reduced in the average speed there are 6 per cent fewer accidents according to the Department for Transport who say that the limit imposed should be seen by drivers as the maximum speed rather than as a target to achieve irrespective of road conditions. The limit seems to have been successful with 1 death on the roads for every 20,000 cars.

There was a blanket 20 mph speed limit for decades at the start of the last century presumably once the requirement for vehicles to be preceded by a man carrying a red flag.

In 1903 the Motor Car Act made 20 mph mandatory. Presumably at that time a vehicle’s maximum speed was less than 50 mph, and had a stopping distance equivalent to a super tanker.

When in 1930 this Act was repealed carnage on Britain’s roads ensued. By 1034 with only one-tenth of the cars on the road compared with today’s traffic there was 4 times as many deaths.

A controversial Act was passed imposing a 30 mph speed limit, just how that figure was agreed has been lost in the mists of time and as with all British compromises chaos ensued.

Pieces of paper were plastered over existing signs, or tin discs used. Where authorities had managed to erect a regulatory sign these were often torn down, some ended up in lakes.

Now with greater traffic volumes and the huge increase in cyclists on London’s roads the debate has been re-ignited.

The Lib-Dems considered a 10 mph maximum in some areas, while many more pragmatic types of council have opted for 20 mph in residential streets supplementing this with as many road obstacles as it’s possible to imagine.

At 20 mph, if we adhere to Department of Transport guidelines, our average speed should be around 17–18 mph about the rate of travel for more sedate cyclists.


Unfortunately the modern car (or cab) hasn’t been designed to be driven at a continuous 17 mph. The gear ratios are incorrect, fuel consumption higher and engines emit more particulates. In a world of electric cars this wouldn’t be a problem.

Failing this utopian world the most effective way I’ve seen is the average speed camera. Only a fool and the thief would fail to comply with the speed limit under those watchful eyes.

Local authorities will just have to bite the bullet and invest if they want everyone traversing their land adhering to their diktats.

The Non-Mad Way to Run a Car in London

Driving in London is hard work – I should know.

In this Guest Post Daniel Solomou promotes the use of the Toyota Aygo and has some sage advice for London motorists, you could, of course, jump in a cab.

When you approach the subject of running a car in London (particularly central London) the overwhelming response is usually “You’re mad”. This usually being due to . . .

The Cost
You’ll be told how expensive your insurance will be (£985 on average in inner London) and how much it costs to park (£38.20 for 4-24 hours at an NCP). Not to mention the £9 due every day you go inside the Congestion Charge Zone; the amount of parking attendants waiting to slap a fine on you if you park too long; the cost of fuel (currently just less than 130p per litre) and indeed the amount you will need to spend on your road tax, MOT and servicing etc. Some people will also point out…

The Alternatives
You’ll be told about the virtues of the various Car Clubs available in London, such as Zip Car, Car Club and Streetcar Club, who all offer hourly rates of car hire once you’re a member (e.g. £6/hr and £54/day.

There will also be many ready to wax lyrically about the benefits of public transport on financial, environmental and convenience grounds and as a way of avoiding London’s gruesome traffic jams.

They’re all fair points and well made, but what if you HAVE to run a car in London?

Reasons could include the arrival of a new baby, the needs of an elderly or disabled relative, or perhaps due to you having a small business, whatever. So what’s the best way to run a car when all signs still point to “DON’T”?

1. Subscribe to ‘Bangernomics’
‘Bangernomics’ is essentially the practice of minimising your expenditure on everything related to your car, particularly the car itself.

For example with this approach you would purchase perhaps a 15 year old diesel Ford Mondeo estate for a couple of hundred pounds. Your insurance costs would be minimal (even in central London it could be roughly £400 per year) due to the undesirable nature of the vehicle and fuel costs would be low, as even old diesels tend to get great mileage.

You can’t do much about the Congestion Charge or the parking costs etc. but with ‘Bangernomics’ you take such a big chunk out of the cost of running the car your bank balance will still look pretty sane.

You do have to drive a banger around all the time though. And it is likely to break down a bit, but then parts are cheaper too for such a common car.

2. Choose a Hybrid Car
If you wouldn’t be seen dead driving a banger around all day then you should consider opting for a hybrid car. You do get to enjoy the warm fuzzy feeling knowing you are doing your bit to help the environment, but more importantly they offer drivers numerous financial benefits.

Many hybrids boast the ability to cut fuel expenditure by using 15-20 per cent less fuel per mile.

For Londoners bitterly opposed to the Congestion Charge, those with certain hybrids enjoy the ‘Ultra-Low Emission Vehicles Discount’ which is currently a discount of 100 per cent.

As Road Tax (Vehicle Excise Duty) is based on emissions, owners of a typical hybrid sit in a bracket effectively 4 notches lower than non-hybrid vehicles.

Hybrids tend to have much higher re-sale values when compared with non-hybrids of the same age. While some cars lose 20 per cent of their value the second they’re driven out of the showroom, hybrids may only lose 10 per cent over 3 years. This is due to hybrids ability to maintain the same level of fuel efficiency over many years and the fact they are easier to maintain and more durable.

If your choice of hybrid qualifies as an ‘ultra-low emissions’ car, the government may be able to offer you their Plug-in Car Grant to cover 25 per cent of the cost of the vehicle, up to a maximum of £5,000.

Also, as hybrids have been around since 1997, you can now buy one second hand. Saving you a bit on the upfront cost too. Or if you just have to have the latest model, there are an increasing number of hybrid car offers available thanks to the number of new brands offering hybrid models leading to increase competition.

3. Be Generally Smarter
Once you have selected your new/old non-mad car for driving in London, all you have to do is to make smart choices when out and about.

· Don’t go in the Congestion Charge Zone if you can help it
· Don’t park in a multi-story car park for 24 hours
· Don’t park illegally
· Do consider sharing journeys with friends/colleagues
· Do shop around for the cheapest petrol station in your area (usually a supermarket)
· Do compare your car insurance to ensure you have the best deal

With the right car and by making sure you use common sense when out and about, you can easily run a car in London without being considered mad.

Goswell Street Road

One of the oft used and pointless pieces of trivia is that the City of London has no ’roads’.

The Square Mile has streets aplenty, along with ‘Lanes’, ‘Gates’, ‘Gardens’, ‘Docks’, ‘Places’, ‘Alleys’, ‘Hills’ and ‘Yards’, but no ’roads’. Along with a veritable smorgasbord of throughfares that don’t fall into any category, ’Old Jewry’, ’New Change’, ’Crutched Friars’.

[O]f the many theories of the dearth of roads one is that the Old English verb to ride has as its past tense ’road’. While the old Scots form of ride is raid which later would come to mean riding with hostile intent.

So by the 16th century a fixed route for getting from one place to another over land came to be known as a road. As with many words of modern usage the term ’road’ to mean a thoroughfare was first used by William Shakespeare. In 1589 it appeared in Comedy of Errors, Act II, Scene 2:

Go hie thee presently, post to the road:
An if the wind blow any way from shore,
I will not harbour in this town to-night:
If any bark put forth, come to the mart,
Where I will walk till thou return to me.
If every one knows us and we know none,
‘Tis time, I think, to trudge, pack and be gone.

For us to refer to a long distance highway (as the Romans would) a street seems to have the wrong connotation. We rarely refer to Watling Street, Ermine Street, or Dere Street preferring the more prosaic: A1, A2 or A5. So because a road had to go somewhere and in London you were already there ’roads’ would commence outside the City gates.

Another theory is that a ’road’ has to be able to accommodate two carts passing one another, a feat performed with difficulty in London’s narrow medieval streets.

All this trivia was great for the tourist guides (and cabbies) enabling them to demonstrate their knowledge of London. That was until the good Burghers of the town halls moved the City’s limits.

Goswell Street was renamed Goswell Road, in the past the northern section (that being furthest away from the City) was named Goswell Street Road, which probably denoted that by the time you reached the name change you were on the road to somewhere.

In 1994 boundary changes brought the eastern half under the jurisdiction of the City of London, while the western carriageway remains firmly in the Borough of Islington.

The boundary now runs down the middle of the road, pedants might argue that this still, technically, means that there isn’t a single road within the City of London, merely a half-road.

Twenty’s plenty

Twenty is plentyIslington Council has a long history of discouraging the use of cars within its boundaries; passengers have told me of having their cars taken to the car pound one day after their residents’ permit expired.

Another wealthy resident said his cul-de-sac which was 100 metres long had 8 speed humps ‘to prevent excessive speed’.

The existing speed humps, which were designed to keep speeds below 20mph, have only managed to impair the emergency services. All the ‘boy racers’ went out and purchased wide-wheeled 4x4s and continued to drive furiously.

Islington’s next ploy was to build ‘pincer points’ which allow only one vehicle through at a time and construct innumerable pedestrian crossings on Upper Street. This has resulted in an 18 hour-a-day traffic jam with cars belching out noxious fumes and pedestrians resolutely refusing to cross at the designated places.

[T]he slower a vehicle travels reduces the risk of injury to pedestrians, but so does observation and driving. In Islington you spend an inordinate amount of your journey looking out for obstructions installed by the council.

Vehicles are not designed to travel at 16mph (the speed you should travel as 20mph is the maximum), use far more fuel and increase their emissions at these low speeds. In addition many odometers are inaccurate at low speed resulting in drivers having to maintain a speed of 15mph.

If this north London council is serious about keeping speed limits below 20mph it can only enforce it by a complex system of average speed cameras, just how much would that cost the ratepayers?

Goodbye Piccadilly


Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square or so the World War I song goes. Last week we could have been singing that verse all over again as a sector of the West End reverted back to a road layout not seen for over 40 years.

A generation ago the Road Traffic and Road Improvements Act 1960 opened the door to parking meters, traffic wardens and paved the way for the formation of the London Traffic Management Unit whose sole job was to speed up traffic, it was the predecessor of TfL‘s current objective in smoothing traffic flow – something they have proved singularly to be inept at achieving.

With five years of the Act being passed a series of Traffic Management Schemes were set up which in essence were just a series of one-way systems using parallel roads: Aldgate; Tottenham Court Road/Gower Street; Earls Court Road/Warwick Road and so on.

[O]n 15th July 1961 an experiment in traffic management was introduced as a temporary measure, a one-way system for St. James’s. Westbound traffic was to take Pall Mall and St. James’s Street while eastbound Piccadilly was the counterflow. This proved such a success that on 26th November 1961 the scheme was made permanent.

At first this did indeed speed up what little traffic there was, but as with the way of traffic management its success was short lived and just encouraged more traffic to enter London while all the time travelling at greater speeds.

To help alleviate this congestion a contra-flow for buses was introduced in the 1970s, then in the 1990’s in a bid to reduce the number of cars entering the newly pedestrianised area of Trafalgar Square and grid locking its only intersection – Charles I roundabout – the traffic lights were rephased which had the desired effect of holding more traffic back in Piccadilly before letting them enter Trafalgar Square.

Now after a £14 million scheme the roads are 2-way again, wider pavements, no railings and using high quality materials have made this a better place for pedestrians and motorists alike.

So far the signs are encouraging, St. James’s Street flows better and cabbies can take their passengers south using a much shorter route. The roads certainly look far less cluttered and an attractive area for shoppers. Piccadilly at night still looks like a parking lot as everybody travels towards Theatreland, can’t they just walk that last half mile? Or better still get a cab.

One serious omission to the scheme has been a lack of dedicated cycle lanes; if a parking ban had been enforced on these three streets the extra space could have provided provision for cyclists.

So far an improvement, but in the pipe line are other traffic schemes let us hope that they prove the success that St. James’s has proved thus far.