Tag Archives: London’s roads

25 x 25 x 25

[T]hirty years ago a friend of mine took our son and his lad for a Sunday afternoon stroll and in the days when civil engineering was not carried out 24-hours a day, he decided, for reasons best known only by himself, to walk along the part constructed M25, thus making our son one of the few 10-year olds to have walked down the middle that motorway.

Our friend was of the opinion that this part constructed road, being so far out from central London, was a waste of money and would in all likelihood remain as empty as it was on the day they took their motorway ramble. It was I suppose his way of showing the future generation the folly of politicians with £1 billion of our money to spend.

Now I give you this illuminating if rather prosaic story of our family because on Saturday the motorway which inspired Chris Rea’s 1989 hit Road To Hell is 25-years-old, and our friend’s original prediction was soon proved wrong for less than two years after its opening by Margaret Thatcher on 17th August 1988 a 22-mile long queue of stationary traffic grew between junctions 9 and 10.

So here are CabbieBlog’s 25 fascinating facts after 25 years of the M25:

2nd-cabThe construction was originally proposed in 1911, by the time Margaret Thatcher opened it in 1986 fourteen different Prime Ministers had been in office.

2nd-cabIt runs for 117 miles (that is nearly 200 kilometres) and was the world’s biggest city ring road when it was built, now it is only surpassed by Berlin’s Ring at 121 miles.

2nd-cabFor anyone who drove a car made in Britain at the time it will not come as a surprise to learn that the first breakdown on the M25 occurred at 11.16am on 29th October, 1986, just hours after Margaret Thatcher declared it open.

2nd-cabHead of the old Greater London Council and a leading lobbyist for the M25, Sir Horace Cutler, discovered to his dismay on the day the route was announced that it would pass through the grounds of his home near Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire.

2nd-cabThe original design proposed four ring roads around London, but for political expedience in the 60s London County Council tried to keep quiet about their radical plans to build the four ring roads. The truth came out when Battersea Borough Council had a request for a new swimming pool rejected because one of the roads would have been built over it.

2nd-cabMore than two million tons of concrete and 3.5 million tons of asphalt were used to build it and at junction 15 the M25 is now 12 lanes wide.

2nd-cabIt has 10,606 lights and 2,959 illuminated signs along its length.

2nd-cabClacket Lane Service Station is the largest service station in Europe, but despite its length and the volume of traffic the motorway has only two other service stations – Thurrock and South Mimms.

2nd-cabDesigned with a capacity of 100,000 vehicles per day it now is used by 250,000 vehicles per day. At its busiest part 196,000 vehicles a day were measured in 2003 between junctions 13 and 14 near Heathrow Airport.

2nd-cabIt has 33 junctions some of which are four levels high.

2nd-cabThe highest speed recorded by police on the M25 was 147mph, in 1992 by Leslie Coe in a Porsche 911 – he lost his licence. Last year there were 793 accidents and eight deaths.

2nd-cabIf you were able to drive at a constant 70mph, it would take an hour and 40 minutes to complete a full lap of the route.

2nd-cabOne of the strangest items found on the motorway was a table tennis table amongst the tons or rubbish the Highways Agency maintenance crews have to clear off the hard shoulder each year.

2nd-cabAccording to the AA, the question most frequently asked by motorists on its online route planner is: “How can I avoid the M25?”

2nd-cabThe Orbital road lent its name to a series of raves in the late eighties and early nineties. This in turn gave house duo Orbital their name.

2nd-cabNovelist Iain Sinclair walked anti-clockwise around the motorway in 2000 for his book “London Orbital”.

2nd-cabExplorers Alastair Humphreys and Rob Lilwall spent eight days walking the entire M25 route last year. Fans followed their progress via Twitter, with many locals offering beds for the night.

2nd-cabLast August Northern Irish fundraiser Trevor Sandford golfed his way around the motorway, covering 31 courses in 31 days, in aid of charity.

2nd-cabThe tiny village of North Ockendon is the only settlement in Greater London outside the M25, while Watford (population 80,000) is the largest town outside Greater London to lie inside the M25.

2nd-cabEpping Foresters Cricket Club plays on a pitch directly above the M25’s Bell Common tunnel.

2nd-cabSince 1996 a man called Gimpo has spent a day each year driving around the M25. In fact, a day and a bit, as he takes 25 hours and he plans to do it until 2021. That’s a 25 year circumlocution spending 25 hours at a time on the M25. He calls it the M25 Spin, and it’s quietly becoming one of the most intriguing art projects out there.

2nd-cabIf you drove round the M25 clockwise in the slow lane, you would travel 600ft further than if you drove round the motorway anti-clockwise in the slow lane.

2nd-cabThe clockwise off-slip at Reigate is the longest slip-road in the world, outside of America.

2nd-cabIts north sections follow a similar route to the Outer London Defence Ring which was the defences built around the city for the Second World War.

2nd-cabAnd finally just in case you are reading this while stationary on the M25, a report this year revealed that roadworks had caused 118 years of hold-ups in 18 months between junctions 16 and 23 alone . . .

Jaywalkers assist drivers

“In towns we may need to start considering some radical schemes such as removing kerbs so there are more hazards – like pedestrians – around your car. Our research suggests that this might actually improve people’s driving.” Having written not one but two posts about the pedestrianisation of Exhibition Road where road planners intend to allow drivers and pedestrians to use ‘shared space’, I thought the topic was finally closed.

[U]ntil that is the findings of Newcastle University Researchers were published recently; who after questioning 1,563 drivers about their motoring style and personality believe removing kerbs could actually make driving safer.

They found that 31 per cent of drivers were easily bored and were more likely to seek excitement by taking driving risks, and they were prone to speeding or overtaking as they did not find the city roads taxing enough.

Of all those surveyed 35 per cent who were described as ‘enthusiastic’, found driving challenging – presumably trying to dodge pedestrians – or interesting and were less likely to have an accident. Other findings include 13 per cent found to be safe and slow, and a total of 21 per cent who were just plain slow through their dislike of driving.

Exhibition Road when finished will have pedestrians mixing with cars, the theory being both will be aware of each other – and that is the fatal flaw.

Fortuitously in the week these findings were published a video appeared on YouTube which rather illustrates my point, showing just how pedestrians with mobile phones can behave on London Streets.

This is Cathy Marrero, who walked into a mall fountain in Pennsylvania, while texting on her mobile phone. Now if you had fallen into a water feature you’d probably try to keep your dignity intact and retreat gracefully. But not our Cathy, she’s suing, because security staff could be heard laughing – in footage posted on YouTube – rather than helping her out, now the whole world know how stupid she is. “You need to see the serious side of it,” Marrero has said.” What if it was a senior citizen, would it be so funny then?” Absolutely, it would. Only had somebody drowned could it not be classed as comedy. Then it would be natural selection.

Texting while walking is a curse; people step out on to roads, collide with you in the street, obstruct your path by dawdling, all because they are engaged in banal dialogue with a person many miles away. I’m really looking forward to having the Cathy Marrero’s of this world using my ‘shared space’ along Exhibition Road.

Circle of Fear

I had been on the Knowledge for two years and was starting to gain confidence in my ability to navigate around the City of London, when on an appearance my examiner handed me a pamphlet. “You’re to learn these for when you come back in 28 days”. Well, if I hadn’t already been sitting you could have knocked me down with a feather, everything to do with traversing the City, that my brain seemed to refuse to remember was now obsolete.

[T]here was now only 19 ways to enter or leave the City with two-thirds of all streets that lead into the City closed to traffic. Described at the time as the ‘ring of plastic’ on account of the plastic bollards used, it made for instance Southwark Bridge redundant overnight, with only bikes able to enter the City from the south via Queen Anne Street. Born out of fear after the Bishopsgate bomb when the IRA was attacking the mainland these 19 entry points were manned by armed police and all very visible.

Enclosing London with a defensive parameter is not new; the Romans built a two mile long wall in the late 2nd century, 18ft high, its outer face was protected by a 6ft deep V-cut ditch approximately 10ft wide. Entry points denoted by familiar places in the modern City; Bishopsgate, Newgate, Ludgate, and as the ditch was noted for its bad odour from being used as a dump for rubbish and dead dogs, you would be well advised only to enter the City via these gates.

The curve in Gresham Street follows the line of the Roman fort that was incorporated into the wall and modern day London Wall approximates the wall’s northern extremity.

It was not until the mid-16th century that the City began to spread substantially beyond these walls, presumably after clearing the rubbish tip that the parameter had become.

Our ring of plastic has now been replaced with more harmonious landscaping, chicanes with manned police kiosks, two CCTV cameras at each entry point, our blocked roads are now adorned with water features and plants pots strong enough to prevent car-bomb attacks and many places that were once streets are now private property staffed by security guards.

The 6.5 mile parameter has now been documented by photographer Henrietta Williams and cartographer George Gingell, their study entitled Panopticon: A Study of the Ring of Steel  has come to some surprising conclusions.

Traffic entering the City can be controlled by just 80 policemen; photography is discouraged; and as new buildings are designed for the parameter they tend to be large block size to complete this unbroken wall.

Not since the Tudors has the City been defended with such rigor, it will not of course deter pedestrian terrorists, but revival of some dead dogs might just keep them away.

Slow boat from China

220px-SakokuJunkIf ever evidence was needed to support the claim that London’s streets were paved with gold the place to find it would be Exhibition Road. This three-quarter-mile long road is undergoing a transition that in the words of Nick Paget-Brown, Kensington and Chelsea’s Cabinet Member for Transport will transform it into ‘the most beautiful road in London’.

Unable to source enough granite locally the Tory council has obtained enough stone to match the colour required from China and by using a slow boat from China the council claim the ‘carbon footprint’ is much reduced. An alternative supplier in the north of England would presumably have parachuted in the granite sets by a gas guzzling Tornado jet. The total project is estimated to cost £29 million which equates to £22,000 per yard; truly London’s streets are paved with gold.

[W]hen completed both drivers and pedestrians will share the same space in what is termed a ‘transition zone’. The most recognisable characteristic of shared space is the absence of street clutter, such as conventional traffic signals, barriers, signs and road markings. This according to the council encourages motorists to slow down, engage with their surroundings and make eye contact with pedestrians – resulting in a higher quality and more usable street area, with enhanced road safety.

When writing last year I described Kensington and Chelsea’s attitude to both pedestrians and vehicles sharing this road as:

For most of us who use London’s roads encounter inappropriate speeding, overtaking on the nearside, rude and careless drivers, and a complete disregard of pedestrians and cyclists.

But it would appear that The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s roads department don’t populate the world that I live in (or most accurately the world that I drive in).

Their world is akin to Camberwick Green when everybody is aware of other road users, greeting them with a cheery riposte, and continuing on their journey unimpeded. They help little old ladies cross the road and slow down for children.

The Royal National Institute for the Blind have been objecting to the plan since its inception even resorting to 150 blind and partially sighted people campaigning outside the London Assembly. The western side of Exhibition Road is used by 19 million pedestrians a year visiting the many attractions in the area, surely there is still time to ban vehicles for most of the day and let everybody enjoy the space of ‘the most beautiful road in London’.

Mounting concern over humps

[A] report has recently been posted on line by honest john who seems to prove what many of London’s cabbies have been saying for years.

Speed Humps Analysing hundreds of complaints from drivers who say ‘sleeping policemen’ are wreaking havoc on their cars, the report suggests what many have suspected that these aids to road safety are, in fact, having the opposite effect.

Their perceived effectiveness at improving road safety have seen London’s councils place them in every corner of their domains. The report asserts that repeatedly traversing speed humps in the same vehicle causes long-term damage to key components, especially tyres and suspension.

As the vehicle transverses the hump the weight of the vehicle is distributed to the inside of a tyre rather than spread evenly, and the sloping design of humps effectively ‘drags’ the edge of the tyre along them, putting a large amount of pressure on the tyre and body of the wheel.

As a result greater tyre wear results and the side walls are in danger of collapsing at high speed. Another effect speed humps have on vehicles, so often realised by cabbies, is the increase in wear on suspension and shock absorbers which reduces the effectiveness of braking.

What hasn’t been acknowledged by councils is the damage done to roads with the constant thump-thump of vehicles mounting these ‘traffic calming measures’. Many of London’s potholes are to be found in the vicinity of speed humps, caused by the vibration as vehicles amount these obstructions.

When a vehicle mounts a speed hump shockwaves are sent through the ground damaging the substructure of the road, and even nearby buildings, it is for this reason that building regulations require speed humps are not built within 25 metres from bridges, subways or tunnels.

In a recent post CabbieBlog highlighted a trial of automatic traffic speed monitoring, and if it means an end to this practice by councils which endanger everybody’s lives, then maybe total surveillance by Speed Spike might be the lesser of the two evils.

We could of course drive with more consideration for other road users, but I fear I’m in the land of fantasy now.