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It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there

Maybe my views are influenced by an extremely busy programme of commitments I have had since last weekend, but I am beginning to weary of the state of traffic on our roads. I have no idea what Britain’s position is in the country world rankings of ‘vehicles to roads’ potential congestion snarl-up statistics but overall things seem to me to be getting pretty ghastly if not critical – and that’s ignoring for these purposes any consideration of the increasing number of pot-holes and the general deteriorating state of our highways.

Let me give you my experience of the past 48 hours.

On Tuesday it so happened that I had to undertake a 300-mile plus drive to the depths of Somerset in the West Country and back in order to attend a funeral.

I had been invited to stay over but declined the offer because I had pressing reasons to wake on Wednesday morning in my own bed, i.e. rather than facing a 150 mile journey home before I could properly start my next day.

Accordingly, I duly made my excuses and left the after-funeral reception at about 4.00pm, intent on making my way via Bridgewater to the M5 heading north, thence to switch to the M4 for the long slog back to Blighty.

It was at about the Hungerford turn-off that I encountered my first Tuesday Armageddon Warning via one of those electronic noticeboards high above the motorway – “Warning – Congestion Ahead”.

Initially, having on my way west in the morning experienced at least two if not three instances of the M4 being reduced to either three narrow lanes and/or even just two because of significant roadworks that I’d estimated lasted for between five and eight miles long each, I didn’t take much notice and simply carried on (listening to the radio and munching peppermint sweets) at speeds varying between 60 and 80mph, like everyone else with whom I was sharing the motorway.

But then – somewhere between the A34 turn-off and those relating to Reading – the proverbial solid began to hit the fan.

Successive and progressively more frequent warning signs appeared, first saying “Congestion Ahead!” (again), then later “Major Congestion Ahead!”, and then (again later) “Major Congestion Ahead – 1 Hour Minimum” and finally “Major Congestion Ahead – 90 Minutes Minimum!”

It was at that point that the Byford hair on the back of his neck began twitching.

Facing “Congestion Ahead!” when there were these anticipated ‘lane narrowing’ sections further down the line was one thing (one could do little or nothing about them anyway, well perhaps other than chew more peppermint sweets and excavate one’s nostrils hoping nobody around me was watching) was one thing.

However, getting stuck in a total grid-lock after a long day and by then general tiredness gradually enveloping me was quite another.

Especially when it was now what we in London laughingly call ‘Rush Hour’ – a period of mass lemming-like delusion when motorists gather together in mass groups and do not move, spewing fuel fumes into the atmosphere, thereby causing the North Pole ice pack to shrink – which generally begins every day about 3.30pm (1.30pm on Fridays) and lasts until 7.00pm.

It was about then, after ten more minutes of hesitation, that I decided to go off-piste when I got to the Wokingham/Bracknell/Ascot turn-off and belt across county to the M3, which would take me back into south-west London – hopefully thereby avoiding the 90-minute advertised delay on the M4 and indeed the traditional evening ‘both ways’ gridlock going round the M25.

By definition, that was a fateful decision. Who was to know what might have happened if I’d just continued up the M4 – a 90-minute delay? A 60-minute one? Even possibly a 120-minute one?

Instead I found that not a few like-minded individuals had made a similar decision to me.

And thus – instead of enduring a 90-minute delay by going up the M4 – as an alternative I joined a 75-minute one edging forward, one car length by one car length at a time, the twelve-or-so miles across to the M3.

Dear Reader – in all on Tuesday evening my 157-mile journey home [let’s estimate that might have taken 2.5 hours on a clear road at an average speed of 60 to 70mph] took me no less than 4.25 hours!

Upon walking in my front door I didn’t take long to down a triple whiskey and retire to bed that evening, I can tell you.

And so  to yesterday.

Having gone along to keep my son Barry company as he travelled to Marylebone in order to have a small medical procedure, our return hire car picked us up (as arranged) at 6.00pm and we slivered along onto Euston Road en route to Shepherd’s Bush and beyond.

That journey home – again effectively grid-locked pretty much all the way – took the best part of 1.75 hours.

Today I’ve been turning my mind towards possible ways of reducing the problem of congestion of Britain’s roads.

Sometimes the more obvious solutions – e.g. getting Mr Putin to drop somewhere between 10 and 20 nuclear bombs at geographically-worked out regular intervals around the UK in order to reduce the population (and thereby cars on the roads) – are, of course, frustratingly impractical despite their undoubted effectiveness.

Watch this space whilst I try to come up with others …






About William Byford

A partner in an international firm of loss adjusters, William is a keen blogger and member of the internet community. More Posts