Friday, 4 June 2010

Ah, the open road (and why we need more of them)!

I’m a bit of a fan of roads. As a child I didn’t have a train set – I had Scalectrix (although my capacity for breaking anything with delicate moving parts meant this worked less often than did Ian Bruce’s – but then he never took his out of the box for fear of it breaking) and I had Matchbox cars.

Now Matchbox cars (and for that matter Corgi, Dinky, Hot Wheels and other less remembered brands) were important because, unlike all those deluded, backwards-looking kids with train sets, I didn’t have to moan to Daddy to get them. I could buy them out of the 12½p (half-a-crown to those still remembering proper money) my parents kindly gave me in pocket money – at least until I was thirteen when it stopped and I had to get a job (in truth several jobs).

And with Matchbox cars came track. Orange strips of plastic that could be linked together to form roads – and with generous gifts from benefactors (grandparents, aunts, uncles, Mr Sparks) we also got the bends and loops. We were made. More than anything else we did, playing with this dominated – we raced cars on parallel tracks, we set all the tracks out in a single length and saw which car went the furthest, we constructed complicated loops and bends to test the road holds and we staged multiple pile ups by crashing cars on one piece of track. I even recall doing off road – using a single piece of track to roll the cars down the garden and through the allotment.

Roads are good – far better than inflexible, expensive and unsatisfying railways. Road give us the freedom to travel – to go where we want to go, in the manner we want to travel and (more or less) at the pace we want to go. And the best roads are big wide, well-maintain motorways – safe, fast and, with the right vehicle, a delight to travel on. OK, these motorways are now congested, are full of people who perhaps need to take a few more driving lessons and could be rather better maintained (and we could perhaps spend more on this than on new crash barriers, lighting and other superfluous features doubtless justified only by some daft EU regulation).

But motorways – as the gods of roads – as great. And we need more of them. I know, I travel is the new evil. Those like me (and frankly most of the rest of the population) who rather prefer to travel at our pace and directly to the place we’re going are dreadful people who are destroying the planet at our convenience. Or rather we’re not – and will be doing less of this destruction with each passing year. Cars are becoming less and less polluting and more and more safe. It’s not an unreasonable assertion to say that, by 2030 cars will not be the bad boys they are now (except of course for the vintage pick up I’ll be driving) by carbon-free, quiet and non-polluting.

But to make this glorious future work we need to build some more roads. Just as building the M62 transformed the North of England’s transport systems, the new generation of roads will see in the next step forward in economic growth and sustainable transport. And before all the swampies start digging trenches and nailing themselves to trees, think about this – motorways take up a tiny proportion of England’s land surface, they keep heavy traffic away from towns and villages thereby saving untold thousands of lives and they carry more freight, more vehicles and more passengers than even the very busiest commuter rail link. Roads are vastly more efficient, more flexible, greener and more useful than any other way of setting out a route from town to town.

Since the future lies with safe, green, flexible transport we need to plan now for the smooth, swift roads on which those cars or the future will travel.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

not sure where I read it but, apparently, as a proportion of landmass, UK has much less roadspace than France.