I HOPE you’re not reading this stuck in Bank Holiday traffic. You have my sympathy if so. Last Thursday, I set off to drive the 12 miles from our house in Barnsley to Sheffield with my partner, Simon, a builder.
It was 5.10pm and we were going to see a potential client near Hillsborough. We had to be back in Barnsley for 7pm as I was giving my parents a lift to the local theatre.
Forgive the tedious details of my domestic arrangements, but this is life. And my point is that life is being increasingly compromised – even restricted – by traffic congestion, too many cars for the roads and a serious lack of understanding from politicians about the challenge of simply getting from A to B.
Anyway, we set off. We figured that we would arrive in Sheffield just before 6pm.
At 6pm, we had travelled approximately three miles and were stuck in a queue of vehicles at Tankersley, just south of Barnsley. Before us stretched a line of cars, lorries, buses and vans, sizzling in the heat as far as the eye could see.
Nothing appeared to have gone wrong. It was simply what’s known as “sheer weight of traffic” at a bottleneck already affected by roadworks to expand Junction 36 of the M1 motorway.
Neither of us like to admit defeat, but this mission was impossible. No way were we going to reach Hillsborough in time to look at this chap’s crumbling wall and get back to Barnsley for 7pm.
Talk about frustration.
I was close to tears. What is the point of being an organised person who likes to maximise every minute of the working day when it’s impossible to actually put your plans into action?
We had no choice. Simon had to ring the chap, leave a message and explain that we were “stuck in traffic”. It sounded like a pathetic excuse, but it was all too true. We hope to attempt the journey again, perhaps in the middle of the night. Meanwhile, it’s not good for the reputation, the bank balance – or the soul.
This was just one incident, on one evening, on one road. Imagine how many other people have missed appointments or been late for work or simply had to give up and go home? Imagine the effect on the local and regional economy. Here was just one builder, with one potential client. However, this is a scenario which plays out daily, in all kinds of trades and professions, not to mention in our personal lives.
We motorists are at the eye of a storm; lack of investment in infrastructure and road improvements, public transport which is either non-existent or too expensive, and an overwhelming amount of actual vehicles on the road.
The number of cars in Great Britain has risen by 1.6 million since 2011, with almost 600,000 more in the past 12 months alone, according to official figures. The Department for Transport says that there are now 36.7 million vehicles registered for use. That’s more than one for every two people in the country.
I’ve worked that out by myself. This, it should be said, is more than any politician has managed to do in any major General Election manifesto I’ve seen so far. I’ve searched both Conservative and Labour for anything which might suggest that getting Britain moving again is being taken seriously, but to no avail.
There is Labour’s promise to renationalise the railways, of course, but that’s not really what I’m looking for. I’m after some kind of commitment to understanding how and why Britain is literally grinding to a halt.
The offer of electric cars (Conservative) and 5G wifi coverage on major arteries (Labour) is not exactly filling me with hope. I know there is no magic solution, but both ideas miss the mark. We need politicians to comprehend pinch points and congestion surges and the chaos caused by traffic cones. Former Prime Minister Sir John Major was much-derided for his “Cones Hotline” in the 1990s, but at least he cared.
I used to be such an adventurer. These days, there are destinations I find myself avoiding or undertaking only in cases of dire emergency. Into this category comes the A64 to Scarborough and Whitby, the M62 in any direction, the A628 Woodhead Pass to Manchester and the M25 around London which has to be my least favourite road ever.
I simply cannot face the prospect of sitting in traffic for hours, or being sent on endless stress-inducing diversions, all the time with an eye on the clock. The result is that my world is becoming ever smaller. I envisage a day when I will go no further than the town centre and Cleethorpes in North East Lincolnshire, which benefits from the blissfully-quiet stretch of motorway known as the M180.
I don’t want to live in such a world, not when I pay my road tax and my car insurance and my MOT every year. Does anyone? I would trade any amount of 5G wifi plus a hyper-expensive electric car, for traffic which flowed freely and politicians who paid more than scant attention to the daily road blocks every motorist faces.