On the way to a birthday party in Bucks on Sunday night we were delayed by a long tailback on the elevated section of the A4 out of London by what turned out to be a broken down van. On his way back to London over an hour later my driver reported that the van was still there, the police had eventually arrived but were doing nothing to move it and the tailback to get past it was now all the way back to the Hogarth roundabout.
Our inconvenience was small in the grand scheme of things: we were 45 minutes late for a party. But think of all the planes missed at Heathrow, the subsequent lost business appointments or family reunions, the delay in getting home for those who've been working all day -- or with a car full of tired kids who need to get to bed.
But nobody thinks of the cost and pain of such delays. In a rational world London would have a distinct traffic police force whose first priority would be to get the capital moving when vehicles block roads by breaking down or parking stupidly (which usually means illegally).
But instead we have a police force which never shows any urgency when it comes to unblocking the roads but is pretty quick to slow things down with its sneaky speed traps and endless roadblocks to check vehicle tax. On Sunday night it was just a breakdown, not even an accident, yet the vehicle was allowed to block one lane of a busy two-lane elevated section to the world's most important airport for two hours! An efficient traffic police would have towed the vehicle away in 15 minutes or so.
In New York (where I write these words) there is a distinct traffic police whose primary purpose is to keep traffic moving and clear bottlenecks. In London, nobody seems to care, certainly not the police and least of all Mayor Ken Livingstone, who maybe welcomes such snarl ups as the one on Sunday because he doesn't want us to use cars in the first place.
Tory candidate Boris Johnson still hasn't put much flesh on the bones of his London mayoral bid; maybe these few words will give him something to think about. A traffic police for London!