My plan to cut congestions on our roads

Much of the current antipathy towards the car derives from the excessive influence Londoners exert over national debates. London is an outlier in being one of the very few places where you can avoid owning a car, and where cycling or public transport is faster than driving. Indeed a car is less useful in the middle of London than anywhere else: you can’t drive to work, you can’t park at the shops and, if you set out from inner London, after 30 minutes of fraught driving you will merely end up in a worse part of London. This is not true in other cities, where 30 minutes’ drive will take

Letters: What happened to bells on bikes?

Jesus wept Sir: Sam Dunning’s brilliant exposure of the corrupting links between Jesus College, Cambridge and the Chinese Communist party (‘Centre of attention’, 5 February) raises the question of how the college can be rescued from its current leaders. Their virtue-signalling gestures (the Benin bronze, the Rustat memorial etc) have already prompted many of us alumni to delete Jesus from our wills. But this association with vile tyranny is altogether more serious. Perhaps an academic boycott might bring the Master and Fellowship to their senses. Certainly something must be done to save this ancient Christian foundation from its present role as an agent and support of manifest evil. Francis Bown

The Highway Code to hell

I did a speed awareness course on Monday. For the uninitiated, you have the option of doing one of these if you’re caught speeding and want to avoid getting three points on your licence. It only lasts two and a half hours and there’s no test at the end, so it’s a no-brainer, although you have to do it again if you’re spotted playing on your phone at the back. I’ve never heard of anyone choosing the three points instead. Like most people forced to undergo this humiliation, I was convinced I had nothing to learn. We all know about the laws of motion: the faster you’re going, the longer

Fact check: are cycle lanes really making traffic worse?

London is the most congested city in the world and it’s the cycle lanes wot done it. That is the impression you will pick up from the headlines this morning.  ‘Cycle Lanes Blamed as City Named Most Congested,’ reads a BBC headline, to take but one example. The story emerges, it turns out, from a global index published by transport consultancy Inrix, which claims that motorists in London spent an average of 148 hours in traffic jams this year, more than in any other country in the world. In the past year, the city climbed from being the 16th most-congested of those studied to the most congested of that lot.

Are there more over-seventies or twenty-somethings behind the wheel?

Another minute Addressing COP26 in Glasgow, the Prime Minister claimed it was ‘one minute to midnight’ in the fight against climate change. How many warnings have we had? — ‘We have a small window of time in which we can plant the seeds of change, and that is the next five years’ James Leape, WWF international director-general, 2007 — ‘Our planet has reached a point of crisis and we have only seven years before we lose the levers of control’ Prince Charles, Copenhagen climate summit, 2009 — Our ‘last chance to avert dangerous climate change’ Earth League, 2015 — ‘We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN’

The case for road pricing

Thornton Wilder remarked that there are individuals who fall in love with an idea long before its appointed rendezvous with history. We hurl ourselves against the indifference of the age. It is now four decades since one of my first columns was published in London’s Evening Standard. In it I proposed an idea of which (if you read on) you’ll hear more. I got no response. It’s nearly 20 years since I wrote essentially the same piece as a whimsical side column for the Times. Labour’s Alistair Darling had called for debate on the idea. It never happened and my column attracted little notice. Fifteen years later, excited by a

Charging ahead: how to get the best out of an electric car

Where do you want to go? China or India? I have always found India infinitely more fascinating — for a simple reason. If you ask Sinophiles about China, they always quote statistics; Indophiles tell you stories. It’s fine to know that China has built 24,000 miles of high-speed rail track, or that its GDP is growing at an annualised rate of 8.27 per cent, but it doesn’t make me want to visit. It’s like reading an article about the film industry in the Economist: informative, yes, but it doesn’t make you want to go to the cinema. The electric car market is trapped in a similar numerical morass. The more

‘Smart’ motorways are an accident waiting to happen

If I could wave a wand and reverse just one government policy it would be the expansion of so-called ‘smart motorways’ in the face of what seems the iron determination of the Department for Transport to press ahead with them. These are motorways where the hard shoulder is incorporated into the motorway to create an extra lane – a loss supposedly compensated for with periodic refuges for breakdowns. If you wondered why stretches of the M4 are shut most weekends for works, this is what they are doing. The consequences of such supposed ‘improvements’ can be lethal. The latest evidence comes from a Sheffield inquest, where the coroner, David Urpeth,

Women need to take control and take the wheel

There is a Saudi Arabian film that I love. It is called Wadjda and is about a young girl who longs to have her own bike, so that she can play outside and ride wherever and with whomsoever she likes. Yet Riyadh’s restrictive patriarchy frowns upon women having agency over their means of transport, even bicycles, ensuring that they are forever at the mercy of capricious and often irascible male drivers.  I have thought about this film and its message a lot this year, when the many benefits of having our own independent methods of transport, primarily cars, have been amply highlighted. Those of us with four wheels have been

What does it mean to be ‘fit as a butcher’s dog’?

Boris and the butcher’s dog Who first coined the phrase ‘as fit as a butcher’s dog’? It has been traced to Lancashire. It is not the only quality attached to butcher’s dogs, however — such animals were perhaps widely observed as a result of customers having to entertain themselves somehow while the butcher prepared their cuts, and a dog gave them something to watch. A variant has someone as ‘happy as a butcher’s dog’. John Ray, in his collection of English proverbs from 1670, describes the expression ‘as surly as a butcher’s dog’. John Camden Hotten, in his Dictionary of Modern Slang (1859), mentions ‘to lie like a butcher’s dog’

Why is buying a car such an ordeal?

Why is it so insanely difficult to buy a car? And especially if you are a woman? Part of the trouble is that car salesmen are a particularly unreconstructed breed of men who think ‘lady’ customers will be more interested in the size of the vanity mirror than the fuel consumption. But it’s not just that — it’s the fact that they treat the transaction with all the pomp and gravitas of applying for a half-million-pound mortgage. This started back in February when I left a party (remember those?), got into my Volkswagen and set off into St James’s. Somehow I pressed the accelerator instead of the brake and drove

London’s war on motorists isn’t helping anybody

Late one evening in Yangon in Myanmar a few years ago, I noticed a grey Morris Minor van patrolling the streets. It had an old-fashioned double–ended trumpet loudspeaker on its roof blaring out an amplified voice. ‘What’s it saying?’ I asked my guide. ‘It tells the people “It’s late! Stop drinking and go to bed! You have a busy day tomorrow!”’ That’s the spirit. We should get some of that in London. ‘Stop eating! Get on your bike! Pedal faster!’ Why has Covid brought out a rash of virtuous bullying? I have lost count of the number of times that Radio 4 has asserted that this plague needs to create

The case for road rationing

Here’s the quandary. How in future can we make the kind of rapid advances we have made during the Covid crisis without waiting for a lethal pandemic — or worse — to force our hand? We have, after all, made exceptional non-medical discoveries in the past few months. By being forced to adapt simultaneously, we have discovered better forms of collective behaviour which might never have emerged independently. I was an early convert to video-conferencing, yet even I was astounded at the extent to which the world can function remotely. We may soon look back upon commuting and the endless slew of physical meetings in the same way we view