London’s occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson has today blessed his readers at the Maily Telegraph with a jolly spoof about what might happen if Vladimir Putin were to meet the reincarnation of Josef Stalin, and be forced to tell his predecessor about all those countries that are no longer within the sphere of influence enjoyed by the former Soviet Union.
It’s an interesting admission by Bozza: he harks back to the kind of world we had at the end of the 1960s, when the Red Army invading Czechoslovakia to crack down on the “Prague Spring” and restore the local Communist Party to its customary place at the top of the pile was seen as undesirable, but one of those things that happened in the world, while we in the West were rather more civilised and forward-looking.
And one way in which we were forward-looking was that, while countries across the Iron Curtain made relatively few cars, and cities retained their tramway networks, we in the UK had almost eradicated trams, and were moving rapidly towards a supposed Utopia where car ownership was universal. This meant that we needed networks of roads for those cars to drive along.
By the late 60s, motorway building was in full swing: the M1 had been completed all the way to Leeds, the M6 cut across the northern suburbs of Birmingham, partly on viaducts, and there was even a motorway across the Pennines under construction. There were also grand plans for these ribbons of concrete to wind their way all the way into central London. There was even a start to construction.
The Westway was completed in 1970. It was intended to form a link to Ringway 1, the innermost circuit of a network of high speed road links. Almost all attempts to construct any more of the inner network were subsequently abandoned, and by the Thatcher administration, no less. But now Bozza has a very good reason for his readers to look elsewhere, as the car lobby has his ear.
Hence the attention he is giving to the ridiculously expensive and impractical idea of replacing the Hammersmith flyover with a tunnel, to add to the proposal for a tunnel at Silvertown, which, as Tom at Boris Watch has pointed out, is in effect another Blackwall Tunnel – a way of encouraging more traffic. He also points out that between 2001 and 2011 population grew 12% but road traffic fell 9%.
Build more and bigger roads, you get more traffic, more pressure on the rest of the network, more pollution and less space for walking, cycling and public transport. But instead of investing in the latter sufficiently to restrain the former, naive Bozza is being led by the car lobby with the promise of more grands projets on which even more public money can be lavished.
And that is neither humorous, nor a fantasy for an opinion column.