Saturday, 29 October 2016

The M25 - 30 Years Of Going Around In Circles

The M25; London's Orbital Car Park is 30 years old (well it was notionally completed 30 years ago).

2 or 3 years before the motorway was completed, I remember going on a primary school trip to Hobbs Cross Farm. I can't remember the details of the day, but I remember seeing the motorway under construction across the Essex countryside. This was the start of my on and off relationship with the motorway as a decade or so later it was part of my route to Hatfield Polytechnic being dropped off/ picked up a few times a year during my HND studies, followed by a degree in civil engineering (the poly having become one of the new universities). Interestingly, I wanted to become a mechanical engineer and design cars, but poor A-level results meant it wasn't going to happen. Luckily, looking through untold prospectuses and visiting a range of institutions had me end up studying the HND! 

In the world of work, I used the motorway for my commute. One job had me hop on for just one junction to avoid driving through town and another job saw me tackling the Dartford Crossing twice a day for several years. I wouldn't have been able to take those two jobs if it wasn't for the fact that I could get to them by car. The job across the water would take 2.5 hours by public transport and so at around 40 minutes (notwithstanding the Dartford Crossing), it was a no brainer.

Today, I rarely venture onto the motorway because it is normally an awful experience. Indeed, coming home from a few days on the south coast, we were stuck in a 10 mile traffic jam approaching the Dartford Crossing. Half term. 2.30pm. Yes, I know it's a classic case of "traffic, you are traffic". 

As CBRD notes, there are lots of junctions taking local traffic (as I used to do), it was part of a much bigger but unfinished system of ring roads for London and the demand for the road was underestimated from the start which has led to decades of what seems constant widening, tweaking and adjusting. Of course, all of this messing about has not been undertaken in isolation, much is in response to capacity being increased on other strategic roads and motorways. The M25 hasn't been able to keep up and the 10 mile queue yesterday was happening when I used to commute via the Dartford Crossing; this is classic induced demand; we add capacity, it fills up and so on.

I look at the M25 as a case study in UK transport policy. It was (and still is) a big-ticket project built (over time) by Labour and Conservative governments who thought that motoring equalled prosperity and personal freedom. The 30 years since opening has essentially seen more of the same; our National transport policy remains squarely in favour of road-building. Labour's John Prescott did shake things up in 2000, but the backlash led to backsliding and the current government are pushing ahead with a renewed vigour. The approach has failed us over the last 30 years and it will continue to fail. 

The M25 has been good to me over the years, but looking back, I can now see the price which has been paid. I wonder if anyone in power can take a deep breath and rethink the mess we've built for ourselves.


  1. A ring itself is a good idea, but why it's so busy, I can't figure out.

    And why is the UK rail system not working nearly as well as it should (a lot of high speed routes that apparently Germany and France, even Spain and corrupt Italy can build, not very much electrification, slow speeds in the cities, and rather dangerous level crossings among a heap of other problems)?

    And of course the other big panacea to getting the M25 unstuck is diverting something between 25-60% of the travel in London, as elsewhere in the UK, onto cycles and another maybe 10-20% on foot, and making the bus routes more reliable like the Dutch buses with cheaper fares.

    I personally believe that motorways should not have more than travel lanes and a left and right hard shoulder, they can be opened with electronics, but already that's pushing it for a motorway, their purpose should be going around cities and between them, not in cities. It's a lesson learned by the Dutch decades ago, when is the UK going to figure out Sustainable Safety works and is less expensive than the model it has? 8 million deaths due to air pollution, 15% of which is by car, 1.2 million dead via car crashes, and a lot of other deaths that probably exceeds even hard drug overdoses in the world, maybe even all of the deaths that can be attributable to those, like obesity and heart disease that is caused via inactivity. Something like 3.5 million dead per year due to automobiles, losing the potential of many trillions of dollars.

    Only Iceland with the Pirate party looks to be in an OK spot here in the world. The rest of us are fucked, especially the UK and US. Oh boy.

    1. Oh, we just hatch half-arsed plans and then deliver half of them in a half-arsed way!

    2. Quote "Oh, we just hatch half-arsed plans and then deliver half of them in a half-arsed way!"
      I didn't realise you worked for Leeds City Council! Least ways you quoted their motto verbatim. ;-)

      Andy R.

    3. \(゚ヮ゚)/
      in perpetuum inutilis


  2. I worked at Hatfield Poly 1986-1992 and for the first three years of my time there I was Civil Engineering Librarian, being succeeded by Karen Thompson. So I'm curious to know if our paths crossed. I might have taught you how to find info in the library back in the days of microfiche catalogues and everything else being in print.


    1. That's a wonderful coincidence - I actually spend a fair bit of time in the library so anything's possible. Karen Thompson does ring a bell, but I am terrible at names and I've a terrible memory, so who knows!

      Very happy memories of Hatfield.