From tonight’s BBC London Travel News page:
A24 London — One lane closed on Clapham Common South Side between the A205 Cavendish Road junction and the B237 Nightingale Lane junction in Clapham … started: 16th May 2005, ending: 30th August 2005
It’s not far off midnight as I write this, yet almost directly outside my window, several shades of something or other are being mercilessly smashed out of the road by a selection of huge pneumatic drills. There are lorries and JCBs all over the place. In fact, were it not for the small mercy of having five floors to separate me from the hive of activity down below, I would be living in the middle of some of the most extensive roadworks I’ve ever seen. And as I pointed out before, it’s nearly midnight. If recent nights are anything to go by, this unholy racket will go on until at least 5.00am.
Now, I’m not living in dreamland. Yes, I know that roads need to dug up, repaired and resurfaced (although I’ve never quite understood why they need to be dug up when they have only just seemingly been filled in again). I know, too, that pipes need to be laid, and that a bewildering array of other major construction projects need to take place. But why (oh why, oh why) must they happen when people are trying to sleep?
The answer, of course: cars. Sodding cars.
During the day, when this neighbourhood probably loses at least four-fifths of its population to offices and businesses across London, the roadworks below remain silent. In fact, as the night comes to an end, all obvious signs of construction are tidied up and made as inconspicuous as possible, so that the roads can once again fill to bursting point with the usual queues of selfish, idiotic morons sitting one person to a car. After all, we can’t possibly inconvenience people behind the wheel by closing the road during the day and making them take a diversion, can we? No, perish the thought that London’s drivers might have to go a little out of their way and possibly find their journeys delayed.
Come nightfall, however, and the artillery of heavy machinery is dragged out once again. Not so many cars on the road now, so we can close it and start pummelling the hell out of the tarmac, can’t we?
The only problem with this is that it fails to take into account one tiny but nonetheless vitally important point: namely, that people live here, and they’re trying to get some sleep.
Sorry, I might have to shout, as the diggers have started up again. I said (deep breath): “PEOPLE LIVE HERE, AND THEY’RE TRYING TO GET SOME SLEEP!” Bloody hell. Bloody, bloody hell.
I suppose I shouldn’t have expected anything different. I’ve come to realise over the years, as my loathing of cars has grown, that the motor vehicle seems to matter much more than the person. Oh, I know that those in power bang on about cutting congestion, lowering traffic levels, increasing public transport, and trying to curb our love for anything with a steering wheel, but when it comes down to stark choices — like carrying out roadworks during the day even if it does slightly inconvenience drivers, so that people in the immediate vicinity can actually manage to sleep during the hours of darkness — all those ideals go out of the window quicker than you can say, “Mmm, nice gas-guzzling 4x4 you’ve got there”.
As I lay in bed last night, staring at the ceiling and wondering whether trying to hum at the same pitch as the pneumatic drills might help evaporate the sound from my mind and let me drift off to sleep (it didn’t, needless to say), I began thinking about the other way in which we show a clear preference to the motor vehicle at the expense of human beings. For some years, whenever I’ve walked through a grim pedestrian underpass or crossed an ugly metal footbridge over a busy road, I’ve wondered why the cars zooming by above or below me are being treated better and given greater consideration than I am. Why can’t the drivers be sent into the dark bowels of the earth whilst I remain in fresh air and daylight?
Of course, the reason is money: it’s far cheaper to build a horrible underpass for people than it is to build a road tunnel for vehicles. As Exhibit A, I offer you the confusing, piss-stinking alleyways that supposedly — if you can work out which arrow is pointing where — lead pedestrians to all points around Marble Arch in London, whilst the cars, buses, lorries and endless parade of tourist coaches trundle around the multi-lane roads above. That just feels wrong, somehow. It’s the drivers who should be going underground to stew in their own noxious fumes.
It’s not going to happen though, is it? And in the meantime, I’m stuck with the sound of the earth moving outside my window (no, not in that way) as Bob the Builder and his mates dig for victory. Earplugs it is, then.
Oh God, I’ve got another week of this.