My mate, Paul, had been living away from Northampton since he was 19 and had only been back about four times in the last 30 years. He's been living somewhere on the south coast for the last 20 years (lucky bugger) and is one of the top bods in a local council planning department. He is responsible for such things as by-passes, roundabouts, level crossings and the like, as well as consulting on the deployment of speed cameras, sleeping policemen and parking zones. I said that his job sounded fascinating and deadly dull in turn and he pretty much agreed with me. However, he did have some interesting and funny stories about major cock-ups by local councils; things that you would hear about and just claim were either silly apocryphal stories or just bollocks made up by a piss-head in the local pub. Having witnessed a few bizarre 'traffic calming' strategies in this county, I'm inclined to believe that most of these planning catastrophes are actually true.
A primary school in the south-west requested a speed camera to be placed quite close to the school so that traffic would slow down considerably, thus cutting down the risk of injury or death to the parents or children (personally I can see all the reasons why not for this, but...) and applied to the speed camera people, who then referred the request to the council. On review of the application, the council decided that there should be a speed camera, but it should be ½ mile down the road, closer to a major junction, which might deter people from jumping the lights all the time. Seems like a sensible idea, apart from the fact that an independent study of speed cameras and their affects on drivers, suggested there was a 20% increase in drivers speeding once they passed the camera. It was estimated by the local paper that speeding drivers reached their optimum speed about ½ mile after the camera. When this was pointed out to the voluntary chair of the planning committee, who just happened to be an ex-Tory councillor, he claimed the camera would make more money at the junction and drivers should be aware of the school or they shouldn't be driving. In the sixteen years the school had been there, there had been one fatality from speeding traffic. in the three months after the speed camera was placed, there were three!
On a lighter note, he told me that 8% of all mini roundabouts in the country are put in the wrong place. I know this as a fact because when we lived in Wellingborough, there was a roundabout supposed to have been placed at the top of Croyland Road - a busy junction on the west of the town. It made perfect sense, because the amount of traffic seeking to get out of Croyland was actually greater than the amount of traffic coming out of the town, but less than the amount going into it. However, a local building contractor charged with putting the new roundabout in put the roundabout at the bottom of a street about 30 yards up from Croyland on the other side of the road. this wasn't even a road used as a short cut by anyone; it was the road the local auto spares shop was on and wouldn't have benefited from having a roundabout at the bottom of it because of where it was in relation to the regular traffic flow. Subsequently, traffic jams increased by about 30%; Wellingborough Council's claim that it was a more efficient traffic calming measure was pooh-pooh'd by locals, the press and the people on the council who had two brain cells to rub together. They claimed that if the roundabout had been placed in the right place, it would have eased the traffic flow in all directions, possibly by as much as 30%.
Paul told me that local councils have a real 'corruption' problem, especially when it comes to resurfacing roads. Have you ever wondered why some roads seem to crumble into dessicated dirt tracks, while other roads get resurfaced despite them looking like they have a good century's worth of life in them yet? Well, the reasoning behind it is down to traffic flow entirely. If you live in a road full of potholes but it is used largely by the people who live in it and is not commonly used as a thoroughfare, then it isn't scheduled for resurfacing. major thoroughfares tend to be resurfaced every ten years, regardless of their condition and regardless of the fact that major thoroughfares tend to use a superior form of tarmac. Also, the councils tend to offer these jobs to the same contractor on ten year contracts - the same company will resurface all the roads that are scheduled for ten years and they won't deviate from their schedules unless they are pressurised by the supplier of their contract. So that's why your road is shit and the one at the end of it isn't. Oh and invariably, the company that has the resurfacing contract isn't the same company that has the contract for patching up pot holes.
Another funny thing about councils and potholes; a council is more likely to sue you for filling in a pothole than for fly-tipping. When I asked Paul why, he said it was all down to insurance. If you go and fill in a pothole using inferior materials and someone has an accident as a result, then the council would liable. In other words, you can fuck up the environment and be unlucky if you get caught, or you can try to be helpful and get sued for it!
One of the best stories Paul told me was about the man who applied for a drop kerb because he was converting his front garden into a car port. He also applied to the council to have the bus stop post moved along by a few feet to allow him to drive onto his frontage without having to drive over the grass verge. The council agreed to this and a contractor of the owner came out a put in the drop kerb; the same day as the council contractors came out and replaced the bus stop - a metal pipe; with a large bus shelter; meaning the man could no longer use his new car port! The council admitted that there had been a miscommunication and said it would be fixed as soon as they could get their contractors on it. That was February 2009 and according to Paul the bus shelter is still in the same place.
Or how about the disabled driver whose lined disabled parking bay was split in half by a bus stop? That one made the national news. Or the set of traffic lights placed on a road with no side turnings? The lights are constantly on green and because it is not in an area with people or foot traffic, it isn't even a pedestrian crossing - just two sets of lights that are green all the time. Do you know, I think I've been through them...
I know the particular road the next bon mot is about. There's an A road in the south that had a by-pass of about ½ long - essentially a new bit of road over the existing on, but wider. Everything went according to plan; it was two lanes instead of one and it was built on schedule. The people putting the white lines down, for some inexplicable reason, thought it was three lanes and none of the lanes were even the width of a car. The really tragic thing about this was that the build had come in under budget, but because the paint for white lines is both hard wearing and has a bonding agent, it wasn't just a simple case of cleaning the marking off and replacing them. To do the job properly with adding to confusion, each white line segment had to be cut out of the new tarmac and replaced with new stuff before the lines could be put back down; making the new stretch of road as bumpy as a teenager's face!
We have some real fuckwits doing important jobs in this country.
I should really talk about this over on my comics history serialisation, but as that has only recently had an addendum stuck in about this subject, I don't feel it warrants interrupting the scheduled broadcast for such trivial pifflings.
Got an email from someone called Moth - just Moth, nothing else and his email account bounced straight back at me, so I'm not totally sure how it was sent. Moth wanted to tell me how much he/she enjoyed my fiction and had I ever considered writing proper fantasy. It was suggested that I enjoy the company of unclean homosexuals... I should maybe clarify that in case any of my gay friends think I'm being offensive. I was told that I like sleeping with gay tramps. And there was me thinking it was just tramps, I dunno, you learn something everyday. Moth also suggested that I could use my book in such a fashion that it becomes a kind of impromptu laxative and, most importantly, I go back to the thing I'm best at which has apparently something to do with children and various bodily functions; some of which made me wide eyed with admiration for Moth's ability to gross even me out. I started to think that perhaps Moth's proper name was missing the 'erfucker' part and that his email name somehow reflected his true nature. I've received some emails in my time, but that one was just plain worrying. Not because of his allegations/suggestions, but because someone actually sat down and had such ideas running through their heads.
Now, for starters I don't think it came from any of the self-styled usual suspects. I don't think any of them could even collectively create something like that and it's totally not their style. But it's obviously someone who feels that I've deeply offended them in some way. Now the email was sent to my google mail account; a place I only check about once a month and had been sent at the beginning of September; so it timed it nicely with this part of the story I'm telling, but that's a convenient coincidence. I actually have a sneaking suspicion I know who sent it; someone with enough knowledge of computers to know where to get an anonymous email address; someone who I have a history with and someone who has tried in the past to poison things. Why he should suddenly re-emerge after ten years I don't know; but I never expected to meet Paul from the planning department again, so who knows?
Anyhow, I'm going to do something useful before I start contemplating some of Moth's ideas...