Sean O'Grady: Olympic 'Zil' lanes leave Londoners feeling like neglected step children, not members of the Olympic family
Driving around London on the first day of what might be termed a ‘roads lockdown’ gave me an excellent impression of that it might be like to live in a once-proud city that had suddenly come under the heel of a foreign invader, or perhaps some home-grown unelected, unaccountable political elite that had chosen to arrogate such power unto itself that ordinary citizens were no longer able to use the roads that they have bought and paid for with their taxes.
Oh sorry, that’ll be Locog, and it is precisely what has happened with the Olympics Roads network and the detestable “Games Lanes”. These have been established so that members of the “Olympic Family” – bureaucrats and even the most hopeless of no-chance competitors – can get to the games on time, and sod the rest of us.
Not for nothing do they remind us of the old Soviet Union and its Zil lanes reserved for senior Communist Party apparatchiks. The traffic enforcement officials I encountered on my journey were polite and helpful, but I couldn’t help seeing them as Quislings, there to do the bidding of the people who won't even let a local flower shop use the Olympics symbol to drum up a bit of business. So much for the economic boost we have been promised.
I leave aside any questions of why so much of the accommodation and other facilities have been sited in central and west London whereas the Olympic park is in east London, and thus why we had to have these special lanes in the first place. Sufficient to say that as someone who lives and works in the capital I did not feel a member of the Olympic family, more a neglected kid.
As it happens because The Independent's test route was more or less that used by the Olympics elite the run was actually quite fast – I made it about 47 minutes all in. Most of the traffic lights that usually hold one up along the main east-west arteries were suspended, as were many of the turns in and out of the lanes. The Olympic lanes were, of course, pretty empty, but maybe they will fill up when things get going. The people I really felt sorry for were the poor pedestrians; their crossings have also been closed off and rows and rows of bollards and metal grilles fencing off central reservations mean that if you live the east End you will not be able to cross any major road for the foreseeable future. Bad news if you want to nip out for some milk.
Off the Olympics route it is another, slower, story. Because the traffic lights and turnings have all been altered to accommodate the needs of the “Olympic Family” (just love that doublespeak) it is virtually impossible to cross the river, for example, and all the side roads around the route will be horrendously congested, as I have found on my journey back home. This took rather longer than it might have in normal conditions.
The Honda Civic I drove in was smooth running, well engineered, reliable, understated and economical: everything the London Olympics are not. I never thought that driving in London could get much worse until Lord Coe came along. Of course we can’t have the games without the special lanes, but for those of us who see the Olympics as an overblown running race, that is no great comfort as we sit in jams, missing appointments, and being made late for work in this gold-medal traffic tragedy.
As Voltaire once said, “Ice cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn’t illegal”
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