It’s almost over. Next week, life will get back to normal. Yes, the A2 going up Blackheath Hill is due to be open again for traffic on Monday, with Transport for London aiming to get work finished by Sunday’s London marathon. Sing hallejulah!
It’s fair to say that the past few weeks have not been pleasant while Transport for London has rebuilt the road. Passing through on Wednesday, it looked like there was a bit of work still to do, but at least the ugly barriers in the middle of the road are being slowly removed. If you’ve been trying to get around Greenwich, Blackheath, Lewisham or Deptford, it’s been agony. Greenwich has been, more or less, gridlocked throughout, traffic has crawled through Blackheath Village while the tailbacks have stretched to New Cross and beyond. And bus schedules have been ripped up because of it – with the main 53 service forced into a lengthy diversion through Greenwich, annoyingly without stopping at any bus stops.
Actually, that’s not strictly true – I got on one in the early hours of Sunday and it kept stopping. Bearing in mind they’d sailed past me every time I’d tried to get one before, was this just a night bus thing? I e-mailed Transport for London to ask, and no, it wasn’t – “I can confirm that, while on this temporary diversion, route 53 buses are scheduled to stop at all bus stops along this route. It is very disappointing to note that this procedure has not been followed on occasions, and I would like to offer my sincere apologies for the inconvenience caused”. I wish I’d chased them up on this earlier, now.
But one thing struck me about this closure – drivers simply refused to adapt to losing the A2. For much of 2002, the road was closed because of subsidence. The first month was painful, and while Greenwich was slow-going throughout, people seemed to take on board the message that they’d have to find another route, or another means of travelling.
This time around, things have been different – the most telling sign being by Greenwich Park, which only allows through traffic between 4pm and 7pm each evening. From 3.45pm, great queues of cars have built up in Greenwich town centre as drivers try to skip the roadworks by going through the park. Is it really worth all that effort and frustration? Is it just a bloody-minded “screw you” because the road is closed for humdrum roadworks and not a spectacular collapse? Or are people just too wedded to the comfort of their cars? I feel sorry for people who have to drive for a living – the ban on trade vehicles in Greenwich Park hasn’t helped them, but has helped people happy to clog up roads because it’s not sitting next to nasty human beings on buses or trains. Some people, I fear, just don’t help themselves.
But we’re in a society where the car is still king – Boris Johnson got elected partly as a backlash to Ken Livingstone’s public-transport-prioritising, drivers are being prodded to buy new cars in the budget (instead of, say, joining car clubs) and Greenwich Council wanted to see the park opened up all day for all motorists, which the Royal Parks Agency wisely said no to. This sunny week in the park wouldn’t have been much fun with a permanent jam snaking through it.
I don’t drive – I did lessons for a bit when I was younger, but it took far too long for me to get confident behind the wheel and I gave the lessons up. I don’t think my life has suffered by not driving, my bank balance certainly hasn’t, and so the closure hasn’t affected me too much because I’m happy to to walk or jump on a train. That’s my choice. I wish more people did the same, but I know people need encouragement and better, cheaper public transport. But the effects of Blackheath Hill’s closure showed just how far away we are from that, and from having the courage to take the issue on in a sensible, thought-out way. And the side-effects of that will be with us longer than any delay from a traffic jam.