The Last Million Mile Men

It’s scary to think how much driving I’ve done in over 50 years since the late sixties. Probably not quite a million miles (that would be 20000 miles per annum), but getting well towards that. That’s about 28000 hours, assuming a probable average speed around 35mpg, or around 3500 average 8-hour days. So that’s nearly 10 years of possibly productive time devoted to driving.

There must be many of mine and the next generation who will ‘achieve’ the million miles over their lifetime. No wonder we have a problem with global warming and pollution! Now, driving is not unpleasant, but what could I have achieved in all that time spent driving?

But it is clear that these generations will be the last million mile men. The technologies are converging fast and change will happen fast – just as horses and carriages were supplanted by the motor car within a decade or so at the start of the twentieth century. Electric vehicles, order on demand and automated driving are inevitable. Only the rich and people in sparsely populated areas will bother to own cars – until driving is banned on many roads for safety reasons.

Just think of the advantages – unpolluted towns and cities, no hassle of car ownership, an end to 1.25 million global traffic deaths per year (WHO-2013), reclaiming of the suburban front garden for plants and wildlife, a new mobility for the old and disabled, the opportunity to work or read while travelling… Of course, there will be problems, like hacking could take in a whole new dimension of crime – but these should be soluble. In the end, economics should force the change.

Well, yes but… There is now that unpredictable variable of climate breakdown, with extreme weather events becoming ever more frequent. Those who can afford it may just like to hang on to their motor vehicles, just in case… But they won’t be million mile men.

PS Before feminists complain, I would say that I am using ‘man’ in its old sense to refer to both genders. It would spoil the alliteration to add ‘and women’ to the title.
And I know I haven’t considered truckers, the ten million mile men!

Belisha freedom

In my childhood of the 1950s the way you got across a busy road, although there weren’t many busy roads in Lincoln then, was at a crossing marked by flashing Belisha beacons. These were introduced in 1934 by then Minister of transport Leslie Hore-Belisha. Black and white stripes were soon added on the road surface, and these became known as zebra crossings. Their essential feature was that pedestrians have priority over traffic while on the crossing.

Traffic levels began to increase, and I remember in 1962 Lincoln was chosen, along with Guildford, to trial some new-fangled Panda crossings. Here there were the beacons, but only lit some time after a pedestrian pressed a button signalling they wanted to cross. The balance of power was changing; the pedestrian no longer appeared to have right of way.

The Pandas didn’t really take off, but in 1969 came Pelican crossings which in various guises, are still with us today. The pedestrian presses a button indicating their need to cross, which eventually triggers traffic lights to change in their favour. In practice, this often means a significant wait.

Pelican is a sort of acronym from PEdestrian LIght CONtrolled, giving an illusion of control by the pedestrian. Actually, the balance of power has swung decisively to the motorist; the pedestrian no longer has right of way, in the interests of traffic flow.

Thus was a fundamental freedom to cross the road gradually restricted as we increased our great love affair with the motor car.

Sadly, the Pelican approach has subsequently been over-used. New crossings seem to be Pelican-style as a norm, rather than zebra crossings. Simple observation shows that on a little-used (by pedestrians) crossing, much time is spent waiting to no good purpose by both pedestrians and vehicles – and when it’s foul weather or in hot sun, guess who suffers more. The old-style zebra crossing with Belisha beacons is far more efficent, with little waiting by either.

Knutsford’s main through road has 2 zebras and three pelicans. I know where I choose to cross.

Bring back the zebras and Belisha’s wonderful beacons!

Featured image of Abbey Road zebra crossing
by Josephenus P. Riley, via Wikimedia Commons