Nothing epitomises our slavish dependence on the State more than road markings and layouts and traffic signs. Our streets are models of authoritarian rectitude; here we are commanded not to enter, there we are coralled by cattle pen barriers until traffic lights permit us to cross the road. Anyone might imagine a vast folio of technical statutes that compel our highways authorities to cram our streets with peremptory commands and clutter our pavements with obstacles.
As the Conservative Leader and Deputy Leader of K&C Council have demonstrated, this is not the case at all. When they wanted to clear Kensington High Street of all this rubbish, when they wanted to allow shoppers to cross the road wherever they wanted, when they had confidence that drivers would take more care on a more visibly shared surface and that vehicles, cycles and pedestrians could be left to 'negotiate' without the intervention of the State, their highways managers were horrified. "Can't be done" they were told "It will be carnage."
They persisted. And they found that hardly any of the rubbish on our streets was prescribed by law; instead highways managers across the country slavishly follow 'guidance' issued by the Transport Department. It's not compulsory. K&C's highways managers refused to budge. They feared that if they ignored the 'guidance' they could be held personally liable for any accidents. Eventually it took the courage of councillors, particularly Daniel Moylan, to take personal liability and push through the changes that have given us a magnificent clear and beautiful Kensington High Street. It didn't result in carnage; in fact, early studies suggest that accident rates actually fell.
Zebra crossings are a particular passion of mine. I love them. Pedestrians 'negotiate' directly with vehicles, there's a brief social contract, the opportunity for eye contact and a wave or nod of acknowledgement. As soon as the crossing is empty vehicles can be on their way. They're cheap and safe and very efficient. Zebra crossings are Tory. The Transport Department hates them, and has tried for years to replace them with expensive, dangerous Pelican or Toucan crossings where pedestrians can be herded behind cattle barriers and only allowed to cross when the State says so; direct negotiation between pedestrians, cycles and vehicles is forbidden. The State decides. They're more dangerous than Zebra crossings (as well as much more expensive and far less efficient at keeping traffic moving), of course, because real people jump over the barriers and try to cross when vehicles are commanded by green lights to drive at maximum possible speed and pay no attention to pedestrians. Pelican and Toucan crossings are Labour.
Now Daniel and K&C have pulled another rabbit of freedom from the hat, no doubt leaving highways managers across the nation choking with indignation. They're letting cyclists ride the 'wrong' way up one-way streets . What's more, there are no barriers, bollards, lanes or kerbs to separate them; K&C are letting cyclists and drivers negotiate the road between them. Statists will splutter with horror.
K&C, I could hug you!