I had the misfortune of having to drive through Dundee rush hour traffic the other morning. Misfortune because of the state of the traffic.
Not that traffic is that bad compared to Aberdeen, Glasgow or Edinburgh, but it was still no fun at all. Impatience sat like a haar over the river, as people beeped, scuttled, jostled and roared their way along Riverside Drive.
I was amazed at the number of vehicle occupants who were incensed because I actually drove at the speed limit – in fact even possibly two or three miles over the speed limit. I had one car three feet off my bumper (occupant applying make-up), another undertook, and then a van screamed up the inside of me on a roundabout and angrily gesticulated out of the window as if I was somehow failing to understand basic traffic regulations.
The anger, irritation and impatience was palpable, as drivers looked for every opportunity to switch lanes, undertake, overtake… anything that might gain them a couple of seconds or let them sneak through the next set of lights.
Nervous pedestrians hovered anxiously on the side of the road hoping for the relentless stream of cars to pause long enough for them to dash across safely. Cars were protruding from every junction hoping to be offered a gap, but hardly anybody let anyone out, so the pushier ones simply pulled out right in front of other traffic, refusing to wait and nearly causing accidents.
It was deeply stressful.
Signs dotted at regular intervals reminded me this was a 40mph zone – a maximum, not a minimum. Yet I felt like I was actually doing something wrong. It was miserable. Why do we put up with this? Are we so wedded to our cars that we cannot imagine a better outcome than this daily drudgery?
People’s behaviour is mostly what makes driving so miserable, but it is born out of the ever-increasing volume of traffic on our roads. And the volume of traffic keeps on growing.
Scottish Government forecasts currently suggest that cars and other road traffic will increase by 30 per cent over the next 15-20 years. Can you imagine adding 30 per cent more traffic into your rush hour commute? And 30 per cent more pollution too.
The road system is already clearly fragile – after all, it only takes a single breakdown, or thoughtlessly parked or abandoned vehicle and rush hour is utter turmoil. Look at how many people were caught out by the most recent Forth Road Bridge closure.
So is this inevitable? Is it realistic to expect to fit 30 per cent more cars on our roads? And most importantly of all – do we want 30 per cent more traffic?
Shouldn’t we see this as a stronger imperative to change things and try to build a transport future we would actually like to see by investing in public and active transport? Or do we simply resign ourselves to 30 per cent more road traffic, longer queues, more frustration, more air pollution and more and more angry drivers. Is that the future we would choose? Surely we can do better than that.
Mike Robinson, chief executive, Royal Scottish Geographical Society