Two miles, five cities . . no contest

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"IT’S five o’clock," announces the Radio Scotland newscaster, and my journey begins. My mission is to drive along some of the Capital’s busiest streets in rush-hour traffic.

It’s a Wednesday evening and people are now hitting the roads to get home. Starting at the Elm Row roundabout on Leith Walk, a red light at the pedestrian crossing outside the Playhouse means I have to draw immediately to a halt. But it is only for a few seconds, and I am soon turning right at Picardy Place roundabout into York Place. I am temporarily slowed by another red light, but get two greens in a row, taking me straight into Queen Street, one of Edinburgh’s most congested roads according to the council.

Yet the traffic is remarkably light and most cars are carrying only one person - the driver. Traffic travelling east is similarly light and everything seems to be flowing with ease.

A red light at the crossroads with Hanover Street and Dundas Street causes me to stop for 30 seconds, behind five vehicles. And I get another red light at the crossroads with Frederick Street and Queen Street Gardens West, pausing for 45 seconds behind a truck and two cars.

A pedestrian crossing outside Erskine House at Albyn Place again halts me briefly before I turn left into North Charlotte Street, where, again, the traffic is surprisingly light. Approaching Charlotte Square, the flow of traffic is interrupted by a red light. When it turns green, four cars pass through and I pause for the duration of a second red light at the same junction. But after a short delay, I am driving along South Charlotte Street and turning right into the west end of Princes Street.

It is 5.08pm as I enter Princes Street, so it has taken me only eight minutes to brave what I was expecting to be heavy, rush-hour traffic.

At the junction on to Princes Street, which is apparently another congestion hotspot, a ten-second wait holds me up before I turn left again on to Lothian Road - where the traffic is again flowing smoothly, despite the fact that there is only one lane for cars since the Greenways lane is in operation exclusively for buses, taxis and bicycles. I drive past while dozens of people heading home from work queue at bus stops.

Despite being known for its lap-dancing establishments and being infamously dubbed the "wild west" by a city sheriff, I get mostly green - not red - lights on Lothian Road. And there is nothing remotely wild happening on the traffic front.

I have to stop for a red light at a pedestrian crossing and wait for 30 seconds at the crossroads with East Fountainbridge, giving me an opportunity to eye up the new silver mini behind. But I am soon in Earl Grey Street, passing roadworks before going straight through a green light and into Home Street. I seem to be on a roll for I get two further green lights and turn right into Gilmore Place, the two-mile point in the experiment at 5.13pm.

Darkness is beginning to descend upon Edinburgh, but as the night draws in, there has been little in the way of drama during my drive. My experience of evening rush hour has proved uneventful and there was little evidence of congestion.

While the traffic has certainly been dominated by cars carrying just one person, as well as a few buses, my journey across the city centre has been remarkably smooth. The awful congestion I was expecting just didn’t appear.



THE gruelling journey began before I had even left the tiny car park space in Piccadilly, Manchester, where I regularly leave my blue Peugeot 205. It was 5.15pm on a Thursday night, it was already dark and other commuters were waiting to get out on to London Road, one of the main thoroughfares into the city centre.

Once on London Road, traffic flowed freely, but as soon as I hit Great Ancoats Street it almost immediately ground to a halt outside a busy retail park. I sat for ten minutes in a queue to travel just 400 yards and had to negotiate three set of traffic lights. Like myself, other motorists sitting in the other lane stared blankly ahead, resigned to a long journey home.

Eventually I was able to turn right on to the A62 main Oldham Road, only to be confronted by yet more heavy traffic - and a stream of red brake lights heading off into the horizon. But then this is driving as usual, a kind of stop-start progress. The maximum speed at any one time was 30mph due to congestion in both lanes and buses stopping at regular intervals, causing obstruction in the inner lane and forcing cars to try to go round.

Then everything finally came to a complete standstill for five minutes when an HGV broke down on the inside lane. Immediately, the amber signal lights start flashing and drivers wait patiently as they indicate to move out into the outside lane and pass the truck.

By now it’s 5.45pm and I eventually reach the junction on the left-hand side of the dual carriageway, having taken half an hour to travel just two miles. I’ve still got a long way to go to get home, but at least the traffic gets lighter from here.



FROM outside the city chambers at 5pm it takes two sets of traffic lights and a congested bus stop before I inch through to West George Street and begin my journey heading west.

My destination is the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, two miles out of town in the heart of the West End. On a quiet day it should take no longer than ten minutes - even if the many sets of traffic lights are showing red. It’s more or less a straight road from George Square, my starting point slap bang in the centre of town, to the west travelling along West George Street, St Vincent Street and Argyle Street. Once out of George Square the traffic was already at a snail’s pace as I trundled towards the pedestrian crossing that dissects the busy pedestrianised shopping thoroughfare, Buchanan Street. It’s here that things begin to get really busy, with double-parked post office vans and daredevil pedestrians ensuring I had to keep my wits about me.

By now the evening rush is in full swing and for half a mile the traffic stretches in front of me as it makes its way out of St Vincent Street heading west. Glasgow’s city centre is designed round a grid system, which is supposed to ease the flow of traffic. As a traffic flow concept it should, in theory, work. However, as I attempt to drive through the fourth set of lights, cars coming from the right seem intent on getting through their own lights no matter what, which brings the whole place to a standstill. No-one can move when the lights show green. This happens twice and not until there’s a symphony of car horns do the culprits finally get the message and leave enough room for us to pass through.

Traffic continues to move slowly - I haven’t once been in third gear - through three more sets of lights (I’m stopped at each one) before things come to a halt outside music venue King Tut’s.

Like drones, almost every car is headed for the infamous M8 and they block all the feeder routes around the edge of the city centre. It’s here I sit for a full four minutes without moving an inch. I can see the traffic lights 20 yards in front change from red to green and back four times before a single car manages to squeeze through.

Finally, after a further three minutes of edging along in first gear, I make it through the lights and continue down towards the M8 flyover. The final half mile of my journey is slightly easier and I even manage fourth gear at one point. Through another four pedestrian crossings, through Finnieston, I arrive at Kelvingrove at 5.26pm.

It’s taken me 26 minutes, 16 sets of traffic lights, three double-parked buses and two witnessed instances of road rage to travel two miles.



BRIGHTON - home to one and a half piers, fish and chips and kiss-me-quick hats. The city, which has the same population size as Edinburgh, is famous for its beautiful seafront and its crazy Pavilion built by George IV, our most famous son, as the ultimate bachelor pad.

It is also known for traffic jams - a topic we all like to gripe about - although just last week Brighton and Hove City Council voted against bringing in a congestion charge.

The city’s busiest route come morning rush hour is along the seafront and the road out to London. Both are permanently busy and in summer months can be gridlocked. But yesterday morning the route seemed surprisingly clear as I turned out of my street on to the seafront at 8.30am. The illusion did not last long.

Almost immediately I was stuck 15 cars deep at traffic lights by Third Avenue. By the time I had started up again I was slowing down for the next set. This was the start of the concertina shuffle which driving along Brighton’s seafront has become - stop start, stop start between the pelican crossings and traffic lights.

There are 12 sets between Third Avenue, where I began my route, and the Palace Pier roundabout, where I turned north towards London Road and the A23.

Driving past Grand Avenue I had to slow down again for lights at First Avenue. Two more sets held up my journey before I reached the Grand Hotel, though mercifully the wait was short . . . although seconds later I hit temporary roadworks which forced all traffic into one lane.

Eventually moving on to the Palace Pier, I hit one of the only main roundabouts in the city. Turning north I was immediately faced another queue at traffic lights by the Old Steine - something that was becoming a regular motif on this short journey. Thirty seconds later I was stopped at another set but the swirling domes of the Royal Pavilion on my left made a pleasant distraction. This one-way system, set up in the early 70s, is the road out to London. In the summer and particularly on bank holidays it can be solid but today is relatively clear.

The one-way idea is one of several jam-busting schemes set up over the years by the local council, and in 1995 the outside lane became a bus and taxi-only zone with two lanes for cars. The main problem here is parked vans and cars blocking the inside lane, which clogs up the system.

Moving on and at the start of Preston Park the road becomes two-way again but the traffic lights remain a constant feature. There are a further two sets before I finish my route.

We like to make a fuss about the traffic in Brighton but when it comes down to it, it is not that bad. At least not on a cold March morning. Yes, there is almost always a jam on the seafront. But it’s probably the jam with the most spectacular view in Britain.

A good bus service and the fact Brighton has a low car ownership are two reasons why the traffic is not that bad compared to other cities. Also the centre is relatively small so there are always routes to be found around the main jams.

At 8.30am on a work day, it took me eight minutes to drive two miles along the main route though the city. But then on Saturday I drove through south London at 6pm. It took me nearly two hours to drive 13 miles . . .



EVERY day I make a 23-mile journey from the countryside into the centre of Birmingham. For the first 20 miles, I enjoy driving past fields and farms, and noticing the general camaraderie between drivers on the road.

But the last three miles are an absolute killer. I get to work infuriated, exhausted and frequently late. For on the last two-mile stretch of the journey it takes me a full 30 minutes.

Those venturing in for the first time need nerves of steel, or a very thick skin. You can never second guess where the traffic hotspots will be as the road layout seems to change every other week due to building work. And once you get on to the one-way system, it’s hard to get back to where you were supposed to be going. Buses cause a tremendous problem, especially those huge "bendy buses" which are generally twice the size of anything else on the road but with half the people on board.

The city centre island outside my office causes many a heated incident as it boasts four sets of traffic lights. Not long ago, someone ran into the back of me because he was too busy trying to change lanes before the next set of lights to watch what was going on in front of him. Strangely when the lights are out of order, the traffic runs much more smoothly. It does make you wonder whether so-called "traffic-calming measures" do in fact have the opposite effect. It’s not unusual to end up sitting at this island for a good hour or so if there has been a shunt on any of the commuter routes. And when it snowed a few weeks ago, it took a colleague of mine EIGHT hours to make a ten-mile journey out of the city centre.

One of the worst roads has to be Broad Street, which has been bottle-necked by the introduction of humps in the middle of the road, taking out a vital traffic lane in the process. It can take well over half an hour to battle with the three sets of traffic lights and countless buses on this half-mile stretch.

One saving grace is there aren’t many sleeping policemen in the city centre. They tend to be on roads further out. Also, most of the main arterial roads are quite wide but they need to be for the sheer volume of traffic coming in and out of Britain’s second city.

But it seems I’m not the only one who finds this three-mile journey fraught. Horns beep, drivers scream at each other until the air turns blue and, at times, even get out of their cars in the middle of the road for a slanging match.

I love my city, but why is it so difficult for me to reach it every day?