Sarah Howden: London lights shine brighter as we're on the road to ruin

WHEN two of my closest friends left the Capital in favour of the bright lights of London, they always vowed to come home one day. It was only a temporary move, they promised.

Three years tops. It was their opportunity to get the best foot on the career ladder and garner as much experience as possible, they explained. And come home as experts in their chosen fields.

That was back in 2001 and I'm still waiting. One of them is now a high-flying brand manager with one of the top agencies in the world, while the other is happily married. It looks less and less likely either will be returning to Edinburgh to pick up where we left off, so we take it in turns to catch up with weekend breaks.

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And so, I regularly train it down to London for a quickie visit to see my childhood friends and sample London's finest. But getting in and around the city has always been a nightmare (it takes an hour to get anywhere) and I've remained smug about the merits of our compact city. Until now.

A recent trip to London was a walk in the park compared with Edinburgh. Yes, I know there are tram works, and I can certainly see the random roadworks dotted around the Capital. But I have to ask, what has happened to Edinburgh? Once, no city in the UK could hold a candle next to London when it came to horrendous congestion and delays. Now, our very own Capital could steal the crown.

My taxi journeys have soared in price with trips taking double the time – and it's not the drivers' fault as they have no prior warning of sudden road closures, diversions and congestion. Even at 10am on a Tuesday. How suburban areas like Shandon, Polwarth and Craiglockhart can be gridlocked mid-morning, mid-week, is beyond me.

Then there are the buses. Timetables are off, and buses can be seriously late thanks to the same hold-ups.

But it's the roadworks – if you can call them that – which pose the biggest problem. Roadworks which spring up overnight yet never seem to have any actual work done on them. Temporary traffic lights which only seem to let three cars through at a time – but don't take into account the fact that the next roadworks half a mile up the road are causing congestion, so no-one can move. At all. Temporary bus stops placed either just before or after the temporary traffic lights cause even more congestion. Unbelievable.

"They (the council] do it on purpose," reasoned one irate taxi driver yesterday. "It's all because we rejected the congestion charge. Have a look and you'll often see bus stops right after a junction. They (the buses] don't even pull in and it causes big tailbacks as no-one can move.

"They close roads without telling anyone, spend taxpayers' money on narrowing and closing roads then reopen them. I'd like to see one person spend a day as a taxi driver to see what life is really like for us. It's ruining us."

He had a point. Our little compact city has become something of a labyrinth. A trip from the city centre to Leith can take up to an hour, as can Fairmilehead and Juniper Green. There's no need for speed signs – we can't get anywhere fast. And for what? Trams only a proportion of the city will ever be able to use.

Mmmm, London is becoming very appealing now.