The last six weeks of driving across Bath and north east Somerset (BANES), and sometimes beyond, has been an absolute pleasure. With one or two exceptions, the weather has been largely okay and the views have been to die for. This week has changed everything. A warm and sunny start to September cannot change the fact that the schools have reopened and the roads are clogged again. Obviously, it is not a coincidence.
I am not the only one who has noticed the return to gridlock. Parents galore have been on social networks complaining about the sheer levels of traffic around South Gloucestershire and just about everywhere else. One woman said, and I quote, “the traffic was so bad today, I had to walk my daughter to school!” Well, exactly! Who said irony was dead?
I am one of these pesky drivers, too, and every morning I call into my local Co-op to get my Guardian (I can’t give up on the printed word). Today, I had to drive through the car park because it was full. And almost all the cars belonged to people on the school run. It was little wonder the main roads were just a large car park.
I used to think that if only people used their local schools instead of driving, somewhat pointlessly, to out of town schools, there would be far few vehicles on the road. How wrong I was. This obviously has an impact on the volume of traffic – how could it not? – but quite a few people seem to drive less than a few hundred yards to get their precious ones to school. And they sit in the same traffic lines that I do. “No wonder the traffic was so bad”, I replied. “You are the traffic”.
I am the first to admit that driving a car is better than using public transport. Even allowing for gridlock, it still takes you door to door and for almost all jobs you could not seriously carry them out by using public transport, unless time was no object. But for a journey of a few hundred yards? We’re all in a rush, so can’t folk just leave a little earlier? Walking is actually quite pleasant and good for you.
Everyone criss-crosses everyone else. I drove through Keynsham and there were school buses and countless cars leaving the schools and heading for Bristol. I drove past St Brendans Catholic School in Bristol and there were school buses and countless cars going the other way.
No one drove their children to school when I was a lad. We all walked to school, or cycled, and then walked again after our bikes were stolen. It wasn’t that we were massively energetic, we just walked and cycled. It was how we got about.
It’s about convenience, I guess, and about saving time and it’s probably about being lazy too. I am far from blameless in this whole driving malarkey. There are plenty of times I should walk or cycle and I don’t.
I am, undoubtedly, part of the problem. Like many people, my job entails driving many miles a week, often on my own. I could not begin to do my job without a car and it will always be thus. Like many of the school run folk, I need to cut back on unnecessary miles and to use Shank’s Pony from time to time. And if all of us could cut our car use by just a small percentage, it might be summer all the time, at least to drive in.