The Plastic Hippo

June 13, 2011

Surf`s up

Filed under: Sport,Transport,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 1:59 pm

Heavy rain, delays, aquaplaning cars, near misses, dangerous overtaking and the ever present threat of death or serious injury. The Montreal Grand Prix? No, for sheer excitement, try the Arboretum junction on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

The Japanese have more than 40 words that describe rain. This poetic language with its rich vocabulary is able to define precipitation with nuances derived from time-of-day, location, season, intensity and duration. This precision would have helped Kamui Kobayashi, who eventually finished seventh in Montreal, to communicate to the pit lane the nature of the challenge caused by the wet stuff falling on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. For visitors to the Pelsall Canal Festival, the Cosford Air Show and hungry hippos heading to Morrisons for snacks and booze, it was, however, simply chucking it down.

Negotiating our wonderful ring road is fraught with danger even at the best of times. Be it on foot, bicycle, Ferrari, canal barge or vintage Spitfire, the transport artery that was supposed to save Walsall is not for the faint hearted. Add a bucket full of rain, and it becomes lethal, particularly at the Arbo junction. Having cost £23million, £5million over budget and delivered very, very late, you would think that someone would have thought about draining rainfall from the carriageways. Sadly this is not the case.

Whenever it rains, a stretch of open water forms at the gates of the Arboretum and lies in wait beyond a blind bend ready to swamp unwary motorists approaching from the direction of Rushall. Needing all the skill and concentration of Michael Schumacher simply to find the correct lane, the last thing a driver needs is to run into an unplanned extension of Hatherton Lake. Pedestrians too, take their lives into their hands, or rather their waders, when crossing the junction. Avoiding the considerable bow wave created by an amphibian 4 x 4 and the walls of water thrown up by every other vehicle is all but impossible. Adding to this the treacherous alluvial slime deposited on the pavements which remains even after the floods have receded, the junction requires a fleet of safety cars and a large team of marshals waving yellow flags.

If the regular flooding at the Arboretum gates is the result of a single blocked drain, then a quick Fix My Street report should solve the problem. Sadly, a Fix My Town website has yet to be established. When it rains, and it does quite often rain in England, the entire length of the new ring road is punctuated with pools of standing water, particularly around pedestrian crossings. Helpful “Look Left” signs painted on the floor are barely visible under inches of murky rain and the latest must-have fashion statement for any walker or cyclist is to wear a designer Walsall puddle kicked up by passing cars.

When the ring road “improvement” was being proposed, an amusing urban myth developed suggesting that the head honcho of road planning in Walsall did not have, and had never had, a driving licence. That might explain the design of the Arbo junction but it is clearly preposterous and a mischievous myth. Or is it?

Desperate to justify the wasted millions, over the last couple of years the good and the great at Walsall council pop up every so often to tell us how great the ring road is. Drivers commuting from Land’s End to John o`Groats via Walsall have seen their journey time slashed by up to three seconds, they say. There is nothing wrong with the construction of the road, we just keep digging it up because we are looking for a second Staffordshire Hoard. The Arboretum junction is safe and has eradicated congestion. It’s true, honest. It has to be true because traffic flow was modelled by computer. Ah ha, so the head honcho that designed the ring road is not only devoid of a driving licence, but also lacks any possibility of cognitive reasoning.

The ring road is a disaster and is an accident waiting to happen. Quite how two or even three lanes of traffic are supposed to merge into a single carriageway without warning over a distance of about 20 yards is proof that the computer, if not having full artificial intelligence, at least has a sense of humour. When the Arbo junction was a humble roundabout, walking from the town centre to Walsall’s green lung took about five minutes and involved two pedestrian crossings. Now it takes 10 minutes, seven crossings, stress and uncertainty and, on a bad day, a lake. The computer seems to have broken the first rule of Isaac Asimov’s three rules of robotics, namely: “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.” Naughty computer.

Amazingly, the firm responsible for constructing the water gardens, Norwest Holst, are demanding yet more money from the council for their shoddy and inadequate work and Tesco, for whom the ring road was constructed, are doing very nicely thank you. As for the fibre optics buried beneath the tarmac intended to feed the white elephant Gigaport; they are being turning into a dish of sushi and noodles.

To experience the excitement, spectacle and, more importantly, cars out of control in the wet during a motor race, there is no need to travel to Montreal. Just pick a rainy day, wear a wet suit and stand at the gates of the Arboretum. Thrill seekers wishing for a further rush of adrenaline might even risk driving across the sheets of surface water.

The Japanese, of course, have a word for this this kind of activity; “seppuku”, or in its debased form, “harakiri”.

1 Comment »

  1. This post is like the Curate’s Egg. Good in part but over wrought and heavily cliched.

    The ring road is crap. It’s badly engineered, badly designed and built on a shoestring. None of this is contested. However, wheeling the non-driving town planner myth out of the hanger for a last flypast, like some moth-eaten biplane, is not helpful, and I fear you slight, as well you know, some decent folk. It doesn’t matter just how you couch this venerable old shaggy dog in terms of myth, the fact that you mention it at all suggests lazy thinking and a desire to to attack the wrong people. Let me explain.

    It’s patently obvious to anyone given to pedestrian or velocipedian perambulation that whoever designed the abomination never left their car unless they had to. Such is the sheer hostility to pedestrians and cyclists in the design that no non-driver could ever have originated it. The idea that this was a Walsall inside job is a cruel slight upon those in the Civic Centre who had formerly created some great designs – like Rushall Square or the Brownhills Central Island. The new ring road we are cursed with is the result of senior officers being led by easily impressed councillors in thrall to consultants. The external designers then were forced to execute the job on the cheap, with bargain-basement signalling equipment that requires constant nannying and drainage that would be poor by Mexican standards. That’s why weeds grow through the pavements and signals are still bagged out of use. It’s a botched combination of lack of local knowledge, cheap kit and uncritical construction.

    Of course, frequently being jammed with metal boxes travelling walking distances to the supermarket doesn’t help.

    You’re normally bang on the money Hippo, but Walsall’s internal engineers have always been decent. It’s when the consultants were bought in that it all turned to ratshit.

    Best wishes


    Comment by BrownhillsBob — June 13, 2011 @ 10:25 pm | Reply

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