Tuesday, August 24, 2010

An Ode to London

Dear London,

There are many things to like about you. Your plentiful forests; your bounty of wildlife (that runs right over the roads and through residential areas); your local farms that provide a summer full of wonderful fresh fruits and vegetables; your downtown festivals that have a great assortment of foods, music and crafts; your off leash dog parks; and your ultra cheap real estate (although there are ultra high property taxes to match).

Then there are the things that I would consider 'middle ground'; the things that I don't love, but I can tolerate. They may even be things that I was 100% against, but have learned to put up with, or at least let roll off. Your lack of vegan food options (though this is steadily increasing, to the point I would even consider sliding it into the first paragraph); your lack of entertainment/music scene (big bands at the JLC, not as much in the way of smaller bands, or getting interest in them...venues closing, etc.); and your 100 trains that cross roads and often make me arrive late to my destination (more on these trains in the next section).

There are two things about you, though, London that really get my blood boiling.

One is your matter-of-fact racism. I try to let roll off sometimes because London is ultra-white and I could spend a loooot of time stressing out and being upset over it, but many times I end up having to say something.

Plenty of instances I have had interactions with a customer who will use a mock accent or sliding in a racial slur while commenting on things being made in China or India or anywhere else not in Canada or USA.

Once in a while we have what is called a 'lunch and learn' where a company will send in their salesman to come in and teach us about new products or certification standards or whatever, and they'll buy us lunch since we are using our lunch hour to be there. On one particular occasion, this one salesman came in and gave his report on new products (not being able to answer a single one of my questions along the way, saying things like 'I should look into that') and then right near the end he was talking about his products being made here in Canada, while competitors were made in China. Then he proceeded to pull the sides of his eyes out and talk in broken English with a Chinese accent, saying something about making poor quality products. Now, behaviour like this is intolerable at any time, but it was even worse, as he was representing an entire company as he was doing it. I was so appalled that I wrote a note to the company he was representing. I never heard back from them, and I still see the salesman come around so I guess it didn't make a difference. It's also worth noting that he is pretty useless and I have always ended up having to call the company for support because he can't answer my questions.

Actually, I've definitely heard sexist and homophobic comments as well, so the whole category could just be filed under bigotry. I suppose when it comes down to it, these lovely qualities are often found together.

The one issue that I face every day and invariably drives me right up the wall and gets my blood boiling is driving.

Driving in the city of London makes no sense. There was no foresight to the planning of the roads in the city and no attempt has been made to rectify any of the several issues. In addition to (or possibly as a result of) this, nobody knows how to drive.

The main issue is the lack of roads that lead anywhere. Here is a rough road map of the town of London:
Very Accurate City of London Roadmap

The city was built on the river, presumably as an access point/industrial location. As you can see, there are only four roads that span the city from top to bottom. Every other street stops at the river (nice and pretty - note the colour) or some random park or building or something else they did not plan around. As a result, the four roads are always all busy and because they are so frequently travelled, they need to be repaired come spring every year. Then you have additional delays caused by half of the road being torn up from the first day the frost clears until the snow starts staying on the ground.

Also, it is as if the road planners decided that they didn't want the east-west roads to be left out or feel inferior, so they would only make a handful of roads that span the city that direction as well. There is certainly not many things that keep a road from spanning the city that way (other than the one change of direction of the river that is seemingly impossible to bridge), so I can't see any other reason why they wouldn't provide more routes that way.

In most other cities I've been in, when you hit some traffic, you can dodge down a side street in the direction you are heading and keep up a left-right-left or right-left-right pattern up until you get to another major street or your destination. When you do that here, you get run through a series of subdivisions filled with crescents and courts (except downtown where you can mostly go in a straight line for at least a couple blocks). Therefore you are left either turning around and going back to where you came from, or getting spit out at a completely different road than you would figure to end up on.

Then there are the trains. There are numerous trains for cargo and passengers that travel in and out of London. While I applaud this method of transportation, I do not like how every trip you take can be interrupted by a train. They cross most roads at one point or another and seem to always come when you are just a minute or two behind already, completely blowing up your chance of making it on time. Then you leave fifteen minutes earlier the next time and end up with all green lights and no trains.
Damn Trains

Also, there are the ill-positioned lane reductions. This is partly on the designers of the road and partly on the drivers. Every city has roads with lane reductions. They happen when areas become less populated, leave town, or they can be as a result of construction. The permanent ones usually create a tiny amount of traffic as people merge in, while the construction ones always cause more as people are flying along a road normally 4 lanes wide and remember last minute that they've reduced the lanes before their turn when they thought it was after. That is to be expected. There is one here in London where a road reduces a lane about 20 metres after a set of lights (only to open up again about a kilometre up the road for some reason). This one irks me to no end. Everybody in London knows that this happens. Yet, when you try to be a good driver and park 16th in line in the lane that stays, a whole pile of cars drive up beside you and pretend as if they didn't know the lane ended after the light. I can buy one or two cars in there that simply forget or want to gun it ahead of the busier line, but there is consistently a large amount of cars there. How can they fix this oversight? Get rid of the right turn lane, paint some arrows on the right lane for the last 15 metres or so and stick a sign in the ground that says this lane must turn right.
Urge to Kill: Rising

Now that I've mentioned the drivers, I will move over to my concerns about them. There are all the regular problems of idiot drivers like speeding 50km/h over the limit and dodging into your lane with no signal or darting into a space that leaves one inch or so in front of them before the next car and another inch or so between the back of their car and yours. But in addition to these commonly faced issues, London has its own specialties.

Whenever you are at an intersection, the drivers treat the yellow as part of the green and the first five seconds of the red as a yellow. I think this started at one intersection where the east-west street gets a full green with left turns going west and then a full green with lefts going east before the green light going north and south. This 3-step lighting can be a bit of a nuisance if you arrive just as the light is changing, as you have to wait an extra set of lights before you can go again. Perhaps some people saw the practice happening at this intersection and decided it was perfectly fine, and that they would apply it at every intersection they encounter.
Too Many Cars Turning Left

Sometimes, though, one of these 'where I have to be is more important than the law of traffic' drivers gets behind a responsible driver in the left turn lane and this happens:
No Left Turn For You, Jerk

That situation kind of makes me laugh, and I am very happy when I see another driver doing the responsible thing and not going way after they should.

All in all, these issues are certainly not applicable to every resident you have, London, but I thought you might like to know so you can keep an eye on them. And thank you for all of the good things that you provide.

J. Tobias Milton

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