The Ranty Highwayman)
This week celebrates 5 years since I started this blog and what a revelation these years have been. For something which was started out of frustration and with a feeling of disconnection from my profession, it has constantly reignited my enthusiasm for civil engineering.
I wrote a bit about the origin of this blog on my (very occasional) blog from my other project, “City Infinity“, earlier this year;
I started cycling to work at the start of 2011 because I was fed up with sitting in traffic on my 3.5 mile commute. Many people cite all sorts of worthy reasons why they cycle, but for me it was purely selfish and everything else good about cycling is just a bonus (although not spending loads on petrol is rather good too). At the time, I did have a bike, but it was used for a bit of local exercise and it really didn’t occur to me that it could be such an astonishing invention for transport. I was pretty familiar with the measures we could take to prioritise and enable walking, so I think that an interest in local travel was tucked away somewhere, but certainly, cycling was the missing link between the short and long journeys people take day to day.
As an engineer, I had simply followed the available design guidance which tended to add a bit of paint and a few signs to a road in order to call it a “cycle route”; my daily commute had started to change my understanding of what people needed in order to feel safe and comfortable and so something in my brain must have connected. In the latter half of 2012 I discovered that all sorts of people were writing about streets (and especially cycling infrastructure). One blog inspired me in particular; “Crap Cycling and Walking in Waltham Forest“. In it I saw road conditions I had been experiencing, together with explanations of why they were so bad.
The inspiration from this and lots of other blogs I was reading at the time finally spurred me to write something myself. I was reading lots of opinions from those campaigning for better streets and perhaps arrogantly I felt I should be giving some balance from the position of a practicing engineer who is constrained by professional orthodoxy, the dogma of design guidance and the political system in which I and my peers operate within.
Very quickly, I was forced to confront all of this and perhaps I had a crisis of faith (this is as close to religion as I get). Imagine having realised that something you had studied for and then worked at for many years might not be what you thought it was. However, a whole new world of interest opened up before me and through a combination of going to look at how we can rebalance our streets back in favour of people, a huge amount of research and speaking with many inspirational people, it has become clear to me that change is possible and indeed, it is desperately needed for so many reasons, but especially to address the inequality that the UK’s motor-centric policies have created.