I’m known around here for my obsession with the capital’s lack of a proper high-speed road network.
London is probably the only big European city that lacks a proper ring road and substantial feeder roads that run close into the centre.
Anybody who has driven around Paris’s Boulevard Peripherique knows that it can be catastrophically busy but that it is also a major benefit to the city. It was completed in 1973, the same year that the London Ringways system was condemned to death.
The state of the traffic on the Peripherique and the feeder roads is clearly a source of major interest to the French.
I snapped this rather neat live map in the reception of the Peugeot-Citroen design centre on Monday. (The lack of red alerts is a reflection of the fact that I took it at 4.00pm; within minutes it was lighting up for the evening rush hour).
What really surprised me was to find that Paris is engaged in building another ring road. The A86 has been nicknamed the Super-Peripherique and it should see the last section open next year.
The French are even trying to finish the rather patchy ‘Francilienne’, which would be the equivalent of the M25. Ironically, these French plans are almost a mirror of London’s abandoned Ringways 1, 2 and 3, which you can view here.
But the French ambition doesn’t end there. An even bigger ‘ring road’ called the ‘Grand Contournement’, which is between 50 and 100 miles away from the centre of Paris, is also being pieced together.
The mini-revelation that the French are still engaged in really major road building is bound to be a shock for anyone who drives in the UK.
A couple of months ago I stumbled across an extraordinary stretch of brand-new-that-week urban motorway in Lisbon running by the Estoril circuit. I’m always deeply impressed by the audacity of such civil engineering projects.
In this country, however, it is still not possible to drive on dual carriageway all the way to Norwich and the M6 between the Midlands and the Manchester ship canal will be jammed until the oil runs out. Recent years have even seen the Department of Transport quietly advising local councils to remove local road space.
Meanwhile, the new transport minister wants to commit the UK to an expensive (and heavily subsidised) programme of high-speed rail lines, which is just the job if people want to travel, individually, from city centre to city centre.
Those of us who don’t want to zoom from London to Newcastle in two hours will have to make do with the most miserable motorway network of any European nation.