If you think the British newspapers are given to getting worked up about things, just wait until the Olympic Games get underway.
Over the last few days, Transport for London has been gently trying to suggest that driving anywhere near the centre of London will not be a good idea. Best avoid the area, if you don’t mind, old chap.
In truth, the centre of the capital will be at a standstill, with the effective closure of Hyde Park Corner the lynchpin of the chaos to come. As the Olympic Route Network map issued by TFL shows, all the main roads into the west of the capital will also be under special measures. The Blackwall Tunnel is also part of the ORN, so don’t bother trying to conduct business in the East End, either.
But what will have the press and public seething is the adoption of ‘Zil lanes’ (nicknamed after the limo used by the party bosses in the Soviet Union). These are about to be marked out in the capital by hundreds of road workers and are designed to ensure that Olympic officials and ‘games family’ can be whizzed around the capital without ever seeing a jam.
Indeed, the software used to control the traffic lights will be hot-wired to ensure lights go green as an Olympic fleet BMW approaches. The same technique was used when the International Olympic Committee came to London as part of the bid process. Rigging the lights was the only way to convince the IOC that the Stratford site was not, in fact, a 45min drive from the central London hotels that will host the Olympic entourage. And the Zil lanes will even extend to stretches of the M4, M3, M27 and M11.
Winning the bid on shrinking the distance from Marble Arch to Stratford means that all buses, commercial traffic and drivers will now be jammed into the same single (often bus) lane. As the productive part of the economy is squeezed into a single lane, drivers and bus passengers will be fuming at the empty lane alongside. But don’t drive into it, between 6am and midnight, or the all-seeing CCTV network will send you a £200 fine.
Many pedestrian crossings will be closed and right- and left-hand turns banned. Holding an Olympic Games in eastern London and housing the ‘Games Family and Press’ in central London is a stupid idea, but putting in the massive road restrictions for six weeks will do serious harm to the capital’s economy. Pictures of empty ‘Zil Lanes’ running alongside miles of gridlock could become the most memorable image of London 2012.