The congestion zone, bloated and gorged on the wallets of London motorists, finally loosened its belt this morning. A doubling of girth was observed in the ensuing westerly bloat, which takes in some of London's richest inhabitants. Fans of JG Ballard will be intrigued to learn that the area approximating to Chelsea Marina is included on the extreme western fringe, as though on purpose.
But what's the reaction? Mixed, of course. And the overall effect won't be known for some time, as the current school holidays mean the roads are quieter today anyway. Nevertheless, here's a summary of thoughts after one day.
Naturally, the most upbeat reaction came from the man with the biggest stake. Mr Ken Livingstone.
"The morning rush hour has seen a successful start to the extension. Traffic is flowing freely in the extended zone, on its boundaries and the through route. The zone was, until now, one of the most congested areas in the UK, and first indications are that traffic levels have been reduced as expected."
Well he would say that, wouldn't he. Traffic data firm Traaficlink confirmed no problems,
"It is all running smoothly ... It has been slightly slower than usual in two spots: Chelsea Embankment and Battersea."
Negative voices were far more prominent in the media. No doubt because a tale of woe makes for a more engaging read. A rather feeble demonstration of around 150 people marched along the stuccoed streets of K&C to the anguish of nobody. One of the marchers is quoted as saying
"There were lots of placards. People were chanting, 'Stop harming business' and 'Livingstone must go.'"
That'll tell 'em. The Chamber of Commerce also questioned the value of the new zone:
"Problems for companies in the original zone should have been addressed before the new extension came into force. Many of our members have faced great difficulties and loss of trade"
The leader of Westminster Council is another high-profile nay-sayer:
"[It's] a solution without a problem. The level of congestion simply wasn't as bad as people make out".
A common fear is that the 90% discount residents will receive also includes entry into the original zone at this rate, which could cause congestion to increase. Finally, in a sadly and woefully unscientific analysis of comments from a ThisIsLocalLondon article, we conclude that only 18% of the Internet-using public support the zone.
And the Bloggy
Reaction has so far been slow from the blogosphere. Just look how late we're posting this. But a couple of bloggers had something worth saying. Kimbofo on the London Cycling Diary noted an increase in velophiles:
"But the thing that struck me most — and I'm not sure if I was imagining it or not — was the number of new cyclists on the road. You can always tell new cyclists by the BRIGHTNESS of their new hi-viz coats. They just GLOW more brightly because they haven't yet been tempered by mud and rain and pollution and god knows what else."
And we have to finish on a comment from TunnelBore. This is a blog that has almost daily news on the Blackwall Tunnel, with tongue very much approaching cheek. Headlines include 'Tunnel User Cleared of Bird Flu', 'Tunnel Haven for Snow Chaos' and the world-beating 'Personal Blackwall Tunnel Usage - December 2006 Statistics'. What a star! Today, TunnelBore reports on local dismay that nothing is being done to ease congestion in that most excellent of tunnels:
"A frequent user of the Blackwall Tunnel told us "I can understand health being a priority for government. The tunnel can be congested, and the queues long sometimes, but it is always worth the wait as it is a fine piece of engineering."