Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Beating the Westlink blues

Let’s face it, Dublin 15 has an awful lot to offer. We have the Tolka Valley, currently being maintained and developed by the wonderful people at TREA. The stretch of the Royal Canal between Castleknock and Clonsilla rates as one of the beautiful walkways in Ireland. We have a very modern and state-of-the-art hospital. We have a shopping centre that, if it entered “Strictly Come Shopping” – I thought of it first, RTE – would have Craig Revel Horwood bandying tens about like they were going out of fashion.
And we have the Westlink Toll Bridge.
There are a couple of things in this life that put the fear of God into me. Falling into a snakepit full of writhing cobras and black mambas is one. (I know, call me a big girl’s blouse, but it wouldn’t be what I consider an enjoyable experience) Getting stuck in a lift that plays Lionel Richie songs on a continuous loop is another. And being caught in one of those tailbacks on the M50, that Nicola Hudson so gleefully tells us about every evening, is the third.
I make it a rule to only travel on the M50 at off-peak times. The only trouble is that “off-peak” on Ireland’s favourite motorway lies in a thirty minute spot between 4:15am and 4:45am, not a time particularly conducive to travelling to work, relatives or football matches.
Even people like me, who don’t use Ireland’s great contribution to the pan-European transport system, can get caught up by events not of their making. Last month, a hubcap fell off a Fiat Panda on the Red Cow sliproad and the whole country was paralysed. The N3 was backed up as far as Letterkenny. The 39 from Ongar was so long getting the two miles to the Blanchardstown Centre that Oxfam were asked to bring soup and comfort to emaciated survivors. Travellers on the Orient Express clicked their tongues in frustration as the stationmaster in Budapest tried to work out an alternative route to Istanbul. A fit of giggling could be heard in the AA Roadwatch studios.
The National Toll Roads tell us that it’s not the toll-booths that cause congestion on this great orbital feat of engineering, silly. It’s those nasty exit roads. Now I am no infrastructure expert, but this reminds me somewhat of the boy with chocolate smeared all over his face denying that he stole the Mars Bar.
Senator Shane Ross has offered NTR to prove their theory by offering them €10,000 to raise the barriers for a day. To date, NTR have neglected to take up the chance to prove themselves right. Again this is like claiming you have an elephant in your bedroom, but not letting anyone up to see it.
The Government’s response to the whole fiasco is to build a third lane on the motorway. Now, sums were never my strong point at school but if, say, it takes 10,000 cars one hour to go through five toll booths on a two lane M50, then surely it will take 10,000 cars one hour to go through five toll booths on a three lane M50. Or am I missing some vital piece of information here?
If you insist on having these toll-booths, then surely the only way to get cars through them faster is to build more of them. Extend the toll-booths so that you have 100 of them all in a line. This will reduce every motorist’s chances of getting stuck behind the Corsa driver who has to search his pockets, glove-box, ash-tray for the required toll, while drivers behind turn apopleptic with rage. Of course, the big drawback to this is when you have fifty cars all exiting the toll-booths at the same time and racing for the return to two-lane traffic. Naturally a white van will cut you up and leave you wedged in between the Roadstone truck and the mad taxi-driver, though even this is preferable to gazing at the bumper of the new Volkswagen for hours on end.
Alternatively, and this is my own idea which I am going to patent, build another M50 on top of the existing one, so its like a double-decker M50, travelling in exactly the same space-time continuum, only ten yards above it. Or below it, if you prefer. Or above and below it. Whatever, the point would be that there would be double, or treble, the amount of toll-booths, which would halve or reduce by two-thirds the queues that NTR say they are not causing and are only figments of our collective imagination.
What we really need of course is a bunch of reckless truckers like in that song “Convoy” who insist they “ain’t a-gonna pay no toll, rubber duckie” despite the presence of smokies and a bear in the air (kids, ask your parents) and are prepared to smash the gate doin’ ninety-eight. But therein lies the flaw - the chances of approaching the toll-booths at anything approaching 98kph are relatively slim, even during the off-peak half-hour.
Of course, there is one surefire way to get the toll barriers permanently raised at all times, but I’m not allowed to tell you because that would be Incitement to Commit a Crime and of course I would not want to be breaking any laws, even though it might mean a break away from my children.
However, let me tell you a totally unconnected story about the dreaded island prison of Alcatraz in California. It was a fearsome place, ruled with a rod of iron. Breaking wind without permission meant a long spell in solitary for the abashed offender. Tapping one’s foot to Lionel Richie music often incurred a severe beating by the guards (quite rightly too) Even impersonating garden vegetables was frowned upon and could cause loss of remission.
But the strictest rule in Alcatraz was the rule of silence. The authorities figured that if you could not communicate with your fellow-prisoner, then you could not conspire with him to escape. So, talking was out. The few Trappist monks in there simply shrugged and got on with it, but for the majority of the prisoners, having to forego conversation with their fellow prisoners for days, months, even years proved a severe ordeal. Some snapped and started gabbling unintelligibly and they were immediately hauled off to solitary, to emerge six months later, shattered and broken.
This state of affairs continued for years, decades even. The prisoners knew the penalty for speaking and silence reigned.
And then, one morning, everybody just started talking. Not one or two people, but the entire prison population started chatting away about the weather or the economic situation as if they’d been doing it for years. And there wasn’t a damned thing the authorities could do about it. From that day on, the rule of silence was abandoned and conversation was allowed.
Now, some of you might be jumping ahead of me here, in relating the above wee tale to the situation relating to the toll-booths at Westlink. Some of you M50 crawlers, sick to blue death of being forced to sit for hours in a queue to pay money to NTR and the Government for the pleasure of travelling on a road that your taxes helped to build – some of you might infer that I am suggesting that we pluck a date at random in the near future – say January 29th – and everybody who gets to the toll-booth says they’ve left their money at home. You might assume from the Alcatraz story that if we all stick together and simply and inoffensively shrug and say sorry, no money, then they would have no option but to raise the barriers and let us through. And from that day forward, all our troubles would disappear and cars and trucks would henceforth chug along the toll-free motorway, waving genially to each other. And the good employees of AA Roadwatch would spend their days flying paper planes around the office and staring moodily out of the window.
That might well be the case but, of course, I couldn’t possibly condone such criminality.

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