Several Reasons to Like (the Idea of) the Driverless Car

When I first read about driverless cars I dismissed the idea as just another gimmick from the hard-up, planet-wrecking, machismo-fueled, turbo-charged turd-makers we call the motor industry.

A driverless car, not hopelessly lost

A driverless car, not hopelessly lost

Another hunk of metal sold to us as a lifestyle choice and an extension of our personalities, I thought. Another way to crush the humans. An exciting new range of grey, blue and black people containers that force everyone to cede power to a computer, which then couriers you along the rush hour motorway at 6 mph, saving you the bother raising your weary head.

They don’t even want you to hold on to the wheel and pretend. They want to remove what small vestiges of joy are left to someone travelling on four wheels.

And anyway, we already have driverless cars. They are called trains.

So I thought.

Later, however, I was persuaded by one or two people who’d thought quite deeply about this technology to not be so glib.

If your instant reaction to this whole concept was but I rather like driving, well that was mine too. Except I don’t.

Driving is a joyless, anxious chore. When I drive I don’t feel like James Bond, I feel like an idiot participating in a terrible conspiracy, often at very low speed.

My dream car, the machine I admired from childhood, I now look at as a sort of abomination. Driving is a 70s dream. We have to let it go.

My motoring dream from childhood.

My motoring dream from childhood.

Driving can be a joy, but so can a playing computer game. A year or two from now you might get to decide which you would rather be doing as you commute down the M11.


Think about how our mostly rubbish towns and cities became so utterly tiresome and rubbish. It’s almost entirely because we gave cars top priority.

Cars need access, cars need options, cars need car parks and ring roads and one-way systems and traffic lights and signage and more lanes and more barriers.

The Cones of Despair welcome you to Crap Town Anywhere

Behold the Orange Cones of Despair / welcome to Crap Town Anywhere

Knock this down and modernise was the mantra, build another bypass. Inner and outer ring roads became like fortress walls and moats, blocking people from their public spaces.

What happened to our beautiful river front? Mr 70s decided it should be a dual carriageway.

Crap Signage

Crap Signage

Petrol Heads everywhere seem to hate the idea of Driverless Cars. And I think it’s because the average suburban Clarksonoid is so incensed that I decided to listen a little closer to this argument.

About 2000 people a year are killed on our (UK) roads. It used to be a lot higher. Those deaths are almost never due to mechanical failure. It’s almost always human error.

I imagine if that dropped to say 20 a year because there was no human error.

Imagine ‘the city’ being able to talk to every car and every car being able to talk to the city. Imagine how the city could guide the flow of traffic to maximum effect, avoiding the local annual silly hat parade or the route of a charity three-fifths marathon (they have those, right?).

The city and your car would know exactly where the nearest available parking space was, then let someone else know the minute you had vacated it. (How much of your life have you spent prowling for a space?)

Imagine all the electric vans making silent deliveries while the city sleeps, so that they are not part of the rush-hour dash.

Imagine the white-van-man has nothing to do on his way to work but stare out of the cab window…well no, don’t imagine that.

White van man

‘Show us your traffic cones, gorgeous!’ – the White Van Man

Imagine the city knows you and your car, where you commonly go, what time, and how long you tend to stay there before returning. Tap into that info and it sounds like you have the perfect basis for a car-pooling app, or a hitch-hiking revival.

But perhaps hitch-hiking with an eBay-style ratings system…

Megadeath1998 is 100% a nice passenger and needs a lift to Ashby de la Zouch… …You go there now and then. Can you take him along? He will chip in £5 for petrol via paypal. Don’t forget to leave positive feedback.

Imagine children allowed to play in the street again.

Imagine approaching the multi-storey car park, except now you get to climb out at the entrance to the cinema while your car goes up those 11 tedious floors.

Imagine driving to the pub but being driven home.

Imagine all the signage and clutter they could remove from your town or city because driverless cars obey the rules and know where they are going.

This might all seem a long way off right now and a little far fetched, but technologies like this have a habit of starting life as impractical, too costly and inferior to the current system. But as we’ve seen so often they can quickly overtaking everything.

Digital Cameras were once too expensive and not good enough. So were mobile phones. Then suddenly they overtook, like some angry silicon-based Clarkson on his way to sale at Halfords.

Things that might be consigned to history? Electronic motorway signage.

Things that might be consigned to history?

Technologies like this also have a habit of dismantling  a lot of old familiar infrastructure, and permanently. Look at this picture and image what that might mean. And the Government is already preparing the way.


Jan Gehl – What happens when an architect marries a psychologist?

Jan Gerl thinks about urban living quite a lot. He has transformed Copenhagen into one of the most livable cities in the world.

No British city ever gets placed on one of those ‘livable’ lists. Seems like it’s not in the British psyche to believe in anything better than adequate.

(side factoid: Denmark is about as densely populated as the UK, yet a house in Denmark has about 2/3 more floor space than an average house in the UK.)

Other bits of the world are catching up with Jan Gehl’s ideas.

If you’ve seen a congested,cluttered junction transformed into a tranquil, bike-and-pedestrian-friendly meeting place, with all signposts and barriers removed, then some of Jan’s ideas were probably being adopted.

His big idea is this: cities should work for everyone, not just those behind the wheel of a car.

Another idea is that the success of an urban centre isn’t purely about how good the shopping is. That’s how we tend to judge a town centre in the UK,  but Jan thinks it should be judged on how appealing it is to people who have no intention of spending money.

Imagine if the success of UK towns and cities was measured in happiness, or the number of outdoor chess games going on, the number of people sat reading, and not purely the number of profitable retail units.

Think on Mary Portas.

Liverpool – introducing its all new private police force and gated city centre – Published: 28 Sep 2006

Butt-raped by the Tories, now ‘stolen’ and sold off by Labour, Liverpool is being used in yet another of John Precott’s piss-poor PFI experiments.

If you think any of that stuff I spew about Tesco and ‘High Street Anywhere’ is appalling, you’ll die a little inside when you consider what they are currently doing to city centre Liverpool. 

43 acres at the heart of this city has been demolished to build shit like this… (See picture of shitty thing below.) Gosh how happy we’ll all be. People from all over Europe will flock to Liverpool because it has the newest, sparkliest versions of all the same chainstores you can find everywhere else.

And they’ve called it The Paradise Project

The faded splendour of Liverpool’s past is not to be restored, cherished and passed on to other generations. It is to be flattened so that Specsavers can expand. Now that’s short-sighted.

It is also – horror of horrors – privatized! Liverpool sold the whole area, public rights of way and everything, on a 250 year lease to a private company (Grosvenor). So, thanks to John Prescott, Liverpool city centre will have it’s own gated rules, it’s own privately run police force, you’ll have to conform to how the Grosvenor greedsters want you to behave when you cross into their domain… 

And so Liverpool becomes a Philip K Dick novel.

Liverpool One


Anna Minton’s work is concerned with other zones of conflict, subtler or more hidden, and worryingly closer to home. In her illustrations about how space is being privatised a shocking first emerged about Liverpool.

This is the first British city to agree to privatise part of its centre. The Grosvenor Paradise Project, covering 42 acres in the heart of the city, due for completion in time for 2008, is to be privately managed. Traditional rights of way will be replaced by ‘public realm arrangements’ policed by Grosvenor’s own ‘quartermasters’ or ‘sheriffs’, in which beggars, skateboarders and protesters will be outlawed.

Grosvenor will buy-in facilities like security and waste management, usurping the local authority’s role in its own city centre. “We are now seeing a real urban renaissance. A new Agenda – A new urbanism,” says John Prescott on the Paradise Project website.

The full, alarming article on the same subject… gives you an insight into the tiny PFI-addled mind of John Prescott.

Shopping for tat is what out economy is now based on. That’s the great, great sadness here I feel.

Also it is sad that, to the current generation of politicians, the success of a town or city is measured entirely on whether people shop there.



A visitor‘ left this comment on 17 Oct 06
How will anyone tell the difference from normal though?
Dogs Must Be Carried‘ left this comment on 14 Oct 06
So that’ll be riots in Liverpool in the spring of 2009, then. Excellent.


The Bull Ring becomes Bullring inc.

Published: 31 Aug 2003

Bullring Birmingham

Many of us have been to the dribbling sphincter known as Birmingham. It’s a place with problems.

I lived in and around the metropolis for approximately two years and some nights I still wake up screaming.

It’s been bombed by the Nazis and the IRA, it’s been Thatcherised (for Thatcherised read closed down and forgotten), it had the ’60’s vision’ applied to it and even had a questionable 90’s canal basin redevelopment. The yuppies turned up there in their tens, had a look, left.

OMG! You mean we can really shop here? Thank you God!

But wait. There’s more now for England’s second city as it is set to be healed by the power of shopping.

The Bull Ring is to become ” Bullring,” a massive new shopping centre. (PR Consultant: “hey, brainwave guys, instead of The Bull Ring, which evokes like dead bulls and blood and cow shit and the Spanish, let’s call it simply Bullring, one word, which evokes ‘Bling,’ ‘Red Bull and vodka’ and happiness stroke chilled out contentment.)

‘Bullring’ will now provide over 110,000 sq m (1.2m sq ft) of retail space. That’s not that great, remember bored Brummies hate walking too far.

There are over 140 shops and kiosks within Bullring..  (yes, but will there be somewhere to buy cuppa-soup?)

3,100 new car parking spaces were created for Bullring – 900 in Indoor Market car park, 1,000 in Bullring car park and  1,200 in Moor Street car park. (What they don’t tell you is the rail link is fucked and won’t be ready for another two years, the vicinity is clogged to all buggery with traffic and anyway – so that’s it for any public transport initiative. All new Shopping Centre Britain is clearly all about the car.)

Over 8,000 jobs were created within Bullring. (Yes, 8000 security guards and cleaners. Well done, Bullring. Have a Nobel Prize.)

Over half a million pounds a day was spent building Bullring. (And you’ll make that much back every day when it opens, for ever and ever, and give nothing back to the city, so don’t try and impress us with numbers. You’ll make VAST sums while other bits of the city (for ‘other bits’ read all the rest of Birmingham.) will continue to die.)

15,500 tonnes of steel are in Bullring that’s a ¼ of the steel in the Empire State Building. (And we’ve seen what happens to tall buildings in New York. Wonder if that was British steel btw? Or was perhaps from some other even more deserving economy?)

There s Approximately 90,000 metres³ of concrete within the new Bullring. This is enough concrete to stretch between Birmingham and Oban, Scotland, ten times! (Just what Birmingham needs, more concrete. Anyway, this fact is bollocks. There’s enough cheese in my fridge to stretch between Birmingham and Oban, Scotland ten times if you stretch it thinly enough.)

The following amounts of glass have been used in Bullring:
Skyplane:  Horizontal: 7,765 sq m
Vertical: 2,200 sq m
Structural:  2,381 sq m (You’re making it sound really 80s.)

Demolition of the old Bullring started the 30 June 2000, with completion in March 2001. (Now this I can’t argue with. You did the right thing knocking that old P.O.S. down, sadly you’ve just put another P.O.S. up. Why not build a park or a swimming pool too you money grubbing bastards?)

There were approximately 65,000 tonnes of concrete in the Old Bullring. During the demolition, the majority of the concrete went off site to a reprocessing plant.  Small quantities have been retained to provide Haul Roads and Ramps. (You recycled some concrete? I’m impressed! You’ll be putting it in the food next. This concrete reprocessing plant you mentioned, is it real? Or is it and imaginary reprocessing plant built curiously near a landfill site?)

The slope of Bullring from Rotunda down to St Martin s Church is approximately 18 metres or 40 feet, that is half the height of the Rotunda! (I don’t understand this one, are you saying it’s 40 feet long or 40 feet high. Slopes are usually expressed as an angle. Elucidate please, the people of Birmingham need to know.)

Externally, there is 12,000 sq m of granite and internally there is 13,000 sq m of limestone. (Internally there’s 13,000 sq m limestone? Don’t you know that’s water soluble? When these Brummies inevitably wee or are sick on your shopping centre, it will erode!)

22 trees will be planted within Bullring. (Does that make up for the 30 or so trees that were cut down around St Martin’s church? Ah, who needs oxygen anyway?)
The Bronze Bull situated in the square at the base of Rotunda is two and a half life sized and weighs 5 tonnes. (Nice bit of public art. That will stimulate our imaginations and elevate our spirits as we wander from JD Sports to Starbucks.)

3 light wands are situated in the square at the base of the rotunda. These act as beacons and are 20, 25 & 30 meters in height. (Now really, light wands? Please, just fuck off.)


‘A visitor’ left this comment on 5 Dec 03
the bullring is wickedsam smith

‘A visitor’ left this comment on 5 Dec 03
the bullring is really good but a bit expencive
jerry brown

‘A visitor’ left this comment on 16 Nov 03
Didya know it’s illegal to use your camera in there too? I got stopped twice today. Seems its all private property. You can apply for a Permit. (Weekdays only management office.) 😦

‘A visitor’ left this comment on 5 Nov 03
can u show me eny £100.00 shocksok thanck uy [kabir]

‘A visitor’ left this comment on 4 Sep 03
gosh you sound angry :(someone far away…