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.


6 Things That Would Vastly Improve Manchester

Manchester getting a bit exuberant

No jokes about dropping the atom bomb. We don’t want the fallout here in Cheshire.

We do want Manchester to be better though, but our nearest big City doesn’t have much pull. We need to confront a truth that we aren’t very good at cities these days.  No British city ever gets in those lists of the most livable. We don’t even get one in at the bottom.

To me that’s like never getting even a bronze in the whole history of the Olympics. We have poor air quality, expensive and unreliable public transport, clogged roads, characterless chain-stored-to-death centres (and then same again on the edge of town), uber car-centric infrastructure, and nowhere to hang out where you don’t feel some pressure to spend money.

1. Get Your Portici On.  

Awnings – they are perfect for a city with rain issues. Mancunians are sick of being reminded, especially by Londoners, that this city gets a lot of weather. This city seems to live in denial about being the first place Atlantic cloud systems dump their loads.

Manchester is such a [relatively] young city. You’d have thought the vast cotton industry wealth would have been ample to cover (literally) some city centre innovations to keep people dry and central when the sky is weeping.

A typical street in Bologna with porticoes.

A typical street in Bologna with porticoes.

There are examples to look at all over Europe, but check out Bologna. The whole city centre is lined with streets like these (24 miles-worth in fact), where people can walk under the cover of porticoes.

They can do business, hang out, shop etc. while staying out of either the scorching sun or the rain. And a bonus for city-dwellers is everyone living on the first floor and upwards gets an extra 15×20 feet of living space.

In Bologna that might be used for an extra long family dinner table and a shrine to Padre Pio. In Manchester that could mean room for an even bigger telly and a little indoor pot farm.

2. Canals as Cycle Routes.

Cycling by them, not in them. Again, hardly a secret in Europe as all canals lead to Rome, or the city centre. Except the ones in Manchester which weirdly get less cycle-able the nearer you get to the middle. It’s almost as if they want to keep cyclists out.

Bridgewater Canal

Bridgewater Canal

Take a canal ride from Sale to Stretford, for example, and you get a ten foot wide surfaced path, with honking geese, joggers, spring flowers and cheery old folk on longboats living off camping-stove bacon and tinned beer.

Continue on past Trafford Park and the same stretch of canal (see above) suddenly turns into a foot-wide strip of mud, with occasional moody-looking dopers to weave around.

The final stretch into the city centre is often simply blocked.

Bridgewater Canal for cyclists

Bridgewater Canal for cyclists

Manchester’s canals could combine the poetry of a gritty Northern heritage with a little Dutch-style romance, if only these routes were spruced up, optimised, made a feature of and embraced as a green and free way to commute.

3. The City Square. Piccadilly Gardens.

I can’t think of a worse city square that I’ve ever seen, anywhere. It’s the only square in the world that would actually be cheered up by the arrival of a column of Chinese tanks.

Piccadilly Gardens: The Beating Heart of Manchester

Piccadilly Gardens: The Beating Heart of Manchester

Not that its the job of architecture to be perpetually cheery, but it is the job of a city square to not be depressing. The job of the square is that of communal meeting space; it should be agreeable, it should require you to spend no money.

Trying to find something positive to say about Tadao Ando’s concrete pavilion, I suppose you could stage a convincing open air production of George Orwell’s 1984 here. I’m sure it was meant to be slightly arty but mostly something that blocked views of the bus station. [A better idea might have been to build a an attractive looking bus station, like Preston.]

concrete pavilion by Tadao Ando

Concrete Pavilion by Tadao Ando and a plastic toilet

Tadao himself more or less admitted his concrete wall was all wrong for this space, but it’s not his fault it’s there. He didn’t commission it.

The trick with ‘doing a Brutalism’ – if you’re determined to have some – is to be utterly defiant and bold. The main problem with the pavilion is it’s the most small and timid example Brutalism you could possibly find, outside of a Lego convention.

The encroachment of One Piccadilly Gardens onto the square I can not fathom. It’s an office block. 25% of the UK’s office space is empty. So why build more? On a city square?

I suspect Britain’s massively corrupt construction industry combined with Britain’s massively corruptible city councils came together here in a towering show of what’s possible with the right level of dim-witted, spineless opportunism, bent and secretive procurement processes and some shameless land-grabbing greed.

One Piccadilly Gardens

One Piccadilly Gardens

A lot of cities would love a big open space like this. Put some plinths up. Dozens of them. Take the cue from Trafalgar Square and run with it. Get rid of the grim grey wall. Put up a big glass awning.

4. A Greater Manchester Travel Card.

A one-day travel card, designed to let you explore your region, from Ramsbottom to Macclesfield, Wilmslow to Saddleworth. Why on earth not? The Toronto TTC day pass is a good example to follow. They actively encourage you to give the ticket to someone else when your done with it. Friendly Canadians.

5. Goodbye to Balconies.

Since the mid Blair-years, Britain has gone utterly bonkers spec-building ‘Luxury Apartments’. Nowhere more so than central Manchester. These are tiny one and two bed flats, smaller than the legally allowed smallness of last century’s Glasgow tenements.

Most of them were so flimsily-built you could, of an evening, sit down and listen to your neighbours blinking. These flats could accommodate  two people, they could accommodate the stuff two people might own, but they could not  accommodate  both.

The rusting balconies of Manchester

The rusting balconies of Manchester

What sold everyone on the idea of the balcony? I believe the clever spec-builders had twigged that the British – after decades of Spanish package holidays, presumably – equated a balcony with summer sun, good times and luxury.

One of Manchester's crap balconies (temporarily dry)

One of Manchester’s crap balconies (temporarily dry)

Manchester has gone balcony-building mad. They seemed to think building them would force the sun to come out. It didn’t. Nowadays we see leaking luxury apartments and balconies covered in rust.

6. Not so Central Park.

Manchester really needs to wrestle Pomona Docks away from Peel Holdings. Peel have been allowed to rule this part of the world for too long. They are not democratic. They don’t care about community. They are tax-dodging money grubbers who are happy to push elected leaders around. They want to turn this important bit of green space into (guess what?) yet more (yawn) luxury flats.

Pomona Docks, closest thing Manchester has to a city park

Pomona Docks, closest thing Manchester has to a city park

Manchester needs to keep this land as a water-fronted park and a place of natural wonders. But not a park as city councillors, town hall accountants and other assorted dullards think of parks. We don’t need formal rose beds and a statue of the King.

Push the boundaries of what a park can be. Keep it rough and wild, maybe. Look at what Paris did with Parc de la Villette in the 80s. What would an avant-garde Mancunian park-designer do in 2014?

[The above picture is one of a series and comes from an excellent study of the Pomona Docks area by Skyliner. Every thinking Mancunian and urban explorer should take a look at it.]

Spokes Persons at Quiet Protest – Published 26 Jul 2008

critical mass

I went on my first ever Critial Mass bicycle ride through London yesterday and felt quietly proud and very positive to have been part of the protest.

Critical Mass London is a very loose organisation. They have no real manifesto other than bikes are positive and why, in London, is there so little provision for them? Any other political message you bring along yourself.

The bicycle in front of me had a sticker on the back that read: It doesn’t take a war to power my bike.

The Mass meet at 6.00pm on the last Friday of every month on the South Bank under Waterloo Bridge, by the National Film Theatre.

They set off on a slow bike ride through London, delaying motorists by taking up the whole road. There is no planned route.

The Police – generally very supportive of the event – are on bikes too and stop the traffic at junctions. Pedestrians often cheer and snap pictures with their phones. 



Christian‘ left this comment on 3 Aug 08
Saw this on your Facebook page. Well done in taking part and nice photo!

Modern Life is Rubbish #2989022 – Published: 24 Feb 2007

Congestion Charge Cameras run by Capita

Modern life is rubbish. It makes no sense and costs a lot.

Latest update on Ken Livingstone’s Extended London Congested Zone…

The C-Charge website, where you must go to pay, is:

a) crashed
b) utterly awful
c) so badly designed that, after a while, you realise you must deliberately click on the wrong thing to find what you are after.
d) run by Capita

So this is what I now know about the Congestion Charge (after talking to a C-Charge Capita employee on the phone… 

If you are rich enough to live inside the C-Charge Zone and own a car, you are entitled to a residents discount. And the discount is amazing. For just £4 you get a full 7 days in the zone.

You can’t pay for less than seven days though, so if you only use your car once a fortnight, you have no option but to pay for a full seven days. My immediate thought was ‘well I’ve paid for seven days, I’m going to use it every day to get my money’s worth.’   

Bear in mind the charge is designed to deter people using their cars.

Would you rather pay £4 per week and use your car or £5.40 per day and use the overcrowded and mostly stationery public transport? That’s the choice now for London’s richest residents.

The rich of Kensington etc. save money and get richer! Yay. The poor of Shepherds Bush and beyond get poorer (It’s £8 a day for them).

Let’s Talk About Capita

Let’s take a minute to get to know Capita, the world famous piss-poor outsourcing company who believe it’s not important to get it right the first time and who make profits of £200million a year.

The Boss of Capita is one of these people who gave secret loans to the Labour Party (in exchange for lucrative contracts) and, some say, honours.

Google for news on Capita and what you get back is a cascade of failure and semi-criminal activity. Yet time and again they bid for that contract and, by jove, they get it. Here’s just a quick sample:

Capita subsidiary fined by the FSA after some of its staff helped to defraud customers.

Capita school registration system (paid for by Red Ken!) leaves hundreds of children without a school.

Capita, after a catalogue of failures running London’s congestion charge is been fined £1m

Capita’s systems used by The Criminal Records Bureau criticised after it fails to check staff working with children.

Tens of millions of pounds of government money defrauded from an adult education scheme run by company Capita.

It goes on and on.

And one final thought – since we registered for the congestion charge, we’ve mysteriously started receiving daily telesales calls, almost as if our details were sold on to third parties.


Dogs Must Be Carried‘ left this comment on 4 Mar 07
You forgot Capita’s continual fucking up of local government benefits departments.

10 Ways the Rich Can Drive Environmentally in London – and Still Look Rich! – Published: 20 Feb 2007

Despite the narrow streets, terrible fuel consumption, poor safety records, higher tax-brackets and every right-thinking person in the world banging on about how awful they are, the Chelsea Tractor remains a London must-have.

The Chelsea Tractor

The Chelsea Tractor

And the latest big discovery is that your big Discovery is actually the most unreliable car on the road. These monsters are now officially moronic on every level. But people won’t part with them yet and this is why: you can’t show the world how rich and important you are in small, sensible car.

People need a Symbol of Urban Vanity (you see what I did there?) I’ll get to the point…

These Tractor owners know they look dim and unethical but they are paralysed by the lack of alternatives. There is no car on the market that say’s ‘Hey, I’m very rich and important but I also care about the environment’.

If these people were to buy a small, economical car, and take their one child (usually called Hermione) to school in it, other rich parents would gaze down from their four-tonne Range Rovers and assume some hardship, some stock price collapse was to blame.

Until manufacturers fix the all to apparent gap in the market – namely very expensive small cars – are ten ideas aimed at helping the unfortunate rich

1. Have a Suzuki Swift plated with gold leaf and the steering wheel studded with diamonds (making sure they are fair-trade diamonds, obviously).

2. Swap your GL Class Mercedes for a Citroen Xsara Picasso but, get this, have one with a real Picasso, laminated and stuck on bonnet.

3. Can’t part with your big Mercedes? (Hitler felt the same way.) Well here’s an idea… Four people riding two welded-together tandems is effectively a 4×4. Combine that with a fibreglass shell, designed to look like your GL Class and hey-presto! You’re 100% green and 100% still the King of South Kensington.

4. Run a Toyota Yaris but tow a luxury yacht behind – all the time. (As an extra little touch of class you could also leave a box of Ferrero Rochers on the dashboard.)

the Reva Classe - it has no clutch5. The Green Motorcade. Look incredibly important by running a Reva G-Wiz (pictured) but have two uniformed security men on electric mopeds, with whilstles, riding one in front and one behind.

6. Instead of taking little Tarquin and Jocasta to school in your giant Ford Explorer, why not have the Explorer converted into a school? Leave it on the drive. Think of all the time you’d save and, what’s more, you’d avoid the school postcode lottery!

7. Have a Reva G-Wiz fitted with a rhino-bar and knobbly off-road tyres. The laws of perspective (and some carefully daubed mud?) might fool anyone seeing it in their peripheral vision that it’s a mammoth 4×4 parked quite a long way off.

8. Take the bus, only when you get on, pay for everyone. People will be in no doubt you’re a high-roller. You could also sit upstairs and continue to enjoy that all important ‘sitting-high-up’ feeling.

9. Do you enjoy that feeling of burning five times as much petrol as you really need to because you’re rich and, heck,  you can? Try this instead: buy leaky champagne glasses and eat caviar off a record player set to 45r.p.m. You’ll get that same surging feeling of decadent waste but you won’t have to sit in traffic.

10. Range Rovers break down a lot, so buy a small economical car and have your local Range Rover dealership logo painted on the side. Everyone will assume you’ve been given a loaner while your ‘real’ car is being fixed (again).



Dogs Must Be Carried‘ left this comment on 9 May 07
Further to the above, there’s a review of the G-Wiz in the new edition of Top Gear magazine, out this week. Apparently, it fails crash tests at 40mph. That is, it would if it had actually taken part in some – it’s classed as a quadricycle and is therefore exempt from such pre-sale safety procedures. Happy motoring, everyone!
Dogs Must Be Carried‘ left this comment on 5 Mar 07
I was going to…but all of a sudden there was this gust of wind and…well, the last I saw, it was floating over Petty France.
Tim‘ left this comment on 4 Mar 07
Ha! See this is what I’m talking about. You can’t stop certain people from feeling more important than everyone else. But if we could just get them to do it in a sensible car…(I hope you politely picked the car up and moved it in line with the kerb.)
Dogs Must Be Carried‘ left this comment on 4 Mar 07
I walked past the Channel Four building a couple of days ago and there was a G-Wiz parked outside, yet – despite its piddly size – the owner had still managed to park it in the generously-sized space at a 37-degree angle.

Zoning Out – Published: 8 Oct 2006

congestion charge cameras

New Congestion Charge cameras appeared last week at the bottom of Holland Park Avenue. Protest all you like, they’re going ahead with the expansion.

Sadly it’s so expensive to use public transport in London, there’s little incentive to leave the car behind. If that is indeed the aim. Nicer to be sat in grid-locked traffic in your own car than on a bus.

Now that the Routemaster bus, the greatest transit innovation London ever had, has been decommissioned, buses have become small red prisons you can get on, but can’t get off.

Transport for London says: “As part of the Mayor‘s Transport Strategy, congestion charging will also be accompanied by a wide range of measures designed to make public transport easier (use an Oyster card – or a “Seek Assistance” Card as some call it), cheaper (are you kidding? It’s the most expensive in the world!), faster (gridlocked) and more reliable (are we taking about the same public tranpsort system???).”



Dogs Must Be Carried‘ left this comment on 14 Oct 06
Ah, yes…Oyster…the only card in one’s wallet for which one will never receive a statement. Which means TfL can get away with charging people what it likes when it likes…

End of the Road for Totally Demented Vehicle – Published: 13 May 2006

The Hummer

Enough rednecks and gangsta rappers have come to their senses to cause a serious fall in demand for the Hummer. It will be discontinued.

This car was once considered a status symbol (the achieved status here presumably being that of  ‘Grade A F*ckwit’).

The truck did a gas-haemorrhaging 10 miles to the gallon on the flat and was an instant hit with the rich and stupid, people like Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example.

The Hummer (also known as The Completely Wrong P.O.S.) was launched in 1992 and was designed along the principle that the oil’s nearly all gone, so let’s drive something that not only conspicuously squanders what’s left, but also makes you look like a militaristic meat-headed misanthrope.

The insecurity-mobile, built for small-time fascists, gun-nuts and pimps, weighs four tons. It cost $130,000 and doesn’t fit in parking spaces.


A visitor‘ left this comment on 13 May 06
That’s probably why ol’ Jeremy Clarkson loved it too eh?___________________

Iannucci News from From Cookd and Bombd… Published: 12 May 2006

Here’s some great comedy-related news…The Armando Iannucci Shows have finally been cleared for a DVD release, and it will be available in May with some slight music changes.

This news comes courtesy of benthalo, who actually organised the internet campaign to get the shows released. So, if you sent an email or letter then it wasn’t in vain, your support was crucial to securing this release.


Dogs Must Be Carried‘ left this comment on 16 May 06
He’s so good at telly.