Boris Johnson’s channel bridge would be a car crash in more ways than one

Boris cycling. Image: Getty.

As Boris Johnson’s Churchillian dream of a road bridge across the Channel Tunnel emerged and then quickly disappeared, it got me questioning a logistical issue. The French drive on the right, and the English on the left; so what would happen in the middle of Boris’s hypothetical bridge? If it was going to be the high speed connection that he hoped for, it wouldn't do to have an automobile mosh pit in the middle.

The UK has the privilege of being an island, so the two systems don’t ever meet. The same sadly can’t be said for the rest of the Left-Hand Traffic world – largely countries which were, at one point, a part of the British Empire. Just as we exported our uniquely difficult range of units to the colonies, so too did we insist they drive on the left.


Blue = Left Hand Traffic, Red = RHT. Image: Benjamin D. Esham/Wikimedia Commons.

As empires collapsed and the world globalised, the left driving countries trended towards driving on the right. Sometimes this was just to spite their previous colonial oppressors, but there were also local and regional considerations as well. After all, if your larger, more economically powerful neighbours used a different system, you might align with them to encourage cross border trade etc (looking at you, Canada).

Pakistan considered swapping sides in the 60s but couldn’t because of the wide use of camels. The camel trains had been trained to keep to the left so that riders could get some shut eye during the long journeys, and it was considered too difficult to retrain them, so the whole country kept with Left-Hand Traffic (LHT).

So, thanks to a weird mix of history and local context, we now have borders across the world where Left- and Right-Hand Traffic meet.  Poor LHT Thailand and Kenya each have three land borders with countries that drive on the other side of the road. Most of these border points manage the change over with traffic lights, which works when there are only small numbers of vehicles making the switch. But for the billions of cars that Johnson envisions using the Channel Bridge (Chidge?), traffic lights just won’t cut it.

Lotus Bridge in Macau. Image: BurnDuck/Wikimedia Commons.

The Lotus Bridge manages the swap from RHT China to LHT Macau far more smoothly. Macau was a Portuguese colony and as such developed a different system to its larger neighbour. In the same year that the small island was ceded to China, the bridge opened, complete with a clever interchange on the Chinese side to ensure those coming across from Macau ended up on the right side (in both senses of the word). As its title would suggest, the bridge supposedly looks like a lotus flower, although ask a teenage boy and you may receive a different comparison. 


So traffic lights won't cut it for BoJo’s mythical bridge, but neither would an interchange akin to that of the Lotus Bridge. Not only would the British school system collapse under immature giggling, but the project would sink under arguments over which side of the Channel should play host to the interchange, and, thus, on which side you drive on while actually on the bridge. Which is exactly the type of issue that would matter almost nowhere else in the world other than Whitehall and the Élysée Palace, where it would matter greatly.

Therefore, I propose that about half way along this bridge – which will probably never be built anyway probably – the traffic coming from England slowly drops down before looping under the oncoming traffic and coming up again with the opposite lanes on their left. No slow traffic lights required, no phallic interchanges, and no damaged national pride. Boris, where’s my consultation fee?

 
 
 
 

Podcast: The Great Northern Rail Crisis

Manchester Victoria station during a 2017 strike. Image: Getty.

You wouldn’t necessarily know it reading the news from London, but the north of England’s railway network is in a bit of a mess. Delayed electrification work, a new timetable, mass cancellations, the whole shebang.

To explain how bad things are, and how they got that way, I’m joined by Jen Williams, political and social affairs editor for the Manchester Evening News. She tells me why nobody seems sure who’s to blame for this mess, and whether there’s any realistic chance of anyone tidying it up any time soon. All that, and we talk about Andy Burnham, too.

The episode itself is below. You can subscribe to the podcast on AcastiTunes, or RSS. Enjoy.

Skylines is supported by 100 Resilient Cities. Pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation, 100RC is dedicated to helping cities around the world become more resilient to the physical, social and economic challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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