Wednesday 23 January 2019

Ring Road of Doom - 'The tortured souls on the wretched M50 deserve rescuing'

My husband is now condemned to an M50 commute, says Sarah Carey, who pleads for political action

Sarah Carey
Sarah Carey
Sarah Carey

Sarah Carey

In previous missives, I've mentioned that my husband was obliged during the worst of the recession to ply his wares abroad. He was never exactly ecstatic heading off to the airport; but my mother, who is right about everything, used to proclaim: "It could be worse! He could be on the M50!"

My friend the psychoanalyst was equally dismissive about my laments on being a recessionary single parent. "If he got a job at home, he'd be gone from 7am until 7pm, so he'd be no use to you anyway. And you'd have to listen to all his boring work stories and M50 complaints." The lore of the Ring Road to Rule Them All looms large in our collective consciousness.

Sure enough, the Fine Gael Recovery hit in June, when he was offered not one but two jobs, both based near the M50.

He's a devotee of public transport, but research revealed there was no way either job could be reached without a car. I'd been proud of our 'one' lifestyle: one house; one car; one holiday. It seemed reasonable - like we weren't demanding too much of the world. If we didn't sup too greedily from the cup of life, perhaps our occasional meagre requests from the cosmos might be answered. On such superstitious bargainings are my life's hopes pinned.

Stock image
Stock image

In any event, he picked a job; we bit the bullet and joined the two-car club.

And so, he comes in the door in the evening, grey and drained; pleading for comfort; relating the latest apocalyptic delays. He says the worst part is the sympathy disparity between a flight and a drive.

When he got off a plane, people were excited and altruistic. "How was the flight? Delayed? Oh, how awful!" There'd be enquiries about jet-lag and clucking over poor catering and offers of naps and lie-downs. The M50 travails create sympathy fatigue. He's supposed to just accept it, like they tell us to do with all of life's hurdles.

He's tried various strategies, such as leaving early or late, but what constitutes rush-hour has expanded beyond all previously known boundaries. There's a lull between about 10.30am and 3pm. Before and after is complete mayhem.

Mostly it's just volume, but he says he wouldn't mind a slow crawl. The problem is that you can't relax because of the terrible driving. Half the drivers behave as if changing a lane to exit or enter the dreaded motorway is illegal, and refuse to let you in. Truck drivers are the worst. There's nothing more terrifying than making a merge-attempt while a massive truck accelerates to make sure you don't get in front.

Then there are the lane-hoppers feverishly gripped by a kind of vehicular affluenza - the anxiety that everyone else is moving faster. Needless to say, amid this madness, all it takes is one person to brake unexpectedly and you've got a crash - the result of which is a traffic jam that might ease up next Tuesday. And all the time, the souls of poor commuters are sucked dry.

One is conscious that like us buying the second car, the M50 disaster is a problem of success. I visited the traffic control centre in Dublin City Council last year and they told me they knew the economy was improving long before official statistics were released. They could pinpoint the week when the number of cars on the M50 exceeded boom levels.

But what to do? These tortured souls on this wretched road deserve rescuing. Buses are the obvious quick fix. But I can already see the lawyers gearing up for rows over land acquisition for park-and-ride sites, while the losers of the bus-contract competitions hold everything up by suing.

The commuting classes will surely break and seek out an authoritarian leader who can solve their problems. My advice to political leaders paralysed by process is to act radically. Think of Mary Harney and the smog. Charlie and the free travel. Whoever solves the M50 problem will live forever in our hearts and history.

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