How to get to school and avoid the gridlock

Every parents’ dilemma: How to get to school and avoid the gridlock.

Is your neighborhood also adjusting to the new residents-only zones introduced recently by councils across the city? The aim is good, to shut down rat-runs and make child-heavy roads quieter, cleaner and safer.

The result is kettling traffic on main roads which then crawls painfully along at 1mph. London is already the slowest city in the world. After a few month’s of suffering this trend in both Fulham and Putney, where a 10min drive at 9pm turns into 1.5 hours on non-WFH days, I thought: ok I get it, the car has had its day, and ignoring this revelation is turning me prematurely grey. It’s all very well to discourage car-driving, but what practical alternatives are there??

Rear view of modern car with brake lights on during rush hour

How do you get to school every morning?

The first of the big obstacle on my particular journey is the Upper Richmond Road, great tracts of which are now inaccessible to cut-through traffic during rush hour. My young charge lives on one side and I on the other of Putney’s great N-S divide. (S is posher). The options are 1) braving Putney High Street or 2) making a massive but scenic detour round Gypsy Lane to join the 4,000 extra cars with the same brilliant idea coming from Barnes, due to the Hammersmith Bridge closure.

Time to get creative. I lay in bed playing out different scenarios. Travel scenarios?

The kid is 5, so walking was out. Trains go to Waterloo, that’s no use. And the tube is 1) always on strike or down with signal failure and 2) a faff due to its location on the wrong side of Putney’s other great divide, E-W this time : The High Street of Doom (W is posher). Second most polluted road in the country, it exceeds its yearly EU air pollutant quota in two weeks, I’m pleased to report. Who needs to drag a young thing through that every day. Residents of Putney avoid it like the plague. So, nah. Buses? There’s one bus that would get us door to door. But they’re unreliable, get stuck, come in convoy, break down, stop for a swap-over, don’t stop when full, stop when they’re ahead of schedule… nope.

What are we left with? Bicycles, either of the mobile-tent sort or individual, are all death traps, thanks to gimmicky cycle tracks that aren’t respected by drivers, and which run out of paint at roundabouts or when you need to cross traffic. No cyclist should be sharing space with a bus or lorry.

What are we left with? Scooters. Ah. The whole journey would be too much till the child is a bit older. But what if… we combined some car and some scoot? New word for you, car-ooting.

Where to transition? I studied a map and found the optimum place to park in the morning, right by the new LED 7-10am No Entry sign on to the Upper Richmond Road, bastardly thing. Would we be late every day, because a small child scooting is equivalent to an adult’s walking pace. Nothing for it but to experiment and leave 10 mins earlier. The family is alerted, the new helmet tested, the rain gear hauled out, my son’s 22 year-old MICRO dusted off and oiled, the journey practised on a Sunday, the pieces are in place.

Would you believe this rigmarole?

So our mornings now look like this: after a weather check and dressing accordingly, I park up in Dryburgh, on the railway bridge, where there are always spaces, I get my scooter out, plug in to some Def Leppard and I give the No Entry CCTV monitor the finger which caught me out once and stung me for 65 quid.

I scoot up Putney Hill through beautifully manicured back streets, scoop up my charge, and we mosey down together, greeting people, taking photos and collecting dropped flowers. How blissful. One lovely lady invited us to peer in to her front room and admire her hibernating tortoise. The next day we slowed down to do just that but saw her silhouette, breakfasting no doubt, and carried on, not wishing to intrude.

The drive from car-pick-up allows us to queue-barge into Lower Richmond Road, ahead of the Barnes run-off which has been crawling along for the last 25mins. AND avoid PHS! Bloody maaaarvelous. We leave both scooters at school. I do have to deal with some residual traffic back over the bridge, but I normally sit in a Fulham cafe The Açai (asa-ee) Girls till the parking zone activates.

In the afternoon, I cut out two Bridge drives. I park up Putney-side of the river, taking care to stay in my parking zone, and out of the flood zone. I half-walk half-dance to her school, collect her, give her snack number 1 to steel her for the journey, trying to avoid looking smug as we flit past all The Unenlightened. We scoot back to the car, where Snack 2 awaits. Yes, all this had to be thought through. I drive her up the hill with her favourite Harry Potter and the ‘Philoffossoss’ Stone on Spotify.

What a saga, just to get out of driving, which is my job after all. All parties seem to be glad of the change though, me especially, now released from the stress of facing off pushy commuter drivers. It’s a bit of exercise, so we’re both sleeping better, we can touch the seasons, meet neighbors, drop into shops, discuss the day and, well, it’s really pleasant.

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