Sunrise 19 August 2021 - JAMES RUSSELL
I wanted to spend this hour enjoying seeing my city from a new angle, from a place of solitude, with the time to take things in. And for the most part, I did. To the east, the city is surprisingly green; trees abound and in places seem to dominate. The vast sweep of the Humber dominates, dividing Lincolnshire on one side from the low crescent of the Yorkshire Wolds on the other. The great bridge across that divide, so vast that the tops of its towers are further apart than its bases to account for the curvature of the Earth. Closer, the green oasis of Queens Gardens and at its far end the pepper pots of the old Dock Offices, now the Maritime Museum, temporarily infested with Kraken tentacles, and the bright green roof of City Hall.
But, as enjoyable as all that was, as the city wakes, the overwhelming impression I take away from my time here is that this is a city being killed by cars. Once you become accustomed to where the buildings, the trees, the rivers, all the things that don’t move, are, the thing that catches your eye is movement. Movement means people, life. But most of that life I could not see; it was hidden from view in a dangerous, polluting, metal cage.
For a short while I tried to do a count – in the time I saw five people walking or on bikes I saw countless cars, vans, lorries – maybe a hundred, maybe more. Even up here, and even at this early hour, the incessant thrum of traffic, of tyres on tarmac, is constant, inescapable.
There was a time during the first Covid lockdown when traffic almost stopped. It was glorious, to be able to cycle or walk the streets without danger, without breathing exhaust fumes, with freedom. Newspaper columns and social media threads lauded the quiet, the ability for people to reclaim the streets, expressed the hope that this could be the new normal. Looking at the city from on high today, it is clear such hopes have not come to fruition. Despite the installation of a few cycle lanes here and there – fought tooth and nail every step of the way by drivers – the city is as dominated by cars as ever it was. The mindset has not changed. Even the instructions emailed to participants in the Vigil tell us where we can park our cars but say nothing about where we can park our bikes, even though the vast majority of participants must presumably live within a few miles of the city centre.
Meanwhile, not far away, sits the Humber, slowly but inevitably rising.