Rural England revolts against GPS

Perhaps the revolt against the hypertrophy of the technosphere has finally begun. We’ve already noted the rebellion at a Druze village in Israel against the local siting of a cellphone antennae, and the strike by New York City taxi drivers against the mandatory fitting of their cars with GPS. On Nov. 27, the New York Times’ City Room blog reported on the case of Judge Robert M. Restaino of municipal court in Niagra Falls, NY, who in a fit of what the city’s Commission on Judicial Conduct called “inexplicable madness,” threatened to arrest all 70 people in his courtroom unless a cell phone that had gone off was turned over. Perhaps such draconian measures are called for, although a general abolition would be far preferable. On Dec. 4, the Times reported a startlingly hopeful development from the English countryside:

Rural Britain wants to take itself off the GPS map
WEDMORE, England: This little village would seem to be an obviously poor place through which to drive your average large truck. It is in an obscure rural location. Its streets were built in the days of horses and carts. There is no room to pass and no room to maneuver.

But trucks and tractor-trailers come here all the time, as they do in similarly inappropriate spots across Britain, directed by GPS navigation devices, which fail to appreciate that the shortest route is not always the best route.

“They have no idea where they are,” said Wayne Hahn, a local store owner who watches a daily parade of vehicles come to grief – hitting fences, shearing mirrors from cars and becoming stuck at the bottom of Wedmore’s lone hill. Once, he saw an enormous tractor-trailer speeding by, unaware that in its wake it was dragging a passenger car, complete with distraught passenger.

With villagers at their wits’ end, John Sanderson, chairman of the parish council, has proposed a seemingly simple remedy: getting the route through Wedmore removed from the GPS navigation systems used by large vehicles.

“We’d like them to have appropriate systems that would show some routes weren’t suitable for HGVs,” Sanderson said, using shorthand for heavy goods vehicle.

Sanderson said he would not go so far as to advocate eradicating Wedmore from the map. But communities in similar predicaments – and there are hundreds of them, given that Britain is replete with tiny rural villages similarly ill-suited for big trucks – say that such a solution sounds good to them.

“We’ve said, just take us off the map, actually,” said Geoff Coombs, chairman of the parish council in Barrow Gurney, a village that, despite being too small to have a sidewalk, is host to some 15,000 vehicles a day – cars as well as larger vehicles – whose GPS systems identify it as a good alternative route to Bristol Airport.

But that is easier said than done.

“We map the reality – the streets, the signposts and the road infrastructure as it is in reality,” said Dick Snauwaert, a spokesman for Tele Atlas, which provides digital maps to portable navigation systems. “We cannot change that reality in our data base. Who are we to make a change and say, ‘You cannot drive in that road’ if, in reality, you can drive in that road.”

Snauwaert said that it was up to local communities to make it clear what roads were not appropriate for trucks, and to install signs saying so. The relevant information, including things like height, width and weight constraints, could then eventually be integrated into the data bases used for GPS devices, he said.

It may take months, if not years, to get to the next step of manufacturing GPS devices for trucks – or lorries, as they call them here – that take into account the more sophisticated information. But local governments are working to compile the necessary data. “If we can get the right information, then we can start re-routing the lorries,” said Richard Matthews, the senior transport planner for Somerset County Council, which is taking the lead in pushing for a country-wide approach. In a survey of local governments, Somerset found that 82 percent of communities had experienced GPS-related traffic problems.

“I’ve just come from a community today where a lorry had literally lifted the roof off a house as it tried to get past,” Matthews said.

The revolt of the localities against the global monoculture and enroaching technosphere—a very encouraging sign. But will these struggles become conscious and coalesce in time to provide some meaningful resistance? A question with grave issues for the future of humanity.

See our last posts on the rebellion against the technosphere, and the twin tyrannies of car culture and cyber culture.

See also WHY WE FIGHT.