And The Motorcade Sped On
November 10, 2014 6:52 AM   Subscribe

How do you get your VIPs from A to B? The motorcade, that seemingly endless stream of steel and blue light which takes possession of however much public highway it likes. If you're America, Russia or China, it's almost a competitive sport over who has the longest, with city blocks and motorway lanes locked off for the security bubble. London does it a little differently...

Join the Metropolitan Police's Special Escort Group for two trips across town, as they hopscotch their way between lanes and junctions, sliding themselves and their guests through snarled-up traffic and the city's baroque streets. Heathrow to New Scotland Yard in under half an hour, during the day? No problem. If you don't fancy spending too long staring at a traffic cop's backside, skip to 23:20 for the second sped-up segment.

Previously.
posted by Devonian (50 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
An uneasy hat-tip for the title.
posted by ardgedee at 6:59 AM on November 10, 2014


Too soon?
posted by Devonian at 7:04 AM on November 10, 2014


At 08:30 to 08:50 - one of the things that always really impressed me about UK police bike riders is just how slow they go before they put their foot down. No wobbling, but the wheels are generally stationary before their foot comes of the pegs.
posted by Brockles at 7:12 AM on November 10, 2014


Russia does it a little differently too.

(This has been making the rounds of twitter)
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:13 AM on November 10, 2014 [7 favorites]


"It's always good to thank people. Takes the complaints out of it."
posted by notyou at 7:15 AM on November 10, 2014


One of the more surreal, but enjoyable, experiences of living in DC was running to catch a bus that I just knew I wasn't going to make, only to have the bus pull over while a motorcade passed, giving me just enough time to make it to the stop. Given the date and location it was probably Cheney; it might have been the most positive thing he did while in office, too.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:18 AM on November 10, 2014 [28 favorites]


Yes, I'm afraid so, Devonian. For the same reason that the 'Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?' joke elicits very few laughs - even today.
posted by McMillan's Other Wife at 7:28 AM on November 10, 2014 [3 favorites]


The technical expertise at moving a convoy through London's traffic is impressive (as is the quality of their motorcycle skills, as noted above), but I will also admit to being irrationally angered by special treatment for important people, including motorcades that interrupt traffic. I don't care if you are head of the IMF or prime minister of wherever, seeing someone get VIP treatment makes me think improperly revolutionary thoughts.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:37 AM on November 10, 2014 [12 favorites]


Mm. I use that too, but only because it does get laughs. Insensitive dolthood or cultural differences: I will disagree with neither.
posted by Devonian at 7:40 AM on November 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


I don't care if you are head of the IMF or prime minister of wherever, seeing someone get VIP treatment makes me think improperly revolutionary thoughts.

So you don't consider this treatment any kind of security element? That they need a level of protection as a potential target? If there were constant threats against your life, would you prefer to be treated differently?
posted by Brockles at 7:44 AM on November 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


Surely the same degree of security could be achieved less ostentatiously and with less disruption to the public.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:52 AM on November 10, 2014 [6 favorites]


This is very impressive. Who can I contact to hire them out to get me from my house to Heathrow, without stopping at Liverpool Station, next Tuesday? I can't imagine it'd cost more than the rail.
posted by still bill at 7:53 AM on November 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


When I graduated from high school in 1990 I had a very small party: an open house on a Sunday afternoon for half a dozen old friends and their parents. I thought that most of them were standing me up, until I found out that Mikhail Gorbachev's motorcade had sealed off all the routes to my house!

The governor's mansion in Minnesota is about mile up the street from our house. Security staff had closed off Summit Avenue, plus the cross street to the interstate (Lexington, I think), and the highway out to the airport. Only my friends Lori & Matt who lived west of us could make it on time: everyone else was stuck.

Of course no one I knew had a car phone (a.k.a. a bag phone) back then, so we were mystified. Eventually the streets were re-opened, but man my little heart broke for half an hour!

BTW, that logo by Duffy Design for the visit is still sweet!
posted by wenestvedt at 8:04 AM on November 10, 2014 [3 favorites]


I used to work in an office on the main route used to deliver VIPs to central Cambridge (usually royals of some description). So I've seen this done a few times. It's very slick and impressive - the traffic is only stopped for a few minutes, if that.

I also got to find out the noise that a bus full of tourists makes when, right at the start of their completely ordinary daytrip to a pretty university town, they look up and see the Queen of England motoring past.
posted by gnimmel at 8:06 AM on November 10, 2014 [4 favorites]


Surely the same degree of security could be achieved less ostentatiously and with less disruption to the public.

Any suggestions? People are inconvenienced to the absolute minimum for the relatively safe method of a car going almost constantly at 25mph on a random route. That's pretty damn secure. Only one person knows the exact route and it takes 6 police officers across 3 bikes and two cars (from what I could tell) to transport someone safely and the general public is only inconvenienced for about 30 seconds to a minute each.

I thought the almost total lack of disruption was one of the most impressive things about it. Worst case was someone could have missed a traffic light cycle. How can you possibly generate that kind of security unless you fly everyone in and out in helicopters, which would be far more expensive.
posted by Brockles at 8:30 AM on November 10, 2014 [8 favorites]


The only reason I recognize the reference in the title is because of Negativland's Guns.
posted by Slothrup at 8:34 AM on November 10, 2014


Surely the same degree of security could be achieved less ostentatiously and with less disruption to the public.

This seems like a not very ostentatious display of security -- and the disruption to traffic looks to be mostly minimal. Funeral processions cause more disruption.

Here in SoCal, whenever the President comes to fund raise, they shut down whole roads, for hours at a time:
From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, police will be blocking traffic around Beverly Boulevard and North Doheny Drive.

From 2 to 4 p.m., the area around La Brea Avenue and West Olympic Boulevard in Mid-Wilshire will be affected, and from 4 to 8 p.m., roads around West 3rd Street and Rossmore Avenue in Hancock Park will see delays.

Rimpau Boulevard, between Edgewood Place and Olympic, and Olympic between Rimpau and West boulevards, will also be shut down the entire day, according to the LAPD.

From 4 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, the area around Beverly and Doheny will remain affected by the president’s visit, along with the area around Grand Avenue and West Washington Boulevard downtown.

The president will be in the Pacific Palisades area of Sunset Boulevard and Mandeville Canyon Road between 9 and 11 a.m., then Brentwood between 10 a.m. to noon and Exposition Park, near Figueroa Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, from 1 to 3 p.m.

Police will close West Martin Luther King from Hoover to South Figueroa streets; Figueroa from Exposition Park Drive and West Martin Luther King Jr.; West Washington between South Flower Street and Grand; South Flower between West Washington and West 23rd Street, and South Grand between West Washington and West 23rd.
Our wags have nicknamed these traffic snarls "Obamajams," as in "Obamajam returns this week as the President fundraises at Gwyneth Paltrow's West Hollywood home..."
posted by notyou at 8:34 AM on November 10, 2014 [3 favorites]


The French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, passed by me in one of these escorts a few weeks back. His car had the registration number FRA1.

Also, it turns out France has a Prime Minister, who knew?
posted by knapah at 8:45 AM on November 10, 2014


Sorry; I was referring to the ostentatiousness and disruption of American motorcades. The London method seems like an excellent alternative.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:52 AM on November 10, 2014 [3 favorites]


Only watched the speed-up bit - Do they explain why they go past Hyde Park Corner twice - once in the Piccadilly underpass?

(also, entering the underpass when the exit isn't clear doesn't seem great, security-wise)
posted by grahamparks at 9:10 AM on November 10, 2014


Here in SoCal, whenever the President comes to fund raise, they shut down whole roads, for hours at a time

Indeed. Several years ago I flew into LAX, landed around 3PM, and I had a dinner reservation with a friend for 7PM in Beverly Hills (I think). But Obama was in town for a fundraiser, and I ended up 20 minutes late because I spent two hours in side roads, because they'd closed Olympic or Pico, and there was basically no way for me to get there.

Kind of made me think that maybe a helicopter would be better? You'd certainly inconvenience far fewer people. Or maybe this is where our flying cars come in.
posted by suelac at 9:18 AM on November 10, 2014


The day I led the motorcade: I was driving home from work one day and after a few blocks, noticed that my normally slow commute was moving quite well. Then I noticed police motorcycles at every intersection, then they started waving me through, whether or not I had a green light. There seemed to be a bunch of black SUVs behind me. I got home in record time and as I turned onto my side street, the motorcade passed by in all its glory. Later I saw pictures of FLOTUS and the girls at a Laker game (back when the Lakers were good, obviously).

That almost made up for the 3 hours it took me to get home in the great Obamajam of 2010.
posted by mogget at 9:45 AM on November 10, 2014 [8 favorites]


The arrogance of politicians shutting down big parts of cities to move around is offensive. This low-impact approach seems distinctly British. I think I've seen something similar in Paris.

Another perq enjoyed by the US president is shutting down airspace for a 30nm radius all around wherever POTUS happens to be. Small airports closed, planes grounded. Scheduled commercial flights are still let through, but (generally) not smaller planes and unscheduled operations. It's been a particular problem in Hawai'i, where an Obama vacation is enough to shut down half the state's sightseeing operations. About once a month some stupid GA pilot doesn't check his briefing and ends up with an unrequested fighter jet escort. One wonders if they're prepared to actually shoot down an unauthorized aircraft, raining bits of flaming debris into city streets.
posted by Nelson at 9:46 AM on November 10, 2014 [4 favorites]


I wonder how much the security and drama surrounding presidential motorcades and similar ostentatious displays of security and power have to do with the cold war, and the president having his finger on 'the button'. When one man has the power to annihilate all life on earth, it must go to one's head a bit.
posted by empath at 9:58 AM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm tempted to say the reason they went around Hyde Park Corner twice was 'because they could'.

Something I meant to include in the FPP but couldn't quite find was how they do it in places where they really don't care. The best example is probably the Zil Lanes in Soviet Russia, and the article also mentions the Olympic Lanes for London 2012 - which really did tick people off.

The most impressive recent example of motorcades in general I've seen was in Beijing, where two lanes of an eight-lane (?) blacktop were closed off for hours for a ten-minute long stream of big black cars. The rest of the traffic was basically stationary for the duration, although to be fair that seemed to be business as normal.
posted by Devonian at 10:00 AM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


One wonders if they're prepared to actually shoot down an unauthorized aircraft, raining bits of flaming debris into city streets.

They are armed. They fly weapons-cold, of course, but if you are intercepted and don't immediately comply with directions, the next action may be a warning (flares deployed in front of the intercept aircraft at first), the one after that will result in you being downed. Or, as the NOTAMS say..
!FDC 1/0609 FDC special notice—restricted/prohibited area enforcement—effective immediately, [civil] aircraft flying inside, or in close proximity to, newly established or currently existing restricted or prohibited areas of the United States will be subject to being forced down by armed military aircraft. [T]he military has indicated that, [i]f necessary, deadly force will be used to protect these areas from unauthorized incursions.
Scheduled commercial flights are still let through, but (generally) not smaller planes and unscheduled operations.

You can fly as long as your not in the 10 nautical mile no move zone, you file an inbound (to another airport) or outbound (from another airport) flight plan, you use your assigned transponder code and stay in contact with ATC. With Obama being from Chicago, many flyers here have had chances to practice that.

Sightseers, who flying basically randomly, are pretty much screwed. Also, the 30nm TFR goes away while AF1 is on the ground. The 10nm TFR is in place around the president at all times, and once AF1 starts to taxi, everything else has to stop until AF1 takes off and moves far enough away.
posted by eriko at 10:00 AM on November 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


Here in Silicon Valley the worst that's happened to me was being stuck on a blocked-off 101 on-ramp at night for 10 minutes while the Obama motorcade went past. They just seemed to be ensuring that no traffic was able to merge onto the freeway next to the motorcade, it was OK to be in front or behind.
posted by w0mbat at 10:02 AM on November 10, 2014


The arrogance of politicians shutting down big parts of cities to move around is offensive.

Just you wait until the Olympics come to town and the IOC demands entire lanes be dedicated to nothing but their circus.
posted by jsavimbi at 10:06 AM on November 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the TFR clarification, eriko, when I was flying actively a presidential visit to San Francisco was just enough for me to say "well, don't bother flying today". Didn't know the details.

So what happens if they actually blow up an airplane over a city? That seems like a terribly bad idea. I'm reminded of the surface-to-air missile batteries installed in London for the Olympics. Or the White House roof. WTF are you going to do with those?

Back on topic, at least the motorcades have no majorly bad effect other than causing a traffic jam. I suppose worst case some nutjub would try to bust the motorcade and get shot, the car careening off into pedestrians. That'd be terrible but not quite as terrifying as fiery death from the sky.
posted by Nelson at 10:07 AM on November 10, 2014


empath : "I wonder how much the security and drama surrounding presidential motorcades and similar ostentatious displays of security and power have to do with the cold war,"

I wonder how much it also has to do with London being a cultural and economic capital as well as a political capital, while DC was for a very long time primarily a political capital, with cultural and economic power residing elsewhere (such as New York City). The leads to really different interactions between the political elite and the city.

DC seems to be more tolerant of long motorcades, as part of the price of living in DC, while when the show goes on the road, cities the president visits complain a LOT more. Once a year it's fine for the spectacle of the whole thing, but more than that and you'll be getting some vociferous complaints. If the US capital was NYC, I wonder if motorcades would have been able to escalate to quite such an extent, when you have cultural and economic elites as well as political elites, who would be less tolerant of and less impressed by overt display of political power -- or at least more eager to contest the right of those displays of power to exist in the public sphere, as they want their OWN displays of power to exist there.

Someone should survey various nations' motorcade handling and see if it makes a difference if the largest, wealthiest city in the country is ALSO the national capital. (Canada, how say you? Netherlands?)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:06 PM on November 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


These dicks should get out and walk, the exercise might do them good.
posted by colie at 1:50 PM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


This is cool as hell! I love stuff like this!
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:26 PM on November 10, 2014


Man oh man, what a town London is. I wish I had two bob to rub together, I could get lost there for the rest of my time on Earth.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:44 PM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


Here in SoCal, whenever the President comes to fund raise, they shut down whole roads, for hours at a time

Here in Brisbane for the G20 - the world's biggest fundraising exercise - they are shutting down entire suburbs for as much as a day. Our police don't even know how to move around in the mall on foot without disturbing the fucking flow of existence - I was stuck behind three of them this morning, just meandering and gobbing aimlessly.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:49 PM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


I was about to cross the road at Trafalgar Square, when Princess Margaret came past. It happened so quickly. I was doing the pedestrian Londoner thing of watching the cars, not the crossing lights (a habit that almost got me killed last week, so, err, don't do that kids), and realised something odd was going on. A couple of bikes had blocked some of the lanes, then a few more came from Admiralty Arch, and stopped the rest of the traffic, then her car came past, up round the square and gone. I'm sure some of the people near me didn't even notice it had happened.

(Insert debate about minor Royals getting this kind of treatment here...)
posted by Helga-woo at 2:57 PM on November 10, 2014


To follow the minor derail above, here's a Sky News web site report (sorry) of a recent intercept by the RAF of a civilian airliner which failed to keep to the rules when entering UK airspace. The first 'video link' is actually an audio recording of the Typhoon driver's radio message to the errant Latvian. It ends "... you will be shot down", so yes, better believe they have and would use the ability to do that.
posted by Devonian at 3:50 PM on November 10, 2014


So you don't consider this treatment any kind of security element? That they need a level of protection as a potential target? If there were constant threats against your life, would you prefer to be treated differently?

I'm prepared to bet that vanishingly few of the people accorded such treatment are at significant security risk.

(I'm also in total agreement that the London system shown here is far, far superior than what I've seen in the US, and the more that VIP motorcades could use similar low-impact approaches will reduce the irritation of people like me.)
posted by Dip Flash at 3:52 PM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm prepared to bet that vanishingly few of the people accorded such treatment are at significant security risk.

Do you count credible death threats? Because there is an entire unit dedicated to assessing the relative threats on UK politicians and the Royal Family. There have been numerous attempted attacks on them, too, so their own security is considered high enough.

Terrorist attack as we understand it now? Probably not, other than the highest profile ones. But death threat? Quite a lot, apparently.
posted by Brockles at 4:00 PM on November 10, 2014


French motorcades are notoriously full-on and aggressive, steaming across Paris with sirens blaring and lights ablaze for even the most minor politician wanting to get to some trivial meeting. Back in the 80s, my father worked as an attache at the British Embassy in Paris. He told the story of shuttling a UK dignitary from the centre to the airport, only to find himself in nose to tail Peripherique traffic. In his rear view mirror he saw a fast-approaching motorcade, cleaving its way through the blocked traffic by driving down the centre of two lanes. So he did what any self-respecting former test pilot would do and latched on to the convoy as the last motorbike went past. Diplomatic plates on his Audi 100 CS quattro meant he could keep up and not look too incongruous, but it was a hairy experience as drivers would automatically pull back into their lane once the last bikes had zoomed past, meaning he had to stay as close as possible. He described it as a bit like crossing the Red Sea with the waves closing just behind you. The jam was broken, the motorcade literally sped on and the dignitary made his flight, but not before thanking dad for one of the most exciting drives of his career.
posted by srednivashtar at 4:07 PM on November 10, 2014 [4 favorites]


until I found out that Mikhail Gorbachev's motorcade had sealed off all the routes to my house!


When Gorbachev visited, I remember walking across I-94 on my way to work and noticing that they'd blocked off the entire left lane on the freeway. At the time, I thought it was appallingly arrogant of our political class to treat the plebes like that to impress a foreign dignitary.

Twenty five years later, POTUS comes to town, and they close several entire fucking freeways--including the goddamn bridges over said freeways--so that he can zoom to a fundraiser with a motorcade that seemed to be a half-mile long.

I know it's an important job, and for security reasons, I wouldn't begrudge a police escort, but the current state of the POTUS motorcade is absurd.
posted by Ickster at 4:16 PM on November 10, 2014 [3 favorites]


I remember, summer of 2006, George W. Bush came to Chicago to, for some reason, celebrate his 60th birthday with Mayor Daley at the Firehouse. I was on the Green line heading to my job then and they stopped the el train for about 10 minutes so that W.'s motorcade could pass through on Roosevelt boulevard. Insanity, that was. What did they think someone was going to RPG his motorcade from a moving train? Airspace restrictions maybe, but to this day I've been baffled and annoyed. Even if this annoyance is eclipsed by Bush II's even greater transgressions against humankind, this one still sticks in my craw.
posted by dis_integration at 7:22 PM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


This was fascinating - thanks!
posted by carter at 7:34 PM on November 10, 2014


So you don't consider this treatment any kind of security element? That they need a level of protection as a potential target? If there were constant threats against your life, would you prefer to be treated differently?

Intellectually, I agree with you about the need for security for very high level officials.
And I certainly wouldn't want to see someone blown up because some extremist doesn't agree with their views on God or whatever.

But viscerally, it makes me think of guillotines when some apparatchik disrupts the lives of thousands of citizens on their way to another pointless meeting about pointless things just so they can say they're "working for the people".
posted by madajb at 9:52 PM on November 10, 2014 [3 favorites]


Kind of made me think that maybe a helicopter would be better? You'd certainly inconvenience far fewer people. Or maybe this is where our flying cars come in.

When I was in Chicago a month or so ago, they closed down 8 lanes of Lake Shore Drive and 6 lanes of I-90 so Obama's helicopter could fly overhead on his way to a fundraiser.
posted by madajb at 9:56 PM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


I like to see a map of the route taken.

I recognized a couple of spots, but I'm not nearly familiar enough with London to grok the whole route.
Also noticed the motorcycles occasionally breaking off from the main route onto side-streets, then rejoining further up.
Presumably they're blocking traffic out on the periphery to prevent jams on the main leg.

Pretty nifty.
posted by madajb at 10:00 PM on November 10, 2014


shutting down airspace for a 30nm radius all around wherever POTUS happens to be. Small airports closed...

Thirty namometers? How small are these airports?
posted by Ned G at 4:58 AM on November 11, 2014


Someone should survey various nations' motorcade handling and see if it makes a difference if the largest, wealthiest city in the country is ALSO the national capital. (Canada, how say you? Netherlands?)

The Dutch national capital is Amsterdam but the centre of government is actually in The Hague. I've spotted the PM cycling past me before, no motorcade.
posted by atrazine at 7:02 AM on November 11, 2014


Thirty namometers?

Thirty nautical miles. It's about 275 furlongs.
posted by Nelson at 7:39 AM on November 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


Beats taking the Tube for sure. Wonder if they would need to pay congestion charge for the bikes?

So two years back, a couple taking their wedding photos (which, of course, is a Thing in Asia) found the former Singapore Prez SR Nathan going about his daily morning walk, so of course they asked him if he'd be in their photo.
posted by the cydonian at 12:30 PM on November 11, 2014


Thirty namometers? How small are these airports?

nm is nanometer in SI, and nautical mile in aviation.
posted by eriko at 9:37 PM on November 11, 2014


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