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'Controlled mayhem' on London streets

  • Story Highlights
  • Main thoroughfares Haymarket and Park Lane cordoned off
  • Vehicles forced to divert into side roads
  • Roads choked with bumper-to-bumper queues of stationary traffic
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By Paul Sussman for CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- The congestion charge helped get traffic moving in central London. Friday's twin bomb scares -- a car carrying fuel and nails in Piccadilly, and a suspicious vehicle in Mayfair -- brought it grinding to a halt again.

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Police cordon off part of Piccadilly Circus on Friday.

Streets throughout the center of the city were gridlocked as police cordoned off Haymarket and Park Lane (and for a while Fleet Street) -- two of London's main thoroughfares -- forcing vehicles to divert into side roads that themselves swiftly became choked with bumper-to-bumper queues of stationary traffic. (Read about the London bomb scares)

Mayfair, one of London's most exclusive districts, home to both the American Embassy and high-end hotels such as the Hilton, the Dorchester and the Grosvenor House, saw its normally sedate streets choked with cars as Friday evening drivers vainly tried to find a way out of the center of town.

The broad, eight-lane strip of Park Lane, flanked by Mayfair to the east and the green expanse of Hyde Park to the west, was eerily empty, the normal rush of speeding traffic replaced by stillness and silence, a far cry from the chaos unfolding in nearby back streets

Police were out in force, directing traffic, answering questions, minding makeshift cordons.

"Controlled mayhem" best describes it. While there was obvious annoyance and weariness, however, there was a marked lack of panic or alarm.

On the contrary, as was the case two years ago on the day of the July 7 bombings, massive disruption, far from perturbing Londoners, seemed paradoxically to calm them down and cheer them up.

Aware that this was something more serious than simply roadworks or malfunctioning traffic lights, drivers just sat patiently in their cars waiting to move forward another few inches -- there was no shouting, no gesticulating, no road rage (although a lot of law breaking as drivers chatted on their mobiles, something that is now illegal in the UK.)

People who would never normally do so talked to each other, exchanging information; taxi drivers, never the politest road-users in town, were more than happy to advise on directions and possible alternative routes.

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Outside one Mayfair pub a group of respectable-looking, middle-aged businessmen, drinking beer in the afternoon sun, broke into a spontaneous chorus of "Rule Britannia."

As a doorman outside one of Mayfair's exclusive clubs told me: "It sort of throws you all together, gives you a common cause. That's what the people who plant these bombs don't understand -- it might annoy everybody, but it unites them as well." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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