The main street “pavement” in the old English town of Chester is a venerable, spacious gallery, one storey up. (At least, it was in the 1970s.)
The logic is strong: separate walkers from drivers. But it is unusual.
Wellington’s Cuba Street, a shoppers’ and clubbers’ street, is cut twice by heavy, stinking through traffic going east on Ghuznee Street and west on Vivian Street. Transit once suggested sinking the two cross-streets but the local politics were too difficult so there ensued a long argument. The alternative, a ground-level bypass farther south through properties and walkers, is still two years away.
Not very green. But it is grander. And politicians like the grand and rhetorical more than the simple and prosaic.
Take the open road. Ask yourself how often you were passed by people on yellow centre lines this summer. It happened to me twice on a drive from Auckland to Wellington this month.
For explanation ask another question: how often this summer were you in a queue behind a road-hogging dawdler. I lost count at 20 of a 75kph queue behind a van with bikes on top between Foxton and Levin.
Then ask yourself how many passing lanes relieved this predicament for you this summer. Not many, eh?
National deputy leader Roger Sowry had a grand answer: a multi-lane Auckland-Wellington highway. Well, sort of an answer: leader Bill English says it is not party policy.
But even if it was, it would likely get snared in environmentalist and fiscal constraints and never get past the policy stage.
Just counting up the groups which Transfund (the government’s road funding agency) and Transit (which gets roads built) must consult under Paul Swain’s shiny new Land Transport Management Bill will make you tired. The 12 mandatory consultations include “representatives of affected communities”, the “public” in a region or district, “affected Maori” and “every affected approved organisation”.
Transit says it does pretty much all of this now. But, once enacted, it will be justiciable. And remember: environmentalists do not just want you to burn less fossil fuel to save the planet; they want you out of your car. The Greens have a bill in the House to reduce traffic.
Environmentalists want you on trains. That wasn’t much fun this summer when an over-risk-averse Land Transport Safety Authority, after cues from ministers, imposed new — and, for most part, inappropriate — track rules on TranzRail. (That, by the way, is the track the Greens, and maybe the cabinet, want you to buy and maintain.)
Trains, of course, go to your suburb and your cousin’s house and the beach. They are, of course, comfortable, fast, frequent and convenient. Knowing which, nearly all of you will take the 20-car queue and the imperious codger in the cream Jaguar passing you on yellow lines any day.
There is an alternative to millennial schemes, strategies, frameworks and plans that spend years or decades in the too-hard box. That is to do simple, practical, immediate things that don’t blow the budget and don’t run afoul of environmentalists.
For example, passing lanes on existing roads. Auckland to Wellington by car would be safer if there were, say, 100 of them each way — one always just ahead.
Most passing lanes can be built quickly and (relatively) cheaply within existing road reserves.
And they could be coupled with commonsense speed allowances while passing, so you do it quickly and safely, not slowly and dangerously — and a commonsense offence of failing to pull over when there is a queue of, say, five vehicles behind.
Well, a couple of years ago Transit did initiate a planned programme of passing lanes. Swain says it will put a passing lane every 5km where traffic densities are over 4000 a day.
Swain is a practical man (except for drink-drive limits, on which he has run afoul of political reality). He likes a bit of rhetoric and will have fun with Sowry’s multi-laner in the House. But he is also a busy, feet-on-the-ground fellow, which is why Helen Clark gave him transport this term.
Sounds good, eh?
Ahem. This year you will get 12 more passing lanes, two between Wellington and Auckland. Over three years just 60-odd are programmed countrywide. Patience shall remain a prime virtue.
Meantime, when not grinding in a queue, keep your eyes glued to your speedo to avoid the police toll on 111kmh roadhounds. Staring at the speedo, of course, contributes more to safety than scanning oncoming traffic, road signs and potential hazards.
Commonsense and practicality tell us that, don’t they?
* You might have expected this to be about the comet of the moment, Donna Awatere-Huata. But enough has been opined elsewhere about this mercurial figure and ACT’s urgent need to cauterise the political wound she has opened.
Her act with ACT is all but over. But don’t bet against her re-emerging somewhere. She came to prominence 20 years ago as a fighter for Maori sovereignty. She has rank. She has valued whanau. Maori politics are different.