Sunday, May 20, 2012

A ROAD IS NOT A ROAD



 . . . ; a street is not a street; a lane is not a lane. The proposition is that while vehicles have standards that define their possible performances, thoroughfares that provide for these vehicles have a necessary hierarchy in their role that relates less to possible standard performance of these vehicles than to the character of their particular contexts. Instead of having all roads, streets and lanes changed to provide for the optimum functioning of the standard vehicle, whatever vehicles these might be - the larger ones, four-wheel drives or rubbish trucks, frequently define the parameters - roads and streets need to be carefully constructed and detailed to accommodate - to respect, to enhance - their different environments. This thought has arisen from the ever-growing notion that roads, streets and lanes have to be upgraded for all vehicular options in spite of their location; that the variation has to be provided by the road rather than by any restriction or modification in vehicular performance, access or driver behaviour. The logic is that vehicles must be able to go anywhere there is a gap that they might fit into, in spite of the location, and at speeds and with safety requirements universally applied as scheduled in the standards. Unless roads, streets and lanes are considered carefully, they will become like most other matters in our world - the same everywhere. Diversity will be lost - even in thoroughfares.

Roads with a unique character are being mutilated by engineers who work to standards and use standard detailing, irrespective of context, because this is what the standards say. No further thought is given to alternative options. Narrow, winding mountain roads with their heritage timber bridges are being widened to allow all and any vehicle to use them at the standard speed. The idea that the road should define the vehicles that might be able to use the road and require modifications in the drivers’ actions, seems to be given no thought. It is dismissed even without the safety argument being used as an excuse.

One Local Government Councillor argued that because one steep, curving and narrow mountain road that was kerbed on one side and open to steep falls into a forested area on the other without any safety barriers, was a public road, it should be available for all and everyone to use at standard speeds - and beyond - without any restrictions or extra supervision. This was in spite of the quaint old signs erected when the road was first pushed through - ‘ROAD CLOSED TO THRU TRAFFIC’ and ‘25KPH.’ When it was pointed out that neither Council nor police were enforcing the instructions on these signs, Council removed the signs - Gold Coast Division 12 logic. That this particular road - the road going over Burleigh Hill on the Gold Coast - is one of the very few roads with a special bush character on this glitzy strip, made no difference to any argument or outcome: just irrelevant, even though the narrow road is used frequently by joggers and walkers who enjoy the challenge of the grades and the different bush environment. Council will not even consider defining the road as a special zone. It has left the ‘LOCAL TRAFFIC ONLY’ signs at each end and one ‘25%’ gradient sign, opening the road to every driver, (they are all ‘local,’ whatever this might mean), who seeks the challenge of speeding over hills while taking what is believed to be a shortcut. There is a great ambition to use shorcuts in the Australian psyche, even if they mean more travel time and distance. And who cares? Certainly not Council or the police – or Main Roads. One is simply told by the State government that it is not one - see your Council; speak to the police : and so one is flicked around getting nowhere. Here, this unique thoroughfare that fits beautifully into its quiet surroundings, is left open to standard speeds and all traffic - buses, trucks, fire engines, and cranes - when they have no essential need to use this road. Argument goes nowhere, as Councils, and especially Councillors, always know best. Even when clearly shown to be wrong, they simply respond boldly and arrogantly with the message that they will no longer respond to any correspondence on these issues - go away silly boy, we’ll do what we want. It is astonishing that one is told that there is always the option of leaving the area if one so chooses! Gold Coast Division 12 logic: we don’t want controls or restrictions, just growth!


 Springbrook Road is another road suffering the same ruthless neglect under the same Council - Division 9. This unique, historic thirty-kilometre drive up the hinterland border mountains behind the Gold Coast - promoted as ‘the green behind the gold’ and mocked as ‘the greed behind the gold’ because of the ad hoc development that is approved - is a narrow, steep, winding road that used to be a one-way up/down road at various times of the day. It leads to the Springbrook plateau and continues right along this high region as its spine, to the end lookout, to reveal the great expanse of the Gold Coast’s random development in a distance that is growing smaller day. Yet even here, on portions of this road, the road authority is upgrading this heritage track to highway standard detailing, widening sections; painting bright white lines on the centres and edges, constructing massive concrete bridges over delicate creeks, making pedestrians appear as awkward participants on highways that ban all walking. The terrible truth is that Springbrook is substantially a National Park region, but even this makes no difference. Main Roads Queensland - this is a main road - still constructs to standard details that are used everywhere - go away silly boy. The narrow flow of rocky-cool water that splashes the fine and fragile foliage on its steep banks means nothing. A bridge is just a bridge - the concept is set in concrete and the bridge is made of it.

That roads and their associated parts should be defined by their locations, needs to become a principle that must be enacted. Without this approach, all roads will lead to the same experience - self-centred places of broad, bitumen speed with flashy, galvanised barriers, bold coloured, reflective signs and an airstrip glow of dazzling lights that laugh at everything around them. Vehicles must be curtailed - restricted in either access or performance; or both - if regions are not going to be destroyed by road engineers. One can gauge these engineers’ preferences when one hears pedestrians being referred to in casual conversation as ‘peds,’ turning people, their feelings and experiences into universal numbers, engineering facts and schedules of figures.



The universe is not universal. Just as diversity in flora and fauna is now coming to be seen as a critical matter for the survival of our world, so too the diversity in roads, streets and lanes needs to be respected and understood as being essential to our wellbeing. Turning everything into the same only creates a boredom and changes minds and places. Turn variety into one and it will be susceptible to the many that can kill it - in one simple step. We are slowly - but more quickly every day - killing the very things we love the best because our vehicles are being given preference over everything, when they are the mobile machines that can so easily adjust to the particular circumstance. Just go slow, carefully and avoid other areas. Drive vehicles to suit the road, street or lane; do not insist that every road, street and lane becomes a motorway.

I say vehicles, but there are other situations of the same ilk where vehicles of another era become the problem. Horse riding in reserve areas has the same problem - the demand that access be allowed for all. BMX cycles have a similar impact; four-wheel drive quads too. The motorised vehicles cause the greatest problem - even in the same locations. The authority of the 4X4 makes demands on these same areas as if they had a right to go anywhere at any time. One can see the workings of the mind of the 4X4 drivers in how they love to climb kerbs and mount traffic islands in urban and suburban areas, suggesting that just because they can, they must. Just because vehicles can do certain things gives them no essential right to do it. We must curtail random open access to everywhere on the basis of context. Politicians hate to say no, but leaving everywhere open to all and sundry as a right only makes everywhere the same - just like politicians and their silent bureaucrats! We need to think again and differently.

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