211. State Highway Awards 2014

I nominate State Highway 2 for the “Most Patronising Road” award.

Or more accurately:

  • that section of SH2 that runs from the intersection with SH25 to the bottom of the Bombay Hills.  As many of you will know, this is the road that approximately 19 million Auckland’s use every weekend to get to their baches on the Coromandel Peninsula.

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  • the road, of course, cannot itself be patronising.  It is the people who manage that section of the state highway network who deserve the accolade.  Well done!

Driving from Wellington to Auckland yesterday was, by and large, a pleasure: MrsDavy commenting on how green the fields are for this time of year, plenty of small animals for LittleDavyTwo to coo about, and LittleDavyOne comatose from too much sugar.

Coming across the Hauraki Plains you begin to anticipate the motorway, and a quick final run.  But no: first you have to endure SH2.

The first sign – and literally a sign – of the preposterous nonsense is a new speed limit. “90” it says, and then adds the insult “Safer Speed Area”.

Those three words are an Orwellian translation of the actual reality:

“We couldn’t be arsed making a good road which you could drive on at a reasonable speed, overtake safely, and get to your destination in reasonable humour. Instead we have built a fairly rubbish goat track with bad corners and poor surfaces, and which goes through small towns that you don’t want to visit.  Along the way you will have the opportunity to kill or be killed at random. Rather than doing something about the state of the road, we’ve decided to require you to go slower so that we can keep the death toll within politically acceptable limits.”

I would simply point out that if “90” is a safer speed than “100”, then “0” is the safest speed of all.

Then, oh joy, the managers of SH2 have set up a range of enlightening billboards along the route with which to distract your attention and inflame your emotions.

“Think about what’s ahead.”

“Think about what’s behind.”

“Drive to conditions on this road.”

(To compound the insult, the billboards are made in an extreme cerise which burns into the retinas and will give you sweat-inducing flashbacks as you try to sleep.)

Obviously these statements are true. But they are generally, not specifically, true.  That is, they are true about every single road ever.  They are, therefore, utterly utterly useless.

More than that – and this is what really gets my blood boiling – is that these signs exemplify the infantilisation of the public space.  We are all to be treated as small children who need constant instruction about obvious matters in a slow, loud, and manically calm voice.

In the local shopping area near where I live, the speed limit is now “30”.  This is the speed which the local council requires you to crawl along at at 3am in the morning on a public holiday when there is no other car or pedestrian between you and the Wairarapa.  In reality most people do not observe that limit at the busiest time of day.  But at least it will give the prosecution something to hang their hat on if anybody gets a bump.

Here’s the thing that really gets me: as you exit the “30” zone back into the wild crazy freedom of the full “50” a large, obtrusive, garishly blue sign instructs you to “Drive Safely”.

Oh thanks, good idea that, it hadn’t occurred to me.  I was in fact going to drive incredibly dangerously, but now that I’ve seen a sign – a sign! – I have completely changed my outlook on life.

It also suggests that I am now leaving a zone in which I had the option of not driving safely.

When you are out and about over the next few days I dare you to notice, actually notice, the number of signs along our roads.  There are so many that we don’t actually notice them any more.  The vast majority of them are objectively useless and simply add to the despoilment of the environment.

Any other nominations people?

About Ned Davy

By hokey, the big fella’s tipped into his 50s. A rangy loose forward in his prime, good with the ball in hand, but rarely up with the play any more.
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