It’s been a serene little while since the last ATB transport prizes were awarded. For those who missed it, the last prize ceremony ended in somewhat spectacular fashion, with one commenter calling me a “self righteous prat” and telling me to to “stop moaning“.
Before we begin may I please highlight (again) that these particular posts are all about me. If you don’t like me and/or what I write, then don’t read the posts. But if you do read the posts and subsequently feel the need to comment then please observe common courtesies (but feel free to tease me because I do technically ride a girl’s bike, and I also have a pink woollen vest).
Probably also worth highlighting that self righteous prats, such as myself, only become self-righteous prats by virtue of the fact that we’re almost always right. It’s a super simple causal relationship.
Super simple stuff all around really: Just like Queensland Rail’s campaign to improve train etiquette. This has seen a lot of posters being put up on trains and at stations across Brisbane and South-east Queensland. The idea behind the campaign is to promote higher standards of behaviour on the trains, such as people standing to make way for people in need …
The QR campaign wins my ATB transport prize of the week because I think it’s important for society to define what is/is not acceptable behaviour. I believe that we can respect individual choices while simultaneously “nudging” people’s choices in directions that we have (collectively) determined to be desirable. This is really no different from how anti drink driving advertisements have sought to influence our attitudes, and quite successfully I believe.
But one of the main reasons I like the QR campaign is that it’s so flaming easy to make fun of …
Ultimately I think the rip-offs just highlight the underlying virtue of the idea; well done to QR for recognising that one of the easiest and best ways to make public transport more pleasant is simply to promote higher standards of public behaviour.
In terms of the ATB prize for worst transport experience, this week’s recipient (by popular request) is Symonds Street. As I walked/cycled down/up Symonds Street between 5-6pm today I was struck by the overwhelming number of pedestrians and people catching buses, but the near complete absence of private vehicles (in numerical terms). Despite their lack of numbers, however, private vehicles still managed to commandeer the vast majority of space, as well as take the largest slice of the signal time at intersections.
The preferential treatment for private vehicles was particularly noticeable at the intersection of Symonds and Wellesley Street, which is illustrated below.
I simply cannot believe that the current set-up is delivering an efficient balance between different transport modes: In the photo above about 15-25 people were waiting for about 2 minutes while approximately 2 cars went through. Now I know that many of the posts on this blog throw around billions of dollars. But here is a problem that has a relatively cheap and easy partial solution: Just change the signal timings. Why not double-phase the pedestrian lights, as per Queen Street, but maybe with some more continuous bus priority at the stop line?
Based on my support for QR’s campaign you can probably tell that I’m all for following the “road rules”. They are, if you like, an area where society has collectively decided on norms that should be in our common interest, like driving on the left-hand side of the road. On the other hand the road rules are not a substitute for common sense. With regards to Symonds Street, people are expected to follow road rules (i.e. wait for pedestrian phases before crossing the road) that do not make sense given the environment, i.e. the number of pedestrians versus the low numbers of vehicles.
And I’d suggest that pedestrians know they are being treated poorly. So what do they do? Well, in my experience in these situations people simply start to make the rules up for themselves. This does not mean they have absolutely no regard for their safety, but they do flip off auto-pilot and start crossing whenever/wherever there is an interminably long break in the pedestrian crossings, as illustrated below.
And once one person starts to think for themselves (heaven forbid!) others seem to quickly follow. While some people call this “sheep” behaviour I actually think that there is something more subtle at play here. I suspect there is some kind of self-reinforcing dynamic feedback loop between social norms and actual behaviour, i.e. once a few people start disobeying the rules then others are motivated to do the same. At the same time such behaviour would be undesirable were it to be replicated on a large-scale across the city, where there are many conflicting needs/priorities at play.
But I sympathise with the people in this photo because Symonds Street, as far as I can tell, is not currently “fit for purpose” as a street. From where I’m sitting it obviously needs to give more priority to pedestrians and public transport users, at the expense of priority for private vehicles. And that is, in a nutshell, pretty much what’s currently wrong with Auckland’s wider city centre: We’ve given over too much space/time to vehicles.
Fixing it is (at least partly) super-simple stuff really: Change the signal phasing at traffic intersections to give more priority to pedestrians and, where necessary, public transport.
Discuss. But above all – enjoy yourself and don’t take me or yourselves too seriously ;).