Wednesday, October 23, 2013

why is Auckland such a fucking awful place to get around?


I ride a motorbike. I drive 20km to work and back every day. There is a train station 300m down the road from my house. One of the twenty or so in the entire city of a million people with just two train lines. But I don't use it. I ride my motorbike to work. There are many reasons why I choose to do this over taking the train. The convenience. The speed. The thrill. The train can't compete on any of these.

Recently however, I have been discovering more and more unpleasant aspects of being a road user in Auckland. Firstly, people on the motorway have tried to kill me twice in two weeks. That's quite a big one. Secondly, a combination of the beginning of school term and the roadworks at the new Waterview interchange has impacted my commute like a hefted brick and left me weaving through heavy traffic, instead of farting freely down the open roads. Thirdly, I have found myself becoming more and more aggressive in my driving in response to other road users' habits.

I have always prided myself on being a conscientious driver. In the UK I drove various permutations of white van. Well, my first one was green, but anyway, I drove vans. I drove them to work and I drove them to the beach and I drove them to festivals. I took pleasure in being a courteous road user and defying the stereotypical white van driver. In fact I believe that stereotype is a myth. I found the majority of van drivers to be amicable and generous road users. You can't be anything else when you're driving something as unsexy and unwieldy as a transit, although the minority exception to the rule often seem to contribute every bit to the myth as much as the majority detract from it. Actually, I did used to stink around considerably in my T4 but that's allowed because T4s are fucking awesome and go like shit off a brick. I always used to compare my T4 to a Golf, whereas the Citroen Relay I had before that was a 2CV. Anyway, I digress. I was a careful, if enthusiastic driver and even when I was tonning it home in the 306 along the A38 on a Friday afternoon I was never one of those cunts who would tailgate people or come up behind them and flash lights or undertake. I'd just wait patiently for whatever doddery old bastard was in front of me to get out the way before stinking away again. I respect other peoples' rights to be law abiding, doddery old farts or pootling mummies on their school run. It doesn't bother me.

From the previous paragraph you might have grasped that I break speed limits with some abandon. I do. I'm not ashamed of it. I have a relatively blemish-free driving licence and have only ever pranged two cars, one of which was a childish prank and the other a parking accident. I am proud to have been caught speeding just the once and that was a fair cop when I was late for work one morning. I work on the principle that speed limits, particularly those here in New Zealand, were set in an age when mainstream production automobiles couldn't break 100mph without threatening to disintegrate and certainly couldn't be trusted to stop or avoid obstacles in an emergency. Have you seen those old pieces of shit the UK used to churn out? One friend at uni had a Morris Marina. Another had an Austin Allegro. They were joke cars that were gifted to people by their grandparents or elderly uncles. We laughed at them and hand painted confederate flags on their roofs, or put BMW badges on the front. I couldn't drive myself but even if I did I aspired to drive a 306 or a Golf, not one of those wrecks. Their owners never bothered to do any substantial maintenance because it was accepted that it would be pointless. The cars were fundamentally unsound. There was nothing our inexperienced hands could do to remedy that. The difference between these contraptions and the epic Mercedes that I drive today couldn't be more marked. Despite being 20 years old my epic MercPanzer exhibits ABS and a body made of such heavy steel that I can't drill self tapping screws into it. I could do that to the T4 and as for the Shitroen, I could almost flick holes in that with my bare fingers.

Ah. More digression. Anyway, my take-home message is that if you get a speeding ticket you're either driving too quickly for the conditions or you weren't paying sufficient attention to the road. Either way, you're a liability and you deserve it. BTW, I do have a pretty good grounding in statistics so please don't make the mistake of thinking that I've just been lucky up til now and that I'm an accident waiting to happen. I have taken care to learn and understand the stochastic influences at play in road safety. By this I mean I pay careful attention to the factors that contribute to road traffic accidents and take pains to pay them appropriate respect. You can't stay alive riding a motorbike in any major city for more than a few months if you don't.

And so I have wound my way back to Auckland traffic and my motorbike. The point of this article is to lay down something I said to my wife earlier tonight when we were discussing my near-fatal incident on the morning commute. What happened was that I overtook a long line of queuing cars and then stopped a couple back from a set of lights, indicating to turn right. The guy I had stopped in front of, some middle aged Maori or Pacific Islander, obviously took umbrage at what he perceived of as my forcing my way in front of him and proceeded to try to drive around the outside of me as I turned right and then turned into me, forcing me off my line and towards the concrete barrier separating my side of the road from the oncoming traffic. He was so close to me that if I hadn't been leaning into the corner he would have contacted me. Fortunately I realised what he was doing and managed to tighten the turn and pull ahead of him. Once I knew I was ahead of him I then stopped in the middle of the lane, giving him the option of stopping behind me or running into me and I put my kickstand down and started to get off the bike. The cunt drove around me and away down the motorway, leaving me literally shaking my fist at his receding cage.

When someone tries to kill you- and I hope I'm not being melodramatic here- you find yourself considering whether you provoked them. Had my actions in pulling ahead of this guy in traffic presented such a mortal insult that he felt the need to imperil my life? Had I failed to understand the cultural implications of my perceived queue jumping? Had my presence in front of him pushed him over the edge of an already bad morning and into a homicidal rage that was no fault of his own. I think not. The reality of riding a motorbike in traffic is that you are constantly overtaking cars. If the guy hadn't acted as he did I would have been a kilometre down the motorway before he could even see it. The motorway on-ramp consist of two lanes curving down to a classic New Zealand stop-go traffic light which lets the queue of cars pass in pairs. This is an anti congestion measure to limit the flow of cars on to the motorway. Once I had put myself between the protagonist and the van ahead of him I would only have usurped his position in the flow of traffic for a handful of seconds.The stretch of on-ramp flowing from the traffic light intersection where the incident took place down to the stop-go lights splits into two lanes to accommodate the queueing cars. Directly after the stop-go these two lanes merge again. A driver on four wheels must pick one of the lanes to queue in until they get through the stop-go light. A rider on two wheels, such as myself, slips carefully between the two rows and nips through the stop-go behind the next two cars. I don't know if this is legal but its what I and about half the other motorcyclists on the roads do. (The other half of motorcyclists do not drive as if they are riding a bike but as if they are driving a car, which seems to me to defeat the entire point of riding a motorcycle). And so my protagonist would only have had to tolerate the sight of me immediately ahead of him on the road for the few seconds it took for him to turn the corner of the traffic light intersection and travel a hundred meters down the on-ramp to the queuing traffic, where he would have come to a halt and I would have disappeared ahead and away, leaving him in his original, coveted position behind a shitty white van with the legend "I wish my wife was as dirty as this van" daubed in the dust and grime covering its rear window. Okay, I made that bit up, but do you see how trivial this arsehole's actions were?

So this is the context for the conversation I was having with punkwiff this evening when I experienced the startling revelation that people like this guy, and the other wanker who, on the motorway a couple of weeks ago, pulled up so close behind me in the fast lane that I could have turned around and pulled his wipers off, actually deserve to sit in traffic for an hour every morning. They deserve to have to sit and simmer and rage and grind their teeth as they inch towards the stop-go light for their turn to burn rubber for fifty meters before slamming their anchors back on to merge with the traffic crawling along the motorway at 30kph. Because that's what they've voted for.

There's a saying I came across: You get the government you deserve. If you live and work in Auckland and have to travel across the city on a regular basis and you continue to vote for people whose stated policy is to make this situation worse, to neglect public transport infrastructure and to institute transport policies that favour car drivers then you deserve everything you get in the way of congestion, road rage, wasted hours sat in your cage when you could be playing with your children or reading a book or making love to your wife. What's more, you have no right, perceived or otherwise, to take umbrage at people who are smart enough to adopt more sensible approaches to transport, whether that be subsidised public transport or people like me making our way through the shit storm of oiks and retards blocking up Auckland's arterior roads in their cuntmobiles. I don't vote for these things and I'm not stupid enough to spend two hours a day driving 2 tons of steel into the city and back, not to mention paying $15 for the privilege of parking it there. My bike doesn't take up fuck all space on the road, it doesn't do fuck all damage to the road surface and it only produces a fraction of the emissions some Holden mkIV prickwagon does so fuck you and your fucking playground strop about me getting ahead of you on the road, fuck your stupid, shiny cuntwagon and fuck the government that you voted in to keep this absurd fucking shitstorm of a transit system in place. You twat.