This early morning I found myself unable to sleep. I lay in bed just ruminating.
A picture I saw on Quora.com of a North Korean roadway reminded me of the Top Gear special where they went to Burma/Myanmar’s new capital city, and Jeremy Clarkson commented on how the 16 lane wide roadways meant that future traffic concerns of this perhaps one day big city were met right at the start, at its initial conception page.
This is in contrast to most cities today, which have grown from less grandiose routes, or much more commonly, have emerged unplanned and unloved out of the primordial swamp. Sydney is only one such example of a city emerging unplanned, with a complicated history of a smattering of thought there, a reaction to what’s already gone before there, etc.
Anyway, my point is this:
I have been mulling the idea that there is a ‘natural’ capacity to roads.
Roads are for road vehicles (and annoyingly, bicycles too – don’t jump on your soap box yet, I will explain why bicycles in Sydney annoy me slightly, and how I would go about making Sydney’s roads more friendly and useful to everybody – in fact, I’ve already scratched that surface slightly with my rant on pedestrian islands everywhere).
The logical progression of road capacity would be: if it’s stuck, just add lanes until it becomes unstuck.
Yet, I think this approach to road-planning goes against its natural use case.
Roads are for dispersed journeys. They access almost all places – let’s ignore the wilds of a national park for now and focus just on cities, towns, even rural farms with a driveway or gate onto a laneway or road – you know, the places that humans live. Sorry, I think I just have some particulary persnickety and argumentative people in my life, plus the general stupidity of people that the internet shines a bright light on sometimes. Stay away from the negatives, Andre!
Anyway, roads absolutely fall over as a useful means of transport when they’re asked to funnel a great number of people into one spot. There’s a million use cases that support this statement, but I have to get ready for work soon, so I’ll let you just figure it out for yourself for now.
So, I’ve developed a rule of thumb for myself – and that rule of thumb is:
A road reaches its maximum useful and logical capacity once it has three through lanes.
Yes, simple as that.
Three through lanes means – travel in at least one direction (quite often, once a road is at this size, it’s actually two roads – one carriage in each direction – hence the term ‘dual carriageway’ – ie two carriages, one running each direction). Blah, you get it.
Crucially, the ‘through’ in ‘through lanes’ refers to the unobstructed flow of traffic. There are many main roads in Sydney that are ‘two lanes’ in each direction, but really – and keep in mind Sydney is a surprisingly complex use case for a city so relatively young – the inner lane is used for carrying traffic, and outside of peak hours, or other complex use cases, the kerbside (outermost) lane is used for parked cars, or bus stops, or bicycle riders risking life and limb (seriously, riding a bicycle in Sydney is so dangerous). And parking cars especially, can make a nominally ‘two lane’ road into a traffic jam – ie, no moving lanes of traffic, ie effectively no through lanes, at least into that guy has parked his god damn car already! Get a move on buddy! Or, they stop to wait for someone to leave, then manouvre in – this all takes say half a minute at least – half a minute of vehicles behind which start forming a queue waiting for this sillily innefficent blockage to clear itself!
Plus, the stigma of the kerbside lane and its many attrocities to efficiency means even when it is clear, it is often less utilised than it otherwise might be. For example, if even one car is not moved when clearway hours arrive (a very common occurence, especially on lesser main roads), that means one whole lane of through traffic is blocked for a decent distance behind it, and it means a zig zag merge of cars has to emerge, only people are in a special rush usually in clearway times, and because people are people (sigh), often it leads to all sorts of dangerous cutting in manouvres, with people slamming on brakes causing a rolling gradually dissipating effect of sudden brake slams behind them. It also makes rear-enders more common, which further breaks down the efficiency of the road.
This post is obviously half baked – I really have to get ready for work now – but, let me make it absolutely clear – for all my talk of road efficiency, I am not calling for the wanton destruction of Sydney to make way for cars, glorious cars! I’m not a fucking idiot, so don’t treat me like one. Of course I’m not calling for that. What I am saying is: 1. I have a working theory that roads have a natural capacity given their logical use scenario (ie dispersed trips, point to point journeys that aren’t point isolated to point everybody-gotta-go, and don’t bloody use a road to funnel people into one spot). 2. Roads in Sydney are surprisingly clogged for a city that is mid-sized, and a lot of that is down to really really really, REALLY, poor road design and usage. Sydney’s roads are surprisingly dangerous in very many places, poorly designed, and honestly, because of a gap in size and authority and means between small councils and huge state government, no one is motivated to fix them up and make them better for ALL road users – road vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, pedestrians crossing safely and reliably from one side to the other, the lot.
That’s the gist of what I’m trying to get at in this half-baked, pre getting ready for work now, really really have to get ready now, post.