On Saturday afternoon of the long holiday weekend, I was ambling along the Esplanade road from Blackpool to Surfdale in the amiable communion that I remembered from the road trips with my youngest girl between Waiheke and her boarding school at the other end of the North Island where she spent her fourth form year between her horse (shades of her grandmother) and homesickness.
Since my companion this time was sun blond, barefoot and nine, the ambling aspect was all mine. His side of the conversations floated back to me as he negotiated rock walls, oyster patches and the concrete remnants of a once thriving corniche road that delivered literally thousands of Waiheke’s resourceful summer bach owners laden with everything from corrugated iron to coal ranges from steamer-sized ferries arriving at the wharf at the end of the corniche road.
His inevitable stick was by turns a pole vault, a Minecraft-generation version of a javelin and a tightrope walker’s pole as he proved, mostly to himself, that he could walk the tops of the timber cattle fences that have unsuccessfully served Auckland Transport’s ideological aspirations of making a deteriorating gravel road part of the city’s “share with care” network.
Walkers, cyclists, and a handful of cars scattered over the road while the winter sun, washed clear by recent rain, was making a spectacular show to the west over placid, green water coves.
The euphoria ended rapidly when a Hindenburg-sized SUV, more grimly determined than the rest of us, aimed at the massively built road constriction and thundered through it, driving to the inch – which was fortunate. The chaos of even the smallest deviation would have taken out, by flying baulks of timber alone, all the road’s other carers and sharers faster than a Russian tank.
Look, you might have said, that’s what happens when no-one has put up a sign, however crooked, that says “Slow”. Or even “10kph”. When the Esplanade road was finally fought to a standstill 10 years ago, one person counted 112 council signs dictating user caution on the kilometre of road between the seaside villages of Blackpool and Surfdale.
Having written last week’s news story on the 171 pieces of Waiheke roads that Auckland Transport had its minions teasing out for individual speed limits, I was pondering the cost and ugliness of the effect of nearly 200 stretches of road, every one of which would need signs showing the changed speed limit at both ends and both sides of the road. Remembering that tendency to wonkiness, that makes nearly 700 signs, four per stretch of designated road to be erected between speed changes is idiotic in a council that skimps mercilessly on essentials.
Don’t get me wrong. Many of our smaller roads are inherently bad, going on downright dangerous and speed limits should go down, as public submissions also recommended.
It would be far more comprehensible, and workable, on an island with our distinctive character and accelerating vehicle overload to simplify speeds in the urban west end of the island down to two: 40kph to delineate the major arterial route to and from the ferries and 30kph for slower speeds through built up residential sideroads.
We aren’t a suburb and if we’ve been starved of spending to keep up with maintenance and development that now includes an exponential increase in driveways on all angles from difficult sites, it’s insulting to stick up at least 684 signs to advertise the fact.
Even more so for old-timers like myself who have watched in horror as various supercity regimes for this most basic of council functions have had their contractors tear up the Waiheke County Council’s hard grey rock foundations from McCallum quarries on the islands to the south of Waiheke, replacing them with local quarry chert which the Waiheke County Council rightly scorned.
Despite the micro-managing nature of yet another council planning exercise, it sailed through last month’s local board meeting virtually without comment, probably because the board does most of its work in workshops that are not open to the public. In consequence, there is little transparency or opportunity for the community itself to engage constructively before officials have it all locked in place to their own satisfaction.
If common sense is to be restored, we have an urgent need for the robust local debate that this council so fears.
Actually, people usually stop clamouring pretty quickly if you listen to them. • Liz Waters