Driving through town during a recent ‘Christchurch rush hour’, the scene I witnessed was more than enough to eliminate the final skerrick of doubt from a theory that I have been promoting now for some time.
Given that this evidence was not gleaned under official circumstances however, or indeed, through the proper channels thus with correct allowance of unforeseen variables also an objectively comparable constant and all those other pointless statistician-related factors such as a formal study having to involve an overpaid horde of impassive lab-coats or it cannot be considered a study at all, the only thing the aforementioned findings will likely be good for is packing out the next few pages with this lot: the twentieth half-arsed Theory to date.
As so often I seem to do, having neglected to allow the additional quarter hour for an en route fuel stop, I was running perilously close to being late for jiu-jitsu class; then with a half tank of high-octane fuel and a right foot that seemed to have increased in heft by a factor of seven, pulling out with reckless proximity to an oncoming vehicle then reaching an aurally pleasing 6750 rpm in an effort to not antagonise the driver in my rear view, I rejoined the eastward-heading queue of traffic.
Mindful of the 80 kph limit through Rolleston and mindful furthermore that I was at risk of breaching 90, I released acceleration and was overjoyed to burst through the first set of lights after two seconds of orange. This joy was short-lived as, braking heavily, the second set of lights placed one hundred metres after the first, which just happen to change in concurrence with the first, was already red.
It’s fine. Typically nervy and anxious as I admittedly am, I’m not the kind of person to believe there is something to be gained from winding oneself up over languid traffic lights, or even over that ironic force that ensures they’re always the wrong colour, particularly when one has good reason to need them to be the right colour.
It’s odd but some evenings when I’ve headed into town I’ve managed to catch all but two of a possible eight lights; these are ordinarily the occasions when I have time to spare. I’ve already missed one light and, glancing at my watch, time is decidedly not on my side.
Back into it, the drive to Templeton is uneventful. The inexorable snake motors sedately through Templeton’s residential area then cruises right through to the Halswell Junction traffic lights, southwest of Hornby. The line of traffic preceding my car is now immense; around eight cars rest between the lights and me. I glance at my watch. The lights turn green. Far ahead of me I watch the first car move off. I watch the second car do the same. I watch the third car move. The fourth car goes then the fifth and the sixth, and only now do I start moving. The Halswell Junction lights return to red and there’s still one car in front of me.
Eventually we make it into Hornby; I catch the first light but of course, miss the next. The queue before me now is longer than I’ve seen at this Carmen Road intersection. I see the light go green then what seems like five seconds later back to red. Five seconds after that I move up. The light turns green again, and again, it’s back to red before I’ve moved.
Finally I’m through and ambling towards the next one. I approach the Springs Road corner at exactly 60 kph and, holding my breath, willing the light to stay green, breeze through. Onto and around the Sockburn roundabout, as I indicate onto Blenheim Road I check my watch again. “I’m doing alright,” I recall thought/mumbling, “if I can catch Curletts Road I should be good.”
When the Curletts Road lights come into view, to my immense chagrin they’re already green. At this point I’m five hundred metres back with a virtually solid line of cars between the intersection and me; historically if the lights are green when I first sight them, I can be damn sure they’ll be red by the time I reach them.
The traffic seems to be still picking up speed leading to my deduction that the lights have just turned. I stare intently at those Curletts Road traffic lights, as if doing so will hold them in place, and release acceleration; at 45 kph falling in behind the middle line of cars. At this point I’m driving with peripherals, still staring at the green traffic light, expecting it will change at any instant, willing the car in front of me to go faster, expecting the lights to change but pleading they don’t, knowing if we stop here it’ll be another five minutes before we’re moving again, only a hundred metres off now, beginning to feel the elation building inside me, thinking I’m going to make it, thinking that now even if it goes orange I’ll make it through until finally, I am through, and on a green light too.
I check my watch; I reckon I can still make it. I glance in the rear view; over five seconds after passing Curletts Road the lights have finally changed. I can now see my turn-off in the distance; I can see Annex Road. I’m not at all surprised to see the Hanson Lane lights have tripped us up; the Hanson Lane lights have a habit of doing that. I’m not perturbed. They’ll change quickly enough.
Sure enough they’re soon green, I can see cars moving but, on account of the massive queue ahead of me, I’m not. The lights go red. I feel frustration building inside me; now I’m pissed off. If people only moved the instant they could, I’d be through by now.
When I do get through and veer right, in the direction of the green traffic arrow of Annex Road, again, my attempts at a speedy passage are thwarted; there has been a queue of five or six cars waiting to turn down Annex Road but once they have been awarded their arrow, they’ve each taken a half to an entire second to react, meaning that by the time I arrive, the final car has only just begun plodding around the corner…
This week’s theory therefore, relates directly to traffic congestion. If every car moved as soon as they were able then made an effort to travel at the limit – no, not ten Ks over, at the limit – there would be no, or at least hugely reduced, traffic congestion. Think of it: ten cars at a red light, light goes green, first driver takes at least half a second to get moving, the car behind him takes another extended half second, the car behind him another until the eleventh car is waiting stationary for well over five seconds after the light has gone green. The problem as I see it, many people lack the necessary skills of focus and anticipation while driving – I see it at roundabouts all the time where, realistically, if a driver is looking ahead and their approach is properly timed, within reason, there should be no need to ever even stop – it bothers me that these people cannot seem to remain adequately tuned in to their surroundings where, instead of waiting for the car ahead of them to move then delaying their own movements by an additional half second, they could be moving with the preceding vehicle. It’s not dangerous, it’s practical; I’m not about promoting hectic driving habits, simply efficient ones.
…For the record by the time I pulled into the Axis carpark, I was terribly late – only three minutes, yes, but then in my opinion, any late is ‘terribly’ late.
Article by Tim Walker
Edited by Anne Tisha Pate
Photography by Terry Bleu-Lute