The Roads More Or Less Travelled

All roads lead to Canberra – at least that’s what most politicians think. This week we’re having a break from politics, the plight of refugees and why Australia’s asylum seeker policies are on the nose. Today guest writer Laurel Wilson (aka She Who Also Writes) looks at the hazards of the highway for travellers. This post contains 21 images. – Ed.

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Definitely NOT our next road rig..

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, I’m feeling quite refreshed after our 6 week, 6,000 kilometre road trip around Queensland in our trusty 12ft caravan (despite the occasional mishap, chronicled elsewhere).

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Not this one, either

One of the positives in travelling is that it can give you the opportunity and inclination to study the ever-changing surroundings. Unlike those who object to outback travel because “you can drive for ages and not see anything”, I’ve always found there’s something new to experience as you drive along. Some of these experiences, such as the pungent stink of Gidgee in humid weather, are perhaps not ‘must does’, but it was a relief to find the source of that odour, when I was beginning to think that we had a leak in the caravan’s gas cylinder or the car had developed some nameless fault.

Having a naturally curious nature (unlike the woman living in Dingo, who neither knew nor cared how that small town got its unique name), I was intrigued by the extent and variety of roads we travelled on during our latest trip.

I began to wonder just how many kilometres of designated roads there are in Queensland. According to a Department of Main Roads factsheet, as of 2013-14 there were over 33,000 kilometres of State controlled roads (which includes over 5,000 kilometres of the National network). In addition, Queensland Local Governments are responsible for almost 155,000 kilometres of roads in their respective areas.

In our latest trip around Queensland, we travelled on all but one of the designated ‘National Highways’, the only exception being the Barkly Highway, which runs westward from Cloncurry. In all of our trip around Queensland, we managed to stay off the highway called ‘Bruce’, except for the 400 or so kilometres from Cairns to Townsville, where we had tickets to watch a North Queensland Cowboys Rugby League game – one of Johnathan Thurston’s last games (I realise that the bulk of readers neither know or care, but I don’t get to write this blog very often, so thought I’d take the opportunity…).

This time, our most westerly destination was Winton, where we spent four fascinating days at ‘The Vision Splendid – Outback Film Festival’.

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The Not So Mighty Bruce Highway, North Queensland

What constitutes a ‘National Highway’ seems to be open to some interpretation, but I’ve used a list supplied by Wikipedia (I know, I know, not necessarily the best source, but should be adequate for this purpose).

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Two lanes and well-maintained –west of Charleville.

Whether the roads we travelled on were ‘National’, ‘State’ or ‘local’ wasn’t always possible to tell. (Apparently the various tiers of government have a similar problem when deciding which tier is responsible for building and maintaining them.) And we really didn’t care who was ‘responsible’; we were more interested in their state of repair (or disrepair). To be fair, of the 6,000 kilometres we travelled, the great majority of the roads were at least two lanes wide, bitumen and either in very good repair or quite adequate.roads-travel

Give the road-trains a wide berth – they ain’t stoppingOnly a couple were gravel or ‘dirt’ and gave us (and the poor old caravan) a rough ride for our money. And one of those we can blame on the GPS, which decided to take us on a trip from Glenmorgan to Surat via the most circuitous route it could find.

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Hmm, wish we had a better map
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Do you guys know where we are?

The other was the ‘shortcut’ from Hughenden to ‘The Lynd’, some 250km to the North. We chose this road (The Kennedy Developmental Road) because it went past Porcupine Gorge National Park, which we wanted to visit, and was much shorter than the alternative route to our next destination. And after all, most of the lines on the map were solid red (indicating bitumen) rather than the dotted line for ‘dirt road’.

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Porcupine Gorge
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The author and editor (after the 1600 steps down and back)
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You can get to Porcupine Gorge on the bitument, a longer way around

As it turned out, the accent should have been on ‘developmental’, rather than ‘road’. There were frequent patches of the dreaded ‘corrugations’, in which the road surface consists of a series of ruts which run at right angles to the direction of travel. This is a phenomenon common to ‘dirt’ roads and apparently results mainly from the numerous vehicles travelling over the moveable surface of such roads. Regular grading of the road helps smooth out the corrugations, so it’s worthwhile trying to find out whether an unsurfaced road has been recently graded before you travel on it. Being of fairly ‘senior’ years, I’m quite used to travelling ‘off the bitumen’ and have met corrugations before. The general wisdom about negotiating corrugations is to drive at a reasonable speed (not necessarily too slowly, but not highway speeds either) and to drop the tyre pressures a bit if you usually run to higher pressures- though not really worth the hassle unless you’re stuck with a long stretch of ‘corro’.

The Kennedy Developmental Road was the site of one of our minor mishaps this trip. The continual bouncing of travelling across corrugations was eventually too much for the 30year old+ hinges on the wardrobe door, and we arrived at ‘The Lynd’ with the wardrobe door lying on the floor of the van. Interestingly enough, the clothes remained in the wardrobe! (Finding new hinges to fit, putting them on and getting the door to shut properly was a small triumph for ‘Handy Mandy’ and her trusty sidekick.)

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Right- No-one’s looking- let’s drive on the smooth side…

This time next year the road will probably be a much more comfortable drive, as there was plenty of roadwork going on as we drove this stretch.

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The dreaded corrugations on the way to The Lynd

 

 

 

 

 

 

We met these International travellers at ‘The Lynd’ – It’s a 1915 Model ‘T’ Ford. They prefer the dirt roads (see below) and avoid highways in their world travels. They have travelled to over 50 countries, raising money for the charity SOS Children’s Villages International.  http://www.tfordworldtour.org/

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original Queensland outback road

As you would expect, most sealed roads are black or grey, but we do come across some which, to my eye, are a rather fetching shade of pink. Some may see it as ‘tan’, but the idea of pink roads somehow appeals to me. I haven’t been able to find out why they are ‘pink’, but my theory is that it has something to do with the roadbase containing a fair proportion of the red dirt/sand common in many parts of Queensland.

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The pink brick road
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Pink’, don’t you think?

One of my pastimes while travelling is to take pictures while we are inside the car (and I promise I only do this when I’m the passenger). Most of the photos in this ‘blog’ are of that type. And a few shots of the roads more or less travelled:

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The road not travelled – near Winton
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On the straight and narrow to Georgetown
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The road to Dingo

 

 

 

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Sometimes the best road is the one leading home..

 

 

 

 

The value of inner city car parks

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Image of car parks Palma de Mallorca by Timmy L (flickr) https://flic.kr/p/TR4DFC

As you’d know, one little statistic can send me off on an investigation – like the number tucked away in a Guardian Weekly report that, globally, cars are in car parks 95% of the time.

The statistic emerged in a report about a pilot scheme in Amsterdam to reward residents with a free green space in front of their houses if they give up their parking permits. The car parks pilot scheme being trialled in six streets in an Amsterdam suburb is yet another Dutch idea designed to encourage people to give up cars and switch to carpooling, public transport or bicycles.

Residents’ cars will be stored for free in public car parks and in return something ‘green and pleasant’ can occupy the designated car space. The Guardian reports a fair degree of friction over this idea. Two early adopters (who have been heckled), have already put flower-filled tow carts in front of their houses (a cosy outdoor spot to sit in the sun and have a morning coffee and a plate of warm poffertjes).

This is not the first time Amsterdam’s Stadsbestuurders have tried to rend asunder the city’s love affair with the car. Amsterdam is widely known as the bicycle capital of the world because it is relatively compact and the narrow streets and canal bridges make driving more difficult than in other cities. When I spent time in Amsterdam (wishing I could forget what I can’t remember), the city was then trialling Sundays as a no-car day. I looked that up yesterday and find that it is 45 years since Car Free Sunday was introduced. As this blog explains, something changed in the Dutch mindset when the measure was introduced in 1973 (to dampen oil consumption amid the 1970s Oil Shock).  Since then cycling with or without clogs has clearly become a lifestyle/clean environment movement.

The Netherlands leads other European cities, with 27% of all trips attributed to cyclists, a figure that has been stable for a decade. How could it be anything less when Amsterdammers own 22.5 million bicycles (1.3 per resident). Evidently Mum, Dad and the kids are in on the trend. Denmark is a close second in Europe’s bicycle stakes (0.8 per resident).

Australians are fairly keen on bicycles too, with 3.6 million using one every week, The Australian Cyclists Party says the average Australian household has 1.5 bicycles in working order, although if you wanted to be pendantic, you couldn’t ride half a bike very far. You could of course turn it into a unicycle, learn to juggle, sing and play the ukulele at the same time and apply for a gig at the Woodford Music Festival.

Digressions aside, Australians are as deeply committed to the combustion engine as the global leader (America). The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics motor vehicle census showed there were 18.8 million registered vehicles in Australia as of January 31, 2017, a 2% increase on 2016. The 2016 Australian Census showed there were 2.95 million one-vehicle households, 3.02 million households with two vehicles and another 1.50 million households with three or more. The same Census revealed that only 1.1% of Australians rode their bikes to work. The sole occupant car dominated work trips – from 65.6% in Sydney to 79.9% in Adelaide.

The notion that cars are parked 95% of the time is a figure largely calculated on public car parks which are utilised 85% to 95% of the time. Just dwell on that next time you are doing laps in one of Brisbane’s large shopping malls, waiting for a spot.

Last Saturday we went to a Queensland Ballet double bill (Carmen and The Firebird) which, I must say, we enjoyed more than the reviewer in The Australian did, apparently. There were three curtain calls.

Afterwards, we walked back to the multi-level car park where I realised (despite my disdain for automation), that I had no option but to pre-pay as there were no humans in the parking booths. The machine hungrily gobbled my $20 and dispensed the ticket. You should all know the routine by now – drive to boom gate 1, insert ticket and the boom (should) automatically rise to let you drive out.

Them were the good old days, mate

Not that I want to return to days of yore, but when we first started going to the ballet in 1988, you could quite often score a free car park somewhere in South Brisbane or West End. We’d leave home early and sometimes snag a space in Fish Lane. Ah, those were the days. Now we usually park in the Brisbane Entertainment and Convention Centre car park as it has 1,500 spaces, so is the place least likely to be full around South Brisbane’s entertainment and dining precinct. If I recall, when this complex first opened in 1996, parking 2-4 hours cost $8. That’s inflation for you.

A Colliers International white paper in 2015 predicted city parking would become more expensive in Australia, as no new multi-storey car parks were being approved. Some, in fact, have been demolished to make way for new apartment buildings. The other factor in parking becoming more expensive is that many cities now impose a congestion levy on property owners.

New technology is set to disrupt the parking business model though; one example being Divvy Parking, a digital start-up which hooks up motorists with under-utilised car parks within commercial office buildings. In late 2016, New South Wales car insurance company NRMA took a 40% stake in Divvy Parking.  An NRMA study found that 30% of urban traffic congestion was caused by people driving around looking for a car park. And, according to NRMA, a third of parking spots within centrally-located commercial buildings are under-used. NRMA Group chief executive Rohan Lund told the Australian Financial Review that smart technology would be as crucial to solving Australia’s mobility issues as bricks and mortar infrastructure.

All over the world, cities are introducing measures to thwart or discourage drivers from bringing their vehicles to the inner city. These range from London’s Congestion Charge to Madrid’s blanket ban on non-resident vehicles. Only locals, taxis, buses and zero-emission delivery vehicles are allowed within Madrid. This is not the first time the padres de la ciudad have tried to beat congestion and pollution within Madrid’s city centre. In 2005, a pedestrian-only zone was introduced in a densely-populated inner city neighbourhood.

Interestingly, there are no Australian cities named in Business Insider’s recent article on 13 cities planning to ban cars to one degree or another. Most of the cities are in Europe (Oslo, Berlin, Paris, Hamburg, Copenhagen) but also China, Mexico and South America. Many of the plans are based on making it easier to walk and cycle. Several cities are planning to build bicycle-only super-highways.

Ah well, next time I go to the ballet maybe I’ll take my half a bicycle and wobble on down to the train station. (She Who Broke a Bone Falling on the Stone Steps) “Don’t forget your helmet, dear.” More reading: