Why NZ roads are like Downton Abbey – downstairs
John Bluck explores the ways of the road in this fifth of a series about the place roads have in New Zealand's history, consciousness and identity.
From the talk
In New Zealand there are classes of road users as rigidly ranked as Downton Abbey downstairs. Top of the pile are the big trucks, not only because they pay the biggest share of road tax, proportionally, but also because they are the biggest. You don’t mess with ten tonnes of steel coming at you at the same speed as a car. They can’t stop quickly and they create the passing turbulence of a jet liner.
Cars come next, and it doesn’t matter much if they’re a Daimler or a Daihatsu. They can inflict the same damage and the likelihood of a stupid driver behind the wheel is about the same.
Next come motorcyclists who need special respect because they can tip off so easily and they seem to claim a set of road rules all of their own. Yellow lines, no passing corners and the space between the lanes on a motorway don’t matter for them as they do for cars. You never know when a motorbike is going to squeeze past.
Then there are cyclists who need 1.5 to survive. But they need more than a metre or two to pass. Somehow the donning of Lycra seems to carry with it a special sense of entitlement to take on any road, regardless of whether there is enough width and visibility to ride safely.
Even in the company of fast cars on blind bends, cyclists are brave people who insist on equal rights as road users. Discretion on two wheels is rarely the better part of valour. I admire them and I tremble as I watch them, especially when they ride side by side.
And way down on the pecking order, come the camper vans, invariably travelling slower than anyone else. Snail pace in fact, which is what you’d expect from anyone who carries their house on their back. Kiwi drivers of these mobile baches mostly understand their place in the travelling world and pull over whenever they can.
But the overseas tourists who are rapidly outnumbering us don’t know the finer points of Kiwi etiquette and believe the right to lumber along slowly looking at the scenery comes with the vehicle hire. Fair enough. I wouldn’t want to be hurried if I was paying those prices, but it makes for some infuriating motoring for those who get stuck behind them.
Finally, at the bottom of the heap is the pedestrian. On any road without a footpath or safe verge, and that’s most Kiwi roads, anyone on foot survives only by grace and favour and on motorways they are banned by law. And that inferior, barely tolerated status is only going to get worse as the traffic speeds up.
Yet there are many New Zealanders who have to walk the road to get to work or school and some of us demand the right to exercise as well.
Other parts of the series
About the speaker
John Bluck was born in Hawkes Bay, educated at Napier Boys’ High School, the University of Canterbury and the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge Massachusetts. He's had interwoven careers in journalism and ministry for the Anglican Church, spending time as a reporter in Boston, USA.
A former journalism tutor and chaplain at the Wellington Polytechnic, he has edited a number of publications including the World Council of Churches’ "One World" magazine in Geneva.
His ecclesiastical career started in Gisborne and took him to posts as varied as Director of Communications at the World Council of Churches, Professor of Pastoral Theology and Communication at Dunedin's Knox Theological Seminary, and Dean of Christchurch Cathedral. He was the 14th Anglican Bishop of Waiapu.