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TO NEWCASTLE DRIVERS: What shade of green are you waiting for?

So, I drove up from Sydney to Newcastle for a business meeting. What a place!

My friends had been to the city and came back raving about the beaches and the cafés so I was looking forward to my first visit.

And, yes, they were right about the beaches and the cafés. I saw a series of beautiful sandy beaches that looked like they came straight out of a travel brochure and the post-lunch coffee I tracked down in Darby Street was as good as I’ve found anywhere.

After a few minutes of coastal bliss, I had to head to my meeting. I’d been warned about road closures due to the light rail being built so I watched out for signs of road works and kept well clear.

Safely arriving at my inner city destination (and taking an age to find a park), the meeting went well but it went overtime. It was almost 5pm and, being from Sydney and knowing how hectic the traffic could be, I was keen to get going on my 2.5 hour drive (accounting for traffic) to get back home to see my little girl before her bedtime at 7.30.

And that’s when I noticed it.

Sure, time was going to be a bit tight, not ridiculously. Barring a major traffic accident and allowing for a pit-stop on the way, I calculated that I would get home to my northern Sydney suburb just on time. I didn’t account, however, for the strange driver behaviour at traffic lights that seems to be peculiarly Novocastrian.

Now, I spend a lot of time on the road in Sydney. I am subjected to congestion at a level far worse than I encountered in Newcastle. Naturally, the worst times are the journeys to work in the morning and the way home after 5 when traffic is at its peak. Everyone knows that everyone else just wants to get where they’re going so, most of the time, there is no dilly-dallying. Even the Millennials seem to curb their temptation to text while driving, seemingly considerate of the thousands of commuters around them who are simply eager to get through the traffic and safely to their destination as quickly as possible.

In fact, everyone is that considerate. Mostly, anyway. Lane changes are undertaken with the right balance of caution and pace. Everyone keeps up with the speed of the surrounding traffic. As one, we seem to understand the pain of being caught in the congestion so we just keep moving. Even at traffic lights, the second the lights go green, the whole line begins to move straight away. Together. As one.

But not in Newcastle and it was weird.

In Newcastle, the lights go green and then it takes a few seconds (too long) for the front vehicle to start moving. Then the next one, then the next one and so on. If you are any more than six cars back, there is a real risk that the lights will change before you even get there and you will have to wait until the next round.

And it’s not like Newcastle people aren’t in a hurry to get home. As I joined the queue that snaked its way from the city to the link road to the motorway, there were numerous instances of horn beeping and hand gesturing that signalled the same frustration that I was feeling.

Just what particular shade of green are you waiting for?

If you’re sitting at the lights and there is a queue a mile long behind you, surely it is the considerate thing to have your car in gear and your eyes fixed on the lights so that you can move as soon as that green is up. Think of the person that is several cars back. If you take just a second or two too long to move, they may not get through and then have to wait minutes more for the green to come around again.

That few minutes could make all the difference! It would for me that night and, from the frustration I saw from muted open mouths and the waving of fists inside many cars, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.

In Newcastle, the light goes green. The first car, in some alternate universe of slow motion, seems to take time to process that it is green. Meanwhile, the person in the next car has already edged forward and then is forced to stop. The one behind it stops and so it goes on and on. The front car then finally starts to move and the conga line finally begins. Sadly, the slow start means that someone, just a few cars back, isn’t going to get through and that few seconds turns into a few minutes. Multiply that by every traffic light on a long journey home to the city’s western suburbs and you have a drive that is significantly longer than it needs to be!

Is it that the city is only new to this level of congestion? Is it some quirk of fate that every car that happens to be near the front of a traffic light queue is a manual and the mindless wait is for the driver to put the car into gear? Or are they thinking about something, their mind distracted by thoughts of who’s going to win The Block or Masterchef or, god forbid, The Bachelor.

As it happens, it took me almost as long to get out of Newcastle as it did for the rest of my trip. I reckon I could have shaved somewhere between 20 minutes to half an hour off the journey had people moved as one when the lights went green, not some eon-like expanse of time after it. I didn’t make it home in time to see my little girl and I wonder just how many others missed similar deadlines.

In the scheme of things, it probably isn’t that important. Or maybe it is. If you count the number of lights and multiply it by the number of trips over a year, or over a lifetime, it seems a whole lot of time is wasted. Life wasted by inconsiderate people who seem to be so caught up in their own world that they fail to see that their leisurely response to the traffic signals can actually have a real and significant impact on those around them.

When I first arrived in Newcastle, I was a little green with envy when I saw the pristine coastline. Later, the feeling I shared with many others was a feeling of frustration. I wonder what colour that is. Surely it has to be some shade of green, at least here.

Come on Newcastle, green means go. Now! For the sake of everyone else on the road, just do that. Everyone in a queue at the traffic lights, keep your eyes focused on the lights and when they turn green, everyone move as one. Just go – safely and efficiently. No delays, no time wasted and no treasured moments missed. Surely, it can’t be that hard.


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  1. I agree that Newcastle has some of the worst drivers and driving habits in NSW if not Australia. Be particularly aware of SUVs and Tradies as they are a law unto themselves. In relation to green lights – they do not mean go, they mean check first, then go as some people are not sure what a red light means. And yes then there are those who put their car into neutral, the hand brake on and then wait until the light changes before reversing that process.

  2. I understand your frustration as you had a deadline to meet,but it is much better to treat a green light still as, make sure if it is safe to go. Having had a lifetime friend recently killed by a young driver running a red light, I would forego the deadline and prefer a lifetime ahead for myself or another person on the road. I don’t apologize for our Novocastrian drivers as I would like to see the stats that say we have the worst drivers in Australia. I believe most of our drivers are courteous and not under the pressure to get home in an unrealistic timeframe. I am sure your family would rather you arrive home late and alive than not at all.

  3. After a couple of fatal accidents at a major intersection not far from where I live in Newcastle, caused by red light runners, I NEVER just shoot off on the green. Especially if I have my granddaughter on board. Really you’re concerned about 20 minutes? Better to get home than not at all. Having said that I agree some do definitely dilly dally at the lights causing frustration.

  4. We’re more than glad to have you stay in Sydney. The recent influx of Sydney-siders moving here isn’t doing anything good for the locals. As for the driving – well, Australians hold the title for the world’s shittiest drivers and having lived in South East, East and Central Asia, Europe and North America I say this without hesitation.

  5. Sweetness how lucky are you that you didn’t have to brave the Central Coasts roundabouts.
    When I moved here about 14 years ago I decided they were the countries worse drivers, that opinion hasn’t changed much.
    That triangle sign with a circle in it seems to mean : come to a full stop, look in every conceivable direction. Including 800metres up the road. If you can see another car, regardless how far or which lane it’s in, sit an wait for it to enter & leave the roundabout.
    Silly me, I thought it ment cede to traffic ON the roundabout. I also thought on/off roads with 2 lanes combined with a 2 lane roundabout ment both lanes could be used at the SAME time.

  6. Completely agree with the author. Yes you check to see no one going to run the red light, but you shouldn’t be waiting until after it has been green for 3 seconds before starting to do so. The morning frustration heading west along Parkway Ave trying to cross Stewart Ave is coming to mind.

    And I wouldn’t say Newcastle drivers are courteous, not when there is a large enough gap for you in the next lane so you do the right thing and indicate before changing lanes – but the driver in the other lane takes that as a signal to speed up and close that gap so you can’t change lanes.

  7. People run green lights I like to make sure I’m not tboned green means go long as it’s safe to and if that’s your only worry in life so be it but people are dying out there more tragedies and delemas than green lights we must be on a slow go because we are so laid back here gees lighten up

  8. Not sure about Newcastle drivers being among the worst in Australia? This afternoon, I saw a driver travelling at speed with several passengers, overtake a stationery vehicle at a Stop sign. Had there been a vehicle coming on the cross street, there wld hv been carnage. I see something similar most days.

  9. So many red light runners, I am very wary of moving off until I’m sure there are none. I agree with above comments.

  10. I would totally agree! Myself commuting to Sydney for work. And I feel the same slow start isn’t just with driving for novocastrians. Our whole lifestyle is laid back and the residents seem to take that approach to a lot of aspects of life, look at the change Newcastle needs vs the people complaining about “unnecessary changes”. The city needs to move forward and the residents with it

    • Thanks Emma. We got your insults on twitter too. Dr. Phil S. Styne is the byline we use when one of us is having winge about something. We thought it was obvious with a name like Phil S. Styne. Sorry we upset you.

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