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.