Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Take Me To Your Leader (but not via a freeway)

THE PRECIOUS gift to the world that is Melbourne seems less so this morning as the working day begins with news of a developing traffic snarl that, as of 7.50 am, is bad and about to grow much worse. The problem -- and this will be very hard to credit unless you live in the Worrywart State -- is one of those garden variety computer glitches from which no area of modern life is immune. In this instance, deficiencies in the dot-squiggly stuff have darkened (some of) the warning signs in the Domain and Burnley tunnels.

Rather than position a pair of those mobile illuminated signs at the entrance to each underground artery, signs that might have advised motorists not to change lanes or travel faster than, say, 40 kph, officialdom has shut both. This means traffic feeding into the system is stalling and gridlock the order of the day from Laverton to Coburg to Frankston. In years gone by, motorists might have coped by switching to the broad avenues and arterial roads our city's founders believed a metropolis-to-be would need. Alas, three-lane thoroughfares have been shrunk to single lanes by champions of bicycles (and the intense anal pleasure some draw from their narrow little seats), so these roads no long provide any traffic-easing alternatives.

As for detouring via secondary streets, no luck there. The same smartypants urban planners who thought it a good idea to feed St Kilda Road's conduit straight into the dead end they have made of the CBD's Swanston Street, which has been closed to cars, also dropped roundabouts at those intersections which they have not blocked altogether. For good measure and because they can, they have dropped speed bumps on all the straight bits.

One doesn't like to be a grumble bunny, but wouldn't it be nice if, in this moment of citywide vexation, Victoria had an actual leader? You know the sort, a premier prepared to step in and take charge in the public good. Couldn't Ted Baillieu have countermanded the bureaucrats, ordered the tunnels to remain open and turned out the police to conduct traffic and make sure drivers behave themselves? According to reports on the radio, the tunnel signage went out in the wee hours, meaning the Premier's slumber was almost certainly disturbed by a functionary's call advising him of such. He rolled over and went back to sleep, apparently.

Remember, there is no actual hazard in either tunnel, just the temporary inability to warn of one should it arise. Indeed, according to a phone-in caller just put to air on 3AW, only some of the tunnel's electronic signs are down; the rest are working.

Like the head of a pimple, the pain being inflicted today on citizens attempting to go about their business is the ugly tip of an infection that goes much, much deeper.

If, for example, some unfortunate decides to top himself by leaping from an overhead pedestrian walkway, expect the freeway on which he splatters to be shut for hours, possibly the entire day, as investigators draw silhouettes on the bitumen, record the distance fallen and fill their clipboards with notations. How long does it take to move a corpse? In Victoria, where observing official protocols is considered the essence of civilised life, you will be made to wait until officials are damn well good and ready in order to find out.

UPDATE: Roads Minister Terry Mulder has taken to the airwaves to explain that, in addition to the tunnel signage, the computer has also shut down the fans that expel exhaust fumes. Couldn't a sparky have hot-wired the fans until the computer is fixed? There was plenty of advance warning but nothing was done, no initiative displayed.

UPDATE II: Melbourne's traffic czars cannot reboot a computer or hot wire some fans, but are they very good at covering up the consequences of their incompetence. Until a minute or two ago, a live webcam feed of conditions on the Monash Freeway at Toorak Road was available here.

This is what visitors now find:

Cameras monitoring other current bottlenecks are also off-line. Funny thing, those relaying images of smooth traffic flow and untroubled drivers continue to provide their happy feeds.

UPDATE III: If One Term Ted is awake by this point in the morning, it might have dawned on him that this traffic disaster is causing considerable economic loss. No, not the lost productivity, late arrivals at work and late deliveries, but the cessation of tunnel traffic fines. In a state with a fine-led economy this is serious.


  1. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.October 3, 2012 at 8:59 AM

    Yes, Prof, in its transport lunacies Melbourne is just like Sydney. There's not even an element of competition. Both are unworkable and made more so due to political adherence to stupid bureaucratic decisions (in Sydney, regular closing of the Harbour Bridge for occasional runners etc. while O'Farrell sits on his hands). Additionally, both cities are blighted by bike lanes in all the wrong places.

  2. Indeed. How hard is it to hotwire some fans; and, if hard, why was there not a simple contingency plan in place to do just that?
    But of course, you couldn't possibly keep the tunnels open when the dotty-cookie signs were unable to display life or death messages like "expect delays" or "congestion ahead" (as if you had a choice not to keep going at that point).
    The dozy bureaucrats responsible will, of course, draw their day's hire regardless, while those who pay their hire will take whatever hit is coming to them by reason of the bureaucrats' incompetence. Which is jolly well as it should be, of course.
    [PS Coming from sin city, I am tempted to attribute today's chaos in Melbourne to karma and/or hubris, a result your lazy, navel-gazing conviction that Hawthorn was a better team than the Swans, and the plucky rabble from the north somehow stole the silverware. Suck it up.]

  3. The Old and Unimproved DaveOctober 3, 2012 at 9:15 AM

    Years ago, during Neville Wran's Premiership, there was a reshuffle. The next day, the cartoonist Bill Mitchell did a cartoon which showed the then Transport Minister dashing breathless into Wran's office.

    "Sorry I'm late, Nev, I got stuck in a crook train.....I suppose all the decent bloody portfolios have been taken."

  4. When Ted figures out he's loosing all the money from fines he will act...decisively... for once

  5. Walter Plinge of TemplestoweOctober 3, 2012 at 11:02 AM

    As a regular (and, uh, mature) bike rider I need to point out there's no anal pleasure in bike seats these days.

    Saddles are designed not to put pressure on the perineum, either by having a fairly deep depression in the centre or being split -- they support you on your sit bones.

  6. With respect to the "leapers". I am reliably informed the London Underground clear their tracks and resume normal service in less than 12 minutes in the event of "a jumper". Compare that to Metro who take hours to clear away a non-fatal train/ vehicle collision. Hopeless, just bloody hopeless.
    Regards W154

  7. Prof,

    I also heard the excuse this morning about the fans being inoperable due to computer failure.
    Forget hot-wiring.
    Why aren’t these things set up so that when the computer signal fails they run flat out, rather than just stop (the power is still connected).
    In fact, why aren’t they running flat out all the time.
    My guess is that the answer lies in “green footprint”.
    I’ll bet they have had some pony-tailed consultant in to advise about saving power and reducing emissions so they have put computer controls on the fans to back off when traffic is low (note that it ALWAYS stinks of fumes in the tunnels).
    The major cock-up is that the failure state is “shut-off” when it should be “full steam ahead”.

    The Irish Lion

  8. Why would they call Ted? He is obviously not allowed or required to make a decision.

  9. Bring back Kennett. In the fashion of the Roman Republic, give him unfettered power for a year to fix all issues, and challenge him (after the fashion of that same Roman Republic) to fix it as soon as possible and lay aside his power the minute it's done.

    I believe the record back in those ancient times was fifteen days to save Rome. No doubt more time than that would be required here, but still... it's worth a shot.

  10. Wouldn't you want them to shut down in a fire?

  11. Somehow me thinks, and this is pure speculation, that the "technicians" might have a policy in terms of what can go into override and what cannot, ETU rules?
    As a fridgey for over 20 years, a sparky as a second trade for almost the same time, and with 10+ years in building automation (controls, exactly like the ones in the tunnel) I can tell you thus,
    Those fans (which are useless anyway, try driving through the tunnel in your convertible - you're woozy by the time you get through, assuming the traffic is free flowing) would be run from VSDs (variable speed drives) which in turn, are probably controlled via CO sensors throughout the tunnel to give proportional speed control based on CO/NO2 levels.
    Yesterday, someone could easily have walked up to said VSDs, switched them to manual, and say, 50Hz (which is 100% speed), or any nominated speed.
    The signs themselves probably have some sort of local override, but I don't know this for sure. They could certainly be turned off manually.

    I was utterly amazed that the tunnels were closed, and even more amazed that they let this go to the afternoon peak without opening the tunnels - clearly the problem was not fixed - two lanes @40km/h? wtf!

    There was no danger in the tunnel, it's just a road. The signs as I understand it were working, but they could not be updated. There are only so many things that can do this to a system, none of which should take more than an hour or two to determine.