Strong Gong

This week I entered the city in which I live (Wollongong) into the Strong Towns competition for the ‘strongest town’. Strong Towns is a fascinating US organisation, already mentioned in my first blog, essentially focused on financial solvency of local area governments. While I don’t expect the US constituency to be delighted by my rouge entry, it was an interesting exercise to focus on the positives of my own domain.

Wollongong is in the process of reinventing itself from its manufacturing past. It is doing both well and also failing in the wrong way. Too much of its engineering is done according to old dumb codes. Pride of place in the good stuff is the re-imagining of its fantastic ocean foreshore, the harbour precinct and the area known as North Beach & Stuart Park. Together with getting more people living in its centre and connecting the centre to the foreshore, this area of Wollongong is becoming entirely vibrant! It’s wonderful to see, and it’s evidential.

The ongoing problem with Wollongong is the less evidential stuff. One example – recently the local council accepted their own draft plan for the future of Mt Keira, a gold mine of opportunity for Wollongong. Within the context of many great ideas put forth, the official plan is to do nothing. Nothing of substance whatsoever. It seems no one much really noticed. But this week I did see something happening on the mountain – and I was horrified! The road up the mountain (Mt Keira Road) is a council road so I can only assume council are in charge.

The issue? New guard rails are being built along the length of the road where none previously existed. So what? That’s good isn’t it? This is a road that is a mecca for cyclists. It’s a relatively winding, quite road where most people driving cars take sufficient care. It is meant as a peaceful road. It is though, about to become a whole lot more dangerous for everyone. Currently it is pertinent for motorists not to drive too fast up or down the mountain. There is a consequence to doing so and motorists know it. Going off the edge would not be a good idea!

Now the road is being reconstructed as a race track, with motorists secure in the knowledge that if they fail – they will be saved by the (safety) rails. These rails will be interpreted psychologically as risk compensation. They will cause people subconsciously or otherwise to take additional risks where they themselves are not in the most danger. Any safety improvement inherent in the rails will be offset by the additional risks being taken. And resources needed elsewhere are being used to encourage people to speed.

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