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On the road to utopia with NZTA

The “Road to Zero” strategy of government transport agency Waka Kotahi NZTA is introduced in this way on its website:

“We have a vision of zero deaths and serious injuries on New Zealand roads.

“A vision where everyone, whether they’re walking, cycling, driving, motorcycling or taking public transport, can get to where they’re going safely.

“It might sound impossible, but Aotearoa has a plan to get there. It’s called Road to Zero.”

This vision [NZTA’s word, not mine] could be characterised in a number of ways – “idealistic” or “utopian”, for example, or perhaps “entirely unrealistic”.

Back in the 1990s it’s what management consultants called “a big hairy audacious goal”, a term first coined in the book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies.

Abbreviated to BHAG – and pronounced “bee-hag”, in the hopefully unlikely event you decide to bust it out in a conversation – the utility of such apparently unfeasible objectives is that they can “excite and energise people in a way that quarterly targets and lengthy mission statements often fail to, and if executed successfully, can prove to be the cornerstone for a tremendous achievement”.

That is a pretty massive “if”, of course – so much so that even NZTA acknowledges in its brief introduction to the concept that this BHAG is something a reasonable person might view as unachievable, given the myriad, often unpredictable factors that can contribute to causing crashes on our roads.

But never mind the naysayers who stubbornly refuse to relinquish their grip on reality, the “Road to Zero” BHAG certainly appears to have energised the agency’s bureaucrats.

Evidence of that energy – if not sober reflection – is apparent in NZTA’s decision to lower speed limits to 80kmh on SH2 between Masterton and Featherston, the Greytown-to-Featherston leg in particular.

As revealed in the pages of this paper on Wednesday [February 22], the agency’s own assessment indicated the “safe and appropriate” speed for the latter stretch of road was the then-100kmh.

But they lowered the speed limit on the SH2 Greytown-to-Featherston section anyway, on the basis that “to the road user this section of highway will look similar to that between Masterton and Carterton and Carterton and Greytown. For consistency, consideration should be given to have an 80km/h limit on this portion of highway”.

Now, I’m not fluent in bureaucratic-speak but the impression I get from the above is a barely-concealed contempt for the common sense of common citizens, who are assumed to have a general inability to read road signs, let alone exercise any judgement whatsoever.

If such concerns about “consistency” were to be applied consistently, at some point in the not-so-distant we should expect the speed limit for the entire length of the country, from Cape Reinga to Slope Point, to be dropped to the 40kmh that’s currently sensibly around schools – to avoid any chance of confusion on the part of motorised morons.

That’s unlikely, of course, but not impossible – in much the same way the Road to Zero goal is possible if this BHAG continues to be pursued with an unhinged utopian zeal that sooner or later metastasises into a kind of philanthropic totalitarianism.

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