A truly fascinating article appeared in the New Zealand Herald recently written by Mathew Dearnaly obstinately on traffic lights but added a lot of other data which for me, proved the most interesting.
Take this one on for size - "4000 years ago in the Mesopotamian city of Nineveh (now Mosul in Iraq), when clay tablet signs are reputed to have threatened the death penalty for anyone leaving a vehicle in the way of a temple procession."
Who was it that said nothing is new under the sun? Traffic congestion is nothing new and although there is cinematic license in movies such as Ben Hur or more recently The Gladiator and their ilk, there was plenty of traffic chaos abounding in ancient times.
Should you think that this was purely a western issue (as it were) in ancient times ponder the ancient cities of China that have been archaeologically revealed with a mammoth number of horses and chariots and the like, they too had to deal with such mundane issues as traffic control.
This leads me to a story from the late nineties when Australia's Bush Orchestra tourism theme park opened in Moruya on the NSW south coast, a nature walk around bush paths under the sound of bird song (Bell Miners) and having plaques of the stories of great Christian evangelists leaders.
In the start up period we were engaged by a local Government training provider support network whereby we had an indigenous man assist in the project, being a local tourist operation. Moruya is not a very large town, and we might get five cars on a good day. Dennis Bond's joke, was that he told his friends he was on "crowd control duty".
Quite apart from such humourous stories, Mathew Dearnaly revealed some interesting data:
The world's first gas-lit traffic signals were installed in 1868 in London, opposite Parliament, but dismantled a month or so later after exploding and injuring a police officer who was operating them manually.
A hundred years ago (5 August 1914) the world's first electric traffic signal was switched on at the corner of Euclid Ave and East 105th St in Cleveland, Ohio.
The rubber pads were replaced in the late 1960s by magnetic wire loops under road surfaces, which since 1982 have been programmed through intersection control boxes by a centralised computer system called Scats (the Sydney Co-ordinated Adaptive Management System) now run from a joint Transport Agency-Auckland Transport traffic operations centre in Takapuna.
More focused is that of Nissan's newly developed automated vehicles where a driver at the wheel will no longer be required and moreover how such technology function when confronted with red traffic lights.
A range of issues are discussed, such as onboard sensors putting the cars in the hands of intersection control boxes able to make them go faster or slower to optimise traffic flows through green lights. In addition, the mathematical algorithms needed to guarantee the safety of automated driving is clearly a challenge, yet we are assured that the technology is speeding faster than predicted.
Roundabouts are recognised as generally more efficient at handling vehicle volumes of up to 40,000 a day, and in some US cities the authorities switch off traffic lights in the post 12 midnight hours to save not only energy but more efficient traffic flow.
Mathew Dearnaly noted that in Auckland 2006 a major electrical sub station went down and yet 700,000 people managed to find their way around the city without any scrapes without traffic lights.
Yet, in every growing town, the inevitable happens and a set of traffic lights eventually come along and in busy times, the long line of vehicles at a red light occurs to allow one little old lady to cross the street. Herein lies the traffic flow problem, it might take at the very most, one minute 50 seconds for someone to cross the road. The traffic light technology has the pedestrian crossing time slot as maybe four minutes.
This kind of mathematical formulae illustrates how long a line of traffic can occur in such a short time span. Four minutes means a lot longer than merely a four minute time allotment, as motorists don't simply charge off at break neck speed when the light turns green. It could be a full minute before the 50th vehicle in the line actually starts to move.
Traffic lights, clearly, actually hold up the traffic and this is the problem faced by all traffic planners.
Will automated vehicles speed up the flow of traffic? Will traffic flow planners be able to devise alternative methodologies with road planners? Will road systems of the future be better coordinated for traffic flow hot spots?
If anyone thinks these issues don't relate to churches, just consider the larger congregations of over one thousand parishioners all of whom drive to church, and not only on a Sunday morning. Consider the modern church with its full schedule of week day activities with their heavy duty motor vehicle movements. Think again, it affects Christian ministry as much as business.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html