The road is there to share

Traffic is a favourite topic for trollumnists (troll + columnist) in the Sydney papers who write about the evils of bus lanes, bicyclists, pedestrians, hoons, p-platers, poor infrastructure and daily infra-urban migrations of workers and others. The latest is a column by north-shore darling Miranda Devine who writes with the devastating force of a strong opinion that is completely unsubstantiated in any shape or form.

Devine writes for a certain kind of conservative readership that isn’t too well educated, but unfortunately has to work alongside far more educated colleagues and subordinates. She taps into the existential frustrations of the ‘yes’ classes; those people at work who are quite happy to explain exactly what their boss wants you to do. She is good at isolating those minor frustrations that people have to put up with everyday in a city like Sydney and then associate it with a particular ‘type’ of person or people.

Whoever made up the Roads and Traffic Authority’s 1990s slogan ”the road is there to share” has a lot to answer for. It’s a big fat lie. The road is not there to share. Roads are built for cars. Pretending otherwise is unfair to motorists and cyclists alike.

Really? Then why does she go on to talk about the example of a bus and a cyclist? Beyond minor stupidities is the notion that the road is not a shared resource and that some road users are privileged users of the road over other road users. This is typical of conservatives, who don’t mind making appeals to brute physical force as trumping an ethics of (road) sharing when it works to their advantage.

As left economist Ross Gittins has also noted, road traffic is best thought of as a series of queues. Here is an in-depth blog post on the matter. The general idea is that queues are an immanent technology for the distribution of a limited resource. They form when they need to, and then dissipate when no longer required.

Road traffic is similar in that it is a complex series of queues. Devine seems to be throwing an it’s-my-party-and-I’ll-cry-if-I-want-to tanty about the fact that some road users, such as cyclists and pedestrians, force car drivers (and I assume bus drivers) to queue in a different way compared to the queues they would be forming purely with other vehicles.

I know how much Australians hate queue jumpers, maybe Miranda should mobilise the burden of her well crafted opinions and write something about ‘queue jumpers’ in traffic who cause far worse problems. I am talking about drivers who refuse to merge, who won’t anticipate the fact they will need to merge in upcoming traffic, those who duck across lanes into spaces that have been left by safe and considerate drivers during peak times and those that refuse to leave a safe travelling distance between cars insisting on travelling on the back bumper fo the car in front.

Here is a real world example. Have you noticed on the M4 or any heavily congested arterial road of Sydney that waves of movement start to form at a certain density of cars on the road? This has puzzled traffic engineers and physicists for a long time. Drawing on the anthropological part of my PhD, I shall provide my expert opinion of why they form. It is because there are two types of driver behaviour interacting with each other.

1) The lane hopper. There is normally very little reason to change lanes on the M4 as they all go the same way. Why are people changing lanes? Because they think one lane is going ‘faster’ than the one they are in.

2) The go-to-whoa-er. The go to whoa is an acceleration and braking-test competition held at many car festivals and shows around Australia. You accelrate as fast as possible and then brake heavily on a mark. Quickest wins. In heavy traffic the worst road users are those that helps propogate traffic waves by accelerating as fast as possible whenever their lane starts moving and then having to slam on the brakes (normally because of a lane hopper in the traffic in front of them). They accelrate hard to cut off the option of lane hoppers changing into ‘their’ lane. Why? Because they are queue jumpers.

A far more efficient way of driving during peak hour on motorways and freeways is to stay at a constant 40-50km/h. Try it the next time you are driving back towards the city on the M4.


What happens, or what does not happen, should be what concerns us: philosophers sometimes pride themselves on their ignorance of world affairs, again like watered-down Heideggarians, no matter how hostile they think they are to him, pretending that all that history and politics stuff is so, like, ontic, we’re working on something much more important here.

Nina over at IT writes on what she calls the dialectic of nature, which I read as a critique of the recent internet-based philosophical movement towards some kind of realism.

Of course the ontological precedes the political, but philosophers can never have a properly ‘ontological’ discourse. Badiou is kidding himself with maths. I don’t understand why apparently intelligent people with some understanding of what they are talking about actually want to return to some sort of bullshit ‘realism’ with the implicit goal of being ‘ontologically democratic’.


Most of the discussions are frightfully self-referential and pedantic, as if describing exactly what someone else says with a slight variation to agree or disagree with one’s own position is an activity that can be described in anyway approaching philosophy.


Show me what it does, otherwise it is like any other hype-event alienating me from my precious reading time.



Virilio’s concept of dromoscopy, the effect of speed on vision, has a cultural efficacy when one considers the smooth topology of the segmented spectacle.

Edges enable a perspective of anticipation, surprise and wonder. This is different to the socialised punchline of commodified expectations. Compositions of aesthetic objects can create an ‘edge’. An ambience that induces a subtle perspective of anticipation, that something could happen in the slow moments filled with the gravity of affirmation.

Affirm the edges.


This is interesting and a little upsetting. I have just become aware that Gavin Atkins of The ShadowLands blog on the Asian Correspondent news service site posted a blog post containing what, in my relatively educated, but non-‘legal expert’ opinion, is a defamatory imputation that damages the reputation of myself and, what is the most upsetting, my mother. Here is the original blog post:

An article by Ross Gittins suggesting university students are not worthy welfare recipients has predictably not been well received in some quarters.

You might find the first paragraph of this rebuttal somewhat peculiar:

“I was helped out by my folks for the final year and a half of my PhD in a direct way. My mum also used to send me cash every now and then during my candidature so I could buy some broccoli.”

until you look it up.

Here is my response I just posted to the comments:

Hi Gavin,

That is my blog you link to.

My mother actually sent me money to buy vegetables, which she called ‘broccoli money’ as a play on my childhood dislike of broccoli. She did not send me a little cash every now and then so as to buy drugs.

To put it mildly, I don’t really appreciate the imputation of your blog post. Perhaps you should read another blog post of mine to help you understand the possible implications:

I would’ve commented earlier, but my blog software only picked up your trackback now. I understand the cut and thrust of blogging sometimes has untoward effects, so I’d appreciate you keeping this post but appending a comment that clarifies that my mother did not provide me with money to buy drugs. This way those who have already read the post will know you were only joking.


Bloggers or journalists who bridge the gap between new and old media should really become more aware of legislation and common law pertaining to questions of defamation.

EDIT 20/10/09: Looks like the Asian Correspondent is recruiting high class bloggers like JF Beck RWDB who also took a shine to one of my posts.

EDIT 20/10/09: Gavin has apologised, so I am content.