Archive for the ‘Tourism’ Category

Speeding up improvements to road safety

December 7, 2011

As a frequent motorist to Adelaide’s roads, I occasionally am confused as to the speed limit on the section of road on which I am driving. It seems to forever be changing – in both distance and time – and as more councils are taking speed limits into their own hands it only looks like becoming more confusing before the situation improves. Unley City Council is a good example of this where local speed limits have been reduced to 40km/h.

Speed limits can be confusing and frustrating for many motorists. (Source: AdelaideNow)

In the urban areas around Adelaide, there are large signs around in yellow notifying drivers that the speed limit is 50km/h unless otherwise sign posted. But if a driver has just turned onto an arterial or connector road from a local street how does a driver tell what the speed limit is, particularly if they aren’t familiar with the area? What happens if one of the 40km/h or 60km/h speed limit signs has been removed, knocked over, or vandalised?

I like the New South Wales approach to posting speed limits. The speed limits are painted on the roadway in addition to the signage. But where there’s no signage, the speed limits are often still painted on the road anyway such as on the entry to a local street. This approach communicates more clearly to drivers the speed limit of the road they are driving on.

But even this, I don’t think, is the be-all end-all solution to sorting out speed limits on Adelaide’s roads. There’s a lack of consistency across much of the metropolitan region. Some councils have local speed limits of 40km/h, others use 50km/h on local streets, whilst others such as the Adelaide City Council have widespread 50km/h speed limits with only a handful of exceptions. And then there’s the odd arterial road that has a speed limit that isn’t 60km/h such as The Parade in Norwood and some outer suburban roads such as Lonsdale Road.

However, are we asking ourselves the right questions when we consider speed limits to improve safety? So much of the media and public discussion in creating safer road and pedestrian environments revolves around speed limits. Purely focusing on this aspect alone ignores the bigger picture. An example of this is currently happening in discussions about Hutt Street and a number of other local streets in central Adelaide.

Hutt Street is a wide four lane road with median strip and dedicated right turn lanes as well as on-street parking. It is lined with a number of restaurants and bars and is a well regarded dining strip in Adelaide. Adelaide City Council proposes reducing the speed limit from 50km/h to 40km/h to “encourage an expansion of alfresco dining and encourage pedestrians to spend more time and money in the city”. No other changes are currently proposed for Hutt Street.

This solution is a bit short-sighted, although I can see how lowering speed limits fits into a bigger scheme as it has successfully been implemented in other cities including Swanston Street in Melbourne, which is now closed off to regular traffic except trams. Yes, lowering speed limits might slow down traffic but it doesn’t do anything to increase the appeal of the street and the street is currently not very pedestrian friendly, which is what Hutt Street needs. Other measures and planning are needed to transform Hutt Street into a place that people want to visit instead of changing a few rules and hoping.

Maybe the authorities and public have forgotten about one traffic calming solution that was implemented on King William Road in Hyde Park in the 1980s to slow traffic through the local shopping street (or high street as the English call them). The street is lined with bricks which causes vehicles to rumble as they drive over them, which encourages traffic to slow down as driving at high speed over them creates large vehicle vibrations.

Of course there’s other measures that could be considered for Hutt Street as well. Zebra crossings which prioritise pedestrian movements could be used at some locations. (For some reason that I can’t explain zebra crossings don’t seem to be in favour in planning across Adelaide.)  The angled parking that currently exists takes up an excessive amount of potential footpath and outdoor dining space and could be redesigned for parallel parking, allowing some of the space to be reallocated for outdoor space. As an aside, the existing City Loop Adelaide Metro bus route could be extended to include Hutt Street instead of Pulteney Street.

In discussions about improving safety in our road environments, we need to start looking at the bigger picture and stop imagining individual actions as be-all end-all solutions. There is no such thing as the perfect solution. However, there is always room for improvement and those safety improvements can take forms other than changing the speed limit.

The world’s strangest border crossings

November 28, 2010

It’s been a while since I last posted on this blog, and so I thought I would recommence posting (hopefully posting more often) with something very relevant to recent global events and some food for thought.

Many of us are lucky to be living in regions of the world where peace exists and neighbouring countries maintain good relationships with each other. However, in some parts of the world relations between some countries continues to remain shaky and as a result the borders between these countries are highly monitored and can be very dangerous places. Even with the high level of risk in these locations, the following two border crossings have increasingly become tourist attractions because of their history and the rarity of these types of border crossings in the modern age.

The first of the two I’d like to share is the border crossing at Wagah between India and Pakistan, who have fought numerous wars against each other since British India was split into these two countries in 1947. The crossing falls between the cities of Lahore (Pakistan) and Amritsar (India), which are only about 60 km apart. Guards from both India and Pakistan patrol the border, and every evening a (rather amusing) ceremony is held by soldiers from both sides as seen in the following video.

The second border crossing is probably the most watched border crossing on the planet in the current time – between South Korea and North Korea. At the time of writing, relations between the two countries has reached its lowest point since the Korean War ended in 1953 (the two countries are still technically at war with each other). The recent incident involving the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea is largely a result of a dispute over the ownership and location of the border between the two countries. The history behind the current situation on the Korean Peninsula goes back over 100 years, starting with the Japanese occupation of Korea in 1910. Following World War II, Japan retreated from Korea and the country was split in two with the 38th parallel forming the the boundary between the US administered south and Soviet administered north. Lack of agreement between the two sides resulted in the Korean War (1950-53), with neither side gaining any ground. Between the two countries, roughly following the 38th parallel, there is a narrow strip of no-mans land which forms the Korean Demilitarised Zone and the most heavily guarded border in the world.

One of the few locations where North Korea and South Korea meet is at Panmunjom near the west coast. The label “border crossing” is a misnomer at this location, because no crossing is allowed here. Although there are numerous factories and tourist locations on the North Korean side of the border accessible from South Korea, the rest of North Korea is inaccessible from the South. Unlike the India-Pakistan border, the following videos show how tense the border is compared to the border at Wagah.

So to all Australians who read this – and anyone from other countries that do not share a land border with any other – next time you complain about how far away the rest of the world is, think about how lucky we are in that we don’t have the land border issues that some other countries face.

Tourism: The language barrier

June 22, 2010

Signage and announcements in multiple languages with proper spelling and grammar can go a long way to assisting non-local tourists.

Over the past few decades international travel has grown in leaps and bounds. That so many people would be travelling to international destinations on holiday was unthinkable back before the beginning of the jet age in the 1950s. Today, it has become something more of a long distance commute with the largest planes – the Boeing 747 and the recent Airbus A380 – packing hundreds of people between their wings on busy routes. With the number of people crossing international borders into territories where different languages are spoken on the rise, it has become increasingly important that areas targeting increasing numbers of tourists can communicate clearly with their international arrivals.

For many places, the first port of call into another country is usually an airport (if not, a border crossing check on a road or a cruise terminal). Proper communication is particularly important for the busiest international airports such as Heathrow in London, Chek Lap Kok in Hong Kong and Charles de Gaulle in Paris where passengers speaking such a large variety of different languages are arriving or transferring to other flights. Some of these airports do make an effort such as Hong Kong, where information is displayed and announcements are made in Cantonese, Mandarin and English while others simply don’t bother – usually the ones where English is the official language – often leaving a few visitors rather lost.

For example, the introduction of Mandarin in Hong Kong is a real step forward for the small territory. Before mainland China began its great economic boom in the 1990s, everything was done in the native language of Cantonese and the other official language introduced by Britain: English. As China boomed and with an ever increasing potential tourist market for Hong Kong, Mandarin was introduced in places more widely such as the transport system to encourage tourism to Hong Kong by mainland Chinese visitors who now play a key role in Hong Kong’s tourism industry. Futhermore, many retail assistants have been trained to speak in Mandarin. (To be honest, written Mandarin does not vary much from Cantonese so reading is not such an issue, but the spoken languages can be quite different.)

In places such as Japan and South Korea, where they are the only country (or one of a couple of countries) that speaks the official language of their country, communication is important with both incoming non-local arrivals and outgoing locals. They need to be able to communicate with their arrivals and both countries have done this with some success. Since jointly hosting the Football World Cup in 2002, both countries have installed many signs in English which makes moving around a lot easier, keeping their tourists from becoming lost (other than on what can be somewhat confusing transport systems regardless of what language is spoken!) and encouraging non-Japanese and Korean speakers to visit. Often, the grammar is not perfect (Engrish!) but this is forgivable as long as it can be understood and not misinterpreted. Other languages have not been introduced on signs to the scale that English has, and this is an area in which these two countries can improve.

Being an international Japanese or Korean traveller with a lack of English could be rather intimidating outside an organised group with a guide. Many English speaking countries such as Australia and Canada (except Quebec where French is quite common) simply have not bothered with multi-lingual signs or announcements. For areas where tourism is an important industry, it can’t simply be expected that tourists will have a grasp of the English language. Certainly, countries such as Japan and South Korea haven’t expected all their arrivals to speak their local languages. To be fair though, for many non-English speaking countries choosing English as the language targeted at tourists is an understandable thing to do as it is the accepted language of international business. For countries where multiple official languages exist, there is also less of an issue as it is more likely that a visitor will be able to speak one of the languages. However, for places where English is the only official language it isn’t so easy to pick another language to use when there are so many different languages to choose from and none of them clearly dominate over the others. Placing signs in every possible language isn’t practical, although solutions like touch-screens that can display information about a location to tourists in many languages such as at an airport would be a good start. I’m sure there’s plenty of other good ideas out there as well.