Expressway traffic flow controls

What are they?

They are a series of measures implemented over the past few years to Melbourne’s freeways and tollways that aim to improve traffic flow during peak periods. They include reduced speed limits, red lights at on-ramps to pace incoming traffic, flashing signs in the Burnley Tunnel encouraging us to “avoid lane change[s]” and solid white lines between lanes to prevent slower inner lane traffic merging into the faster outer lanes.

What do we think?

We think the State Government and Transurban are using a Band-Aid approach to try to stem the arterial bleed that is the state’s expressway network, pun intended. Despite their best efforts, we still witness peak period traffic jams on the Monash Freeway that are kilometres long. Indeed, heading east into the Burnley Tunnel just last week, we were stuck in stop-start traffic all the way from Bolte Bridge (a distance of a little over 5km).

Further, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics predicting Melbourne’s population to grow by another 2,000,000 inhabitants over the next 40 years, this situation can only become worse.

We could blame the current shortcomings of the expressway network on its designers: perhaps they should have dreamed bigger, should have built 12 lanes instead of 6. Yet we find this hard to credit. The expense in building and maintaining such a gargantuan beast would cripple it. No, the fault is more fundamental than this, stemming directly from the cars themselves. Culturally, the car is a means for freedom – the very idea of car-pooling is anathema to their use, evidenced by the fact that the overwhelming majority of cars on our roads are filled only by their drivers. Yet physically, thanks to human reaction times, cars travelling at expressway speeds take up a lot of room. According to research done by Bjarke Ingels Group as part of their Audi Urban Future project, they require up to 30 times the space required per person in similarly fast-moving trains.

What should we learn?

We suggest that expressways are a priori incapable of addressing peak period usage. Even over-sizing them to account for predicted growth is nothing more than a short-lived solution. Thus it is farcical to see the introduction of puffery like reduced speed limits and traffic lights at on-ramps.

Our government must stop looking towards expressways as the transport solution to our ever-expanding city and instead turn their attention to the rail- and tramways, both measurably less susceptible to peak period congestion, less prone to accidents, cheaper to expand and vastly more environmentally sustainable.

Sublimely utilitarian: MacBook Pro

The objective:

This is the third in a series of posts showcasing the sublimely utilitarian. To qualify, a product must understand and address its purpose perfectly, must comprise nothing that isn’t essential. But it must also go beyond the expected – it must suprise, pleasure and delight. It must respond to this great saying: “Only do something if it is necessary, but if it is necessary, do it beautifully.”

The product:

The 13 inch Apple MacBook Pro.

Its qualifications:

  1. It is small and light enough to be carried comfortably in an average satchel without ruining a shoulder.
  2. Its battery life is long.
  3. Its multi-touch pad is easy to use and renders all other touch pads obsolete.
  4. Its magnetic power cord attachment is a smart solution to the dangers of tripping over the cord and destroying the connection.
  5. Its operating system works quickly and smoothly.
  6. It rarely stalls and never gets infected with viruses, worms or trojans. Should a programme happen to grind to a halt, aborting is easy and takes only a few seconds.
  7. It is beautiful.

Our verdict:

Ever since Apple released the iMac G3 in 1998, it has been committed to, and undoubtedly the world-leader in, design-driven digital technology. Nominating it in our Sublimely Utilitarian series is both inevitable and natural – selecting the MacBook Pro from all of Apple’s stunning products was a matter of circumstance rather than superiority – we just happen to be writing this article on one right now.

Direct advertising

What is it?

A form of advertising pioneered by the likes of Google and Facebook that tailors adverts to users. Rather than broadcasting an advert to millions of mostly disinterested users, direct advertising limits the broadcast to the advertised product’s demographic, reaching fewer but potentially more interested users.

Google is a blunt tool for such tailoring, utilising users’ recent search patterns to make a rough guess at where they live and what they do. Spend a bit of time searching for used cars online and you’ll probably find that Google starts offering up various car sales sites in its Ads column. Facebook in contrast is like a surgeon’s scalpel, garnering its user information from the people who know best: the users themselves. Facebook offers you an advert for a wedding dress store in Armadale because you told it you live in Melbourne and you just updated your status to engaged.

What do we think?

We are intrigued by the concept of direct advertising, but remain torn between strong scepticism and grudging acceptance.

We’re sceptical because Facebook and its ilk sell (and profit from) direct advertising space by utilising information entered into what many people think of as the “public realm” of the internet. It just goes to show how misguided we all are – Facebook is not the digital equivalent of a town square but a shopping mall, where every square centimetre is owned and where the security guards can kick us out if they think we’re loitering without intention to buy – the infrastructure of the internet may be modelled on a free and open city, but its buildings are private property. Facebook argue that they gather only crowd statistics rather than specific information on individuals, but all this nevertheless reeks strongly of a slippery slope heading straight for a direct invasion of privacy: we accept crowd statistics today and we’ll find our most intimate information being sold to the highest bidder tomorrow.

Our further concern is the recent evolution of direct advertising into user-endorsed advertising i.e. the broadcasting of advertised products “liked” by a user to all of his / her friends. According to Mark Zuckerberg in Time‘s recent, extensive and excellent article on him as the 2010 Time Person of the Year, this is a positive development. After all, we are intensely social creatures and thus place a far higher value on what 3 of our friends think about a product than 1,000,000 strangers. But we’re not sure we really want to become unpaid advertising whores for the world’s products.

On the other hand, like it or not, the world is chockerblock full of products with which we engage on a daily basis. Our vocabulary is full of trademarked, copyrighted and registered terms: energy drinks after exercise have been replaced by Gatorade™; our phones have been upgraded to iPhones™; and surfing the internet is a thing of the past, now we Google™ it. Without even realising it, we are already advertising whores every time we open our mouths. Even here at Panfilocastaldi we can’t escape this reality – check out our Sublimely Utilitarian articles here and here.

So we may be fundamentally queasy about direct and user-endorsed advertising, but we can’t deny its inevitability. Perhaps telling our friends on Facebook that we like Coon Tasty™ is really no different from telling our friends at a dinner party that we like cheese.