Wednesday, 6 July 2016

1976 to 1992 Auckland


Came to Auckland in 1976 on transfer. Flatted with fellow workmate for a while before moving into top floor of lovely old house in Parnell for the princely sum of $50pw shared between three of us, it was of course exorbitant compared to what I had been paying in Wellington.  The stability of the flat and the pleasantness of my flatmates was a good base to really start enjoying my job which was entirely different from Wellington, as I had hoped. I was also biking everywhere having sold the rust bucket of a '65 850 Mini I had in Wellington.

Back then there were hundreds of local bodies (here are just over 70 now) and rather than them "going it alone" the MoT provided the smaller ones with a free traffic engineering service from its pool of expertise based in the three main centres.

I learnt a lot very fast especially from excellent trainers like Alan Hopkinson, not much he didn't know about intersection design and plenty else.

I can't remember exactly how big the Auckland team was but somewhere around ten of us.
We were based in what was known then as the Custom House (Customs and MaF were on the top floors), and a horrible dark, noisy, metal desks, lino (peeling) floored, insecure ( I was robbed twice by "stair dancers") hole that was.
That said it was all the incentive I needed to spend half my time in the field driving around in what were the wrecks of ex-patrol cars that became our office pool cars. Frayed seat belts, collapsed seats, questionable safety all round (by todays standards) - just the thing for the exuberant youth in the office to beat the last vestige of mileage out of.

I looked after "West" initially, that was New Lynn, Henderson, Glen Eden Boroughs and Waitemata County which collectively became Waitemata City in the first big round of local body amalgamations. A pretty big patch from the very urban to the very rural, an excellent area to look after with a bit of everything. I got to know the borough engineers very well, they were generous with me seeing I was so young - not that anyone was very old in the engineering world back then.  Some of my roundabout designs are still functioning to this day.

In 1980 the MoT sent me and one other staff member to Australia for four months of full time study at the University of NSW on full pay plus expenses and bonded us for two years. There wasn't any traffic engineering study of substance available in NZ back then. It was an awesome opportunity and one I very much doubt any public sector agency would offer these days. I learnt a lot from the really good and practically oriented staff.
As well as that I learnt rents were huge compared to Auckland, in summer Sydney was a lot hotter than NZ (45 some days), that it wasn't safe to walk through long grass and that their coffee was so much better than ours - we were instant and they were flat whites. They also had cafes - something at that time only found in the Orakei Garden Centre in Auckland.

After that I looked after Northland and I forget exactly the number of small local bodies up there, the smallest being Hikurangi Town District, although at some point it got whittled down to just the three big ones Far North, Kaipara and Whangarei Districts. Got to know one of the Engineers at Whangarei pretty well Wayne Davison (since passed away) really nice guy and good to work with.
Engineer at Kaipara was the same person I'd worked with in Glen Eden. Far North was a moving target and shifting sand of staff.

Northland was very different to West Auckland and the only way to deal with it was to gather a lot of  jobs of varying sizes, work out an efficient itinerary and go away for a week at a time, usually with two of us as many surveys required two people, mainly with Dave Croft and on occasion Anatole Sergejew or Mitchell Tse. We got $45 a day for accommodation and meals, beyond that, your problem. By all accounts happy times working in Northland a much bigger place than people realise and economically as diverse as its roading.

In 1985 we saw the first systematic crash reduction studies done NZ us having been introduced to them Barbara Sabey from the UK. I found myself on the first one in Auckland and was effectively seconded to the Ministry of Works for three months to teach their staff about analysing crash data.
I don't think the local office was that enthusiastic about this new fangled idea but it was thrashed along by one of the MoW HQ staff Roy Coddington  whose only weakness was the need to have a stand up argument with someone at the first black spot site of the day. I liked him he had passion and he really "got it", not withstanding he was a bit scary at times. A friend of mine working for Beca's later did an analysis of that study and found that the benefits of the study to be 28:1, that is for every dollar spent on the low cost remedial measures $28 dollars was returned to the tax payer in crash savings.

I don't have many pictures from that time but this is one from 1988 with most of the team at one of our annual training workshops.


At some point we moved offices to the Bledisoe Building in behind the Civic Theatre which was a huge improvement on the Custom House and for the first time (and as it transpired my last) I had my own office with opening windows and a huge tree right outside, love that oxygen.

We even had a "Computer room" yes indeed, the 8086 and dot matrix printer had arrived.

By then I had a team of four technical assistants under my wing.

Then along came the Land Transport Safety Authority and the demise of the much bigger MoT - all good things it transpired.

1 comment:

  1. Ah - that brings back some memories, Chris! I'll add my bit.

    In 1976-78 I had the pleasure of working with Chris in the MOT Customhouse building. As a budding traffic engineer just completing my degree I had a lot to learn.

    How to play bridge was one of them. I remember our morning tea bridge sessions well. Signalled by Dot walking the tea trolley down the corridor, they often seemed to extend beyond the statutory 15 minutes allowed. Had to finish the hand, didn't we!

    Then there was coding TARs under Hoppo's tutelage, learning roundabout design with Don Houghton, doing speed checks on Rangiriri straight while Kippers dozed in the seat beside me, writing letters explaining why we couldn't put in a pedestrian crossing outside an old persons home in Mt Eden because volumes didn't meet the warrant...

    But most of all it was learning about over-ripe bananas from Bill Frith. That guy really know how to sniff out a bargain!

    Enjoy your retirement, Chris - from the MOT/LTSA/NZTA at least. Consultancy beckons!

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