Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Early traffic control in Auckland: 1894-1916

One of my favourite books is Alan Woolston's Equal To The Task, a history of the City of Auckland Traffic Department from 1894-1989. In chronological format, it recounts the development of Auckland City's traffic department from a single "Inspector of Vehicles" to the point where it was absorbed with the Ministry of Transport. The following comes from the first part of the book.

The first traffic officer in the City of Auckland was Thomas Turner, appointed as “Inspector of Vehicles” in 1894 by the City Council. He worked from out of the Sanitary Inspector’s office initially, sharing duties with the Assistant Sanitary Inspector. Traffic and sanitary inspections were therefore shared duties in the early years.

By 1900, in a Council bureaucracy that was very small and served a growing population, traffic inspectors were expected to undertake the following duties as part of their job description:

Act as Sanitary Inspectors
Supervise the night soil contract
Inspect food shops
Supervise the rubbish contract
Report to the Council on the cleanliness of streets
Inspect lodging houses and issue licenses
Supervise the building regulations
Other minor duties.

Some reorganisation pruned a few duties away from the list – but that of rat-catcher was later added.
“Throughout the city motor vehicle accidents began to increase (1911), especially at night. After several spectacular rear end crashes, motorists began to hang lamps on the rear of their vehicles, but there was no prescribed type of light and many hung a simple white lantern over the tailgate. To avoid confusion with other city lights, on 19 January, [J.B.] Lindsay recommended the Council amend Bylaw 11 to require all rear lights on vehicles (motor or horse-drawn) to be red.”

“Pedestrians and motor vehicle drivers continued to be in conflict with each other. On 17 March (1911) a young woman crossing Queen Street to catch a tram was knocked down and run over by a passing motorist. She was not seriously injured, but the motorist was charged with, ‘Having driven a motor car on Queen Street at a speed likely to be dangerous to the public.’ In a show of excessive zeal the prosecution called 16 witnesses who variously assessed the vehicle’s speed between 8 and 12 mph.”
Also by 1911, much of the Traffic Inspector’s workload involved checking and regulating trams. In 1916, the Council moved to enforce a 9 mph speed limit when it prosecuted an Auckland Electric Tramways motorman for exceeding 9mph. The Tramways Company countered by stating that trams had only two speeds – 12 mph and 19 mph. The magistrate that time ruled in the Company’s favour and felt that the bylaw was unreasonable. The following year Council won another case, when the evidence showed the tram in question had been traveling at 20 mph.

Ladies’ fashion was another subject of an early traffic bylaw. The fashion of the day dictated that ladies wore large decorative hats with long hat pins. The sharp projecting end of said pins was cause for concern for those sharing tram transport with the ladies in their finery, so Council developed a special Bylaw, requiring that all hat pins were to be covered with a cork. The Traffic Inspectors were obliged to board the trams and check that this was complied with and that all sharp points were corked.

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