Thursday, December 10, 2009

Auckland's 'phone boxes of doom

In these days of the ever-continuing demise of public phone boxes in the wake of the cellphone revolution, younger generations will wonder what all the fuss is about in reading the following from the Auckland Star, 17 November 1924. I'm glad they had them round the right way by the time I was out toddling the pavements later on that century, though.

There are a few public telephone boxes in Auckland that are so placed as to be better able to provide more than the average trouble for those who use them. The worst that most of these boxes can do is to provide a sort of shelter shed in which one may stand for any length of time, feed the slot with pennies and turn the handle of the machine until exhausted, meanwhile swearing and shouting, all to oneself, against an inpenetrable barrier of silence.

There are a few boxes where one is liable, at any time, to get more for his money -- where, as a kind of finishing touch, a knock-down may be administered as one steps or staggers out the door.

They have often been remarked upon, these boxes, which for some unaccountable reason have been placed in such position on the street-sides that their doors open from, and on to, the roadway, which means that those who wish to use the machines have first to step from the footpath into the roadway, and then from the boxes on the street again, when they wish to come out. Examples of them are to be found near the top end of Pitt Street, and near the Grafton Bridge corner in Symonds Street -- both of them, by the way, facing safety zones.

This latter fact has an important bearing on the case. There is a considerable amount of traffic at the two corners quoted, and now that zones have been introduced, there is practically no spare room between them (the zones) and the pavements, for any by vehicular traffic. Anyone who has watched or participated in the hop-skip-and-jump methods that must now invariably be used when attempting to cross a street, will realise the truth of this. There is no room for pedestrians on the streets to-day, and when in the streets, any member of that rapidly declining race has the odds against him by about one hundred to one.

Consequently, fate may at any time decree that an ordinary human being, having used a slot telephone, may open the door of the species of box under review, step straight into the front of a motor car and in less time than it takes to tell find himself some few feet away from the point from which he started. Those who meet this experience at the Grafton Bridge box will, of course, be more fortunate than others because it is nearer to the hospital.

It may be argued that any such accident (one almost occurred yesterday) would be entirely the fault of the pedestrian. Someone would say that, as there are windows on three sides of the boxes, there would be no excuse for anyone inside not looking out and seeing that all was clear before coming out into the open. Another might say, "Serves him right for using the things." To a certain extent all this is admitted, but the mere fact that people will step into the front of vehicles from the very pavements, let alone from enclosed spaces, makes it necessary that they should, under no circumstances, be provided with facilities for sudden death.

Inquiries regarding the usual position of the doors of these portions of Post and Telegreaph Department property were made from the District Telegraph Engineer, and he replied that he had noticed the same extraordinary position himself (who could help noticing it?) but added that it was like that when he came to Auckland, and had been for some years. Possibly the idea was that it prevented blockages in pedestrian traffic -- people opening and closing doors on the footpath all day could not be tolerated in a city of the standard of Auckland. Again, it may have been so arranged purely from a humanitarian point of view -- that a man, having lost all his temper and his pennies, could quickly end his cares by opening the door suddenly and flinging himself in front of the traffic.

Itr is, of course, much more probable that accidents would happen as people left the boxes, rather than as they prepared to go into them. They are more likely to see traffic before they step from the pavement than before when they step from the boxes. Then, more often than not, they see nothing but "red".

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