'In a world where clever ideas abound, are we sufficiently open to hearing about them?'

Douglas Kruger

By Douglas Kruger

ROADWORKS bring out the vocabulary in us. I dug deeply into my Anglo-Saxon linguistic heritage last week, while trying to drop the progeny at Sports Bug. A surprise road closure rerouted me via Belgium.

I had several deadlines to meet that day and I genuinely couldn’t afford the delay. We already have more holidays than the declining Roman Empire. Throw in a surprise detour during rush hour, and precious minutes evaporate.

I drove home thinking that there had to be a better solution.

Would you know it, there is?

Switzerland has the answer, and you can see it in action on YouTube. It’s called a Mobile Overpass Bridge. Think of it as a sort of “rent-a-road” for when the road you need is out of sorts.

It looks like a concertina in a box. The box is loaded onto a truck, and the truck arrives at the stretch of road in question before the day’s work begins. A team then “stretches” this bridge, Meccano-style, over the area in question. Oncoming traffic drives up the ramp, passes safely but efficiently over the repair team, then down the other side. Et voilà. It even creates some lovely shade where the men with drills can eat their sandwiches.

With a smart solution in place, they cease to face the trade-off between “productivity or repairs”. Turns out, two things can happen at once.

Yes, but that sounds expensive.

Absolutely. Everything costs money initially. Including our long-overdue tunnel to France.

But there are two sides to every cost equation: the cost of a solution and the cost of doing nothing. That amounts to “productive time lost”, in the case of roadworks. And “gigantic cost of living”, in the case of disconnection from sources of supply.

Now consider this: Switzerland ranks fourth in the world for productivity per hour worked. They are clearly doing something right in Heidi’s back yard. The more you enable the free flow of, well, everything, the stronger your economy becomes. Increased speed equals increased productivity, which equals a wealthier nation. And the wealthier you become, the more funds are available for even more smart solutions, in a virtuous upward spiral.

There’s a visceral element to it too. Smart solutions are just plain cool. I imagine that when Romans built the first bridge across a stream, the locals would have been mesmerised by how much easier everything became (though undoubtedly, some would also have complained bitterly in the comments section of the village tablet).

If we want our youth to stay on the Island, it matters that they see intelligence at work here, a certain energy, a willingness to do the clever thing and solve the silly setback.

So here are my three proposals:

  • One: We should acquire a mobile overpass bridge to speed things up during roadworks. There are big bridges, for repairing entire highways, and there are small ones, for village roads like ours. We only need a small one.

  • Two: Once we realise how well this works, we should extend the principle with permanent overpasses on our busiest routes. We could double the amount of road available in busy areas, without demolishing a single thing. Just go up and over – or down and under – thus preserving the Island’s sightlines. Some of our busiest intersections could also be sped up exponentially with simple overpasses.

  • Three: We need a team investigating smart ideas like this full-time. And by “team”, I do not mean ludicrously expensive contractors from a foreign nation. Take the budget away from one of our woke unicorn social-engineering departments, and give it to three kids straight out of high school. Arm them with an internet connection. Give them all the popcorn they can eat, and a simple mission statement: “Search the globe for clever ideas from other places. Tell us what you find.”

For instance, I rate parking as one of our dumbest problems. But make no mistake, it’s a big problem. And I’m beginning to suspect that the powers are more interested in banning cars (which will never work, and only make life progressively more difficult) than they are in “enabling mobility”, which should be the real goal.

So, here are two solutions from high-density nations:

  • Japan has discovered that if people don’t have to park their own cars, it is possible to stack them much more closely together. You drive onto a platform, get out, and let the automated system slot your car into a storage space, in something like a massive coat rack. It more than doubles parking capacity.

  • Or, (and I favour this one) build communal parking under entire city blocks. Make it free to use.

At present, some of our rental apartments have underground parking, while some do not. So far as I can tell, none of our shops do, which is why our high streets are dying. That is eminently solvable.

Drive off the street, down the ramp, and into the acres of available parking. “Of course you can park in St Helier. The whole of St Helier is parking, and it’s all free because we want trade, traffic and tourism. It’s easy to get things done here.”

Whatever the specific solutions we consider, the overarching principle should be this: Try to make it easier to go about life, not harder. Try to speed things up, not slow them down. Try to enable, not ban.

Switzerland has taken this notion to heart. And they are a phenomenal counter to the notion that progress necessarily makes a beautiful place uglier. If anything, they’re more anal about preserving their lovely heritage than we are. So it can be done. A beautiful nation that works like a Swiss clock.

Ultimately, it’s a matter of mindset. In a world where clever ideas abound, are we sufficiently open to hearing about them?

  • Douglas Kruger lives in St Helier, and writes books to keep himself out of mischief. When the seagulls aren’t shrieking, he records them too. They’re all available from Amazon and Audible.

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