Lemmings on the road to nowhere

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 March, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 March, 1995, 12:00am

THE hours ticked by.

Legislators set their faces in that 'nothing you say could possibly bore me' rictus, but let their eyes glaze comfortably over.

It was the Government's moment of revenge.

The day when officials get their chance to reply in dreary, formal speeches to legislators supposedly probing and hard-hitting, but often merely ill-informed questions and criticisms of the Budget and Expenditure Estimates.

Other than homo merchant-bankiens, only one human sub-species can instil more tedium into a speech than legislator party-liniens in full flight. It is homo bureaucraticus maximus.

One by one, legislators, journalists and even fellow policy secretaries dropped off to sleep as our chief administrators droned blandly on.

But suddenly Haider Barma startled the chamber out of its somnolence.

We had all heard, he said, (though, sadly, not in so many words) of congestion and the triple bypass.

Well, now, transport planners had come up with an entirely new concept: the bypass and triple congestion.

The Secretary for Transport had obviously been doing his homework.

He said he had read about this in an article, so it had to be taken seriously. It was the ultimate proof of the Government's argument that you cannot solve traffic jams by building roads. You just get bigger traffic jams.

Here we had been calling it 'Murphy's Law' for years, and now it turns out that there was in fact a proper scientific name for it: triple convergence.

What it says, in a nutshell, is that if you build a new road - be it a tunnel, a bypass or flyover - you get no less than three lots of extra rush-hour traffic clogging it up: a) lemmings fed up with blocking the old road; b) lemmings who used not to be lemmings, but travelled off-peak; c) lemmings who used to get squashed in public transport instead.

We'll never understand what motivates type-b lemmings, although we do have a sneaking sympathy for types a and c. But the proof that they really exist is right here in Hong Kong, viz: the Eastern Harbour Crossing and the Tate's Cairn Tunnel, which between them have emptied the KCR and attracted more lemmings to travel in slow motion between Sha Tin and Hong Kong Island than previously even admitted to owning a car.

But just in case legislators might jump to the wrong conclusions, Mr Barma was quick to reassure them.

'Of course,' he said, 'this does not mean that we should not build more roads.

'In fact, we are committed to the biggest road building programme in the territory's history, with $30 billion to be spent over the next five years.' Phew, what a relief! So don't worry, lemmings. The Government is looking after your interests, after all.