There is nothing like a three-hour traffic stoppage on Auckland Harbour Bridge to bring out the hobby horses. Public transport advocates clamour for more trains and buses. Road lobbyists want a harbour tunnel now. Not to be outdone, Auckland University environment professor Chris de Freitas comes thundering over the horizon like one of the horsemen of the apocalypse declaring it's too late, we're all doomed.
Just a modest earthquake, he says, will topple the harbour bridge and assorted motorway bridges. Other vital parts of the motorway network will succumb to liquefaction. All that's missing from his shroud waving is Antarctica melting and the CBD being inundated by a 3m rise in sea levels. But de Freitas can't go there. He's also a leading climate-change denier.
As hobby horses go, mine is by far the cheapest and quickest. After a major crash, just clean up as quickly as possible and get the traffic flowing again.
It's not exactly revolutionary. This is what Transit New Zealand (now the Transport Agency), the police, Fire Service and Ambulance New Zealand pledged to do in November 2002 when they jointly signed a protocol for highway incident management. It was updated in 2012.
Based on an "open roads philosophy" it began: "Whenever a highway or lane is closed or partially closed by a crash or incident, the police and/or Transit will have a prime focus of opening the roadway" urgently.
In 2002, after two Christmas holiday crashes in quick succession at Warkworth and Mangatawhiri causing six-hour delays for travellers, Transit brought in Seattle-based accident guru John O'Laughlin of the "steer it, clear it" school. A leading advocate of aggressive clearing of roadways after an accident, his first recommendation was that "all response agencies ... should be trained to ensure that fully closing the roadway is the last option, not the first".
In Auckland he attended a motorway accident that took an hour to clear. He said it should have taken 10 minutes. Acknowledging the biggest obstacle to reopening a crash site was the need to collect evidence for possible legal proceedings, he recommended the use of photogrammetry, the science of recreating with the aid of computer software, accurate scale 3D models of a crash scene using photographs taken on site. Measuring the damage to cars, skid-marks and the like can all be calculated with high accuracy later, off site. The photographing can take place while officers wait for tow trucks and heavy lifting equipment to arrive.
As a result, Transit New Zealand spent $100,000 on a special stereoscopic camera for the use of harbour bridge-based police highway patrol. The police sent staff to Germany for further training.
In July 2004, a crash near the Fanshawe St bridge on-ramp brought city traffic to a halt for four hours. Auckland City police had turned down an offer of help from their highway colleagues and the new equipment.
But since then, to quote Brett Gliddon, the state highway manager for Auckland/Northland, "investment in both road improvements and the investment in the response effort has seen a significant reduction in the frequency and severity of serious incidents".
He says that since 2002, "technology has come along in leaps and bounds" helping "expedite the resolution of on-road incidents such as crashes". Photogrammetry "is now superseded by digital technology".
Yesterday, the police refused to discuss what technology they used to help expedite the clearing of the crash scene on Saturday, though a statement the day before said the investigators had "access to advanced mapping equipment, such as photogrammetry and robotic survey techniques". It added, cryptically, that "laser scanners do not always offer a faster capture".
What they refuse to explain is why this truck-versus-two-motorcycles incident took us back a decade to the bad old days of three or more hours of gridlock.
Through a spokesman, Mr Gliddon said: "Saturday's disruption was a strong reminder of the importance of incident management and the knock-on effect that severe incidents can have throughout the network. Together with emergency services, we will be reflecting on the weekend's events to get a better understanding of how the various tools at our disposal can help restore the network to normal capacity as quickly as possible."
Reading the "open roads" protocol to each other would be a good first step.