Friday, 11 October 2013

Down These Mean Streets (2): More street hazards of early Tauranga

The far from smooth surface of Willow Street, c.1880.
Image © and courtesy of Tauranga City Libraries Ref. 99-729
Mud. The Bay of Plenty was, then as now, subject to downpours of almost tropical intensity, and there were constant complaints about mud, especially on the footpaths. Grey Street in 1875 was described as an ‘unhealthy swamp’.

Potholes. The heavy rainfalls played havoc with the road surfaces, whether shell, shingle, or asphalt, and holes in the road or footpath were a common hazard. The Council was forever playing catch-up with road formation and maintenance. In 1914, to finance its road improvement programme, it borrowed ₤10,000, a sum which proved to be insufficient.
Water. There was considerable difficulty in establishing accurate and workable road levels in the town centre. Willow Street caused particular problems, and there were many protests about changes in the flow of water as the road was formed. The Roads Board became ruthless. ‘We considered that the sanitary state of the town was even of greater importance than the formation of streets of an easy gradient, and this consideration more than any other decided us upon forming Willow street. The forming of this street to its proper level will necessitate property-holders in it to fill up their allotments or have them swamped’ (Bay of Plenty Times, 28 July 1877). Drains without traps on them were noted as a hazard, both to pedestrian safety and to the Council if legal action were to ensue, as late as 1916.

Road works, 1912 style: laying drains in Wharf Street
Image © and courtesy of Tauranga City Libraries Ref. 99-746
Dust. If the streets weren’t quagmires, they were dustbowls. In 1916 a petition was circulated about the dust nuisance on Cameron Road. It got 33 signatures. The Council refused to get a water cart to lay the dust, on the grounds of expense; a hose was deemed adequate.

Weeds. There were frequent complaints about gorse and other noxious plants. Householders who let gorse get out of control on their sections were ‘named and shamed’.

Vehicles. In 1916 there was indignation about buggies blocking the streets – they were parked, in some places, three deep. A few years later it was the reckless speed of motorists which caused concern. (Parking and speeding, not surprisingly, are still problems nearly a century later.)

Darkness. Electric street lights came in with much fanfare in October 1915, and then only in the central area of the town. Until then, there was some sporadic gas lighting in the main streets, but in general householders took their lives, or a torch, in their hands if they wanted to go out at night. All the daytime hazards – potholes, cattle, dogs, road works, mud – were magnified by darkness.

Absence of Road Signs. Name plates for the streets were purchased in 1915, to be put up on the power poles as soon as the electricity scheme was complete. It is unclear how the streets were identified before this.

Road Works. Before the days of OSH and the marking-out of diggings by lights and perimeter fences, road works posed a substantial risk to the unwary traveller. The Bay of Plenty Times gave a much-needed heads-up to its readers on 10 March 1877: ’in Spring street, where the cutting to connect it with the Cameron Road is in course of formation, any one not knowing what was going on might very easily have a disagreeable drop of some twelve feet [3.6 m] or so below the level of the ordinary roadway.’

In spite of the discomforts and dangers of getting about their town, the people of Tauranga were venturesome and inquisitive. They were not likely to stay at home when they could have excitements such as shopping, visits from dignitaries, openings of public buildings, war celebrations, trips to the library or cinema, musical and theatrical performances, meetings of clubs and societies, and the perennial amusement of taking each other to court.

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