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Cheers - AE

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Lights and fences and lawsuits, oh my.

One of the things I'm quite happy for government to do, and therefore for me to be taxed to help pay for, is a bit of street lighting. Okay, governments being what they are I wouldn't be at all surprised if someone said that it costs more than it needs to, but overall it's mostly not bad value and as public services go it's simple enough that it must be quite hard to fuck up. However there are limits and I think lighting up a whole fucking bridge at a cost of $20 million just because you want it to look good is going beyond them.
Melbourne's Westgate Bridge will be covered in thousands of new lights, in a face-lift that is expected to reinvigorate the city's night skyline.

The Victorian Government will spend about $20-million on the lights, which will be placed on the bridge's cabling poles and lanes.


"That will provide for a safer, more visible structure, and ultimately one that I think will aptly demonstrate a key piece of urban infrastructure for the city of Melbourne," [said the Roads Minister, Tim Pallas]

The lights can be illuminated in patterns for special events such as New Year's Eve.
Look at the fucking thing, will you? I realise that Melbourne feels a little like it's living in Sydney's shadow sometimes but the Westgate is not and never will be the tourist attraction that the Sydney Harbour Bridge is. You can't get out and admire it or walk across taking photos of the city, and there's no museum and gift shop or anywhere obvious to put it. The most significant part of its history that I know of is part of it falling down during construction, and I bet very few visitors trouble themselves to go and find the particular support with the plaque listing the names of those who died in the accident. So how about saving $20 million of our money, not to mention the ongoing costs, and settle for lighting that does the simple job of helping drivers see each other on the bridge at night?

Ah, but it's not just the lights. As the article mentions, the lights are just part of a $1.4 billion project to improve and upgrade the bridge, which includes the anti-suicide fences that I've mentioned before:
... if you said that saved 100 lives over ten years I'd agree that 100 grand per life saved is a more than fair price. But if it means that 100 people over ten years simply go for a walk in the forest with a rope I don't see we've gained a single thing. Come on, this is Australia for Christ's sake - you can almost guarantee your own death by going into the bush and annoying the wildlife.
As I said back then I'm a little undecided about the virtues of anti suicide fences on bridges in general and the Westgate in particular. The argument that some people choose to jump on impulsion is plausible, but people buy crap they don't need and can't afford on impulse as well and we don't think about putting barriers up to stop them. I'm all for the idea where suicides present a strong risk of injuring, killing or even inconveniencing others (I've always said that if I wanted to top myself I'd be looking at ways that don't involve jumping off of or under anything, and preferably that doesn't mean some poor sod has to peel parts of my brain of every flat surface in the room) but otherwise I lean towards leaving the situation be and accepting the fact that now and again people will jump, and that stopping them from doing so won't prevent the serious ones looking for alternatives. On top of that I feel strongly that if our lives are truly our own then an individual must have the right to decide whether they want to die, assuming they can do so rationally.

What I'm damn sure I oppose is suing other taxpayers because someone you care about took their life and that you blame the state for not doing enough to stop them.
Ali Halkic [whose son committed suicide by jumping from the Westgate] claims [the state government and Vicroads] did not do enough to stop people committing suicide at the bridge, by putting up public safety barriers.

"If there are people out there who need any form of assistance, they should be prepared to do whatever needs to be done, knowing that they let these people die, and they could have prevented some of the deaths."
I do feel sorry for the guy but really, would fences have stopped his son going down to Point Lonsdale and jumping in The Rip or something? And even if it would have is a lawsuit that, win or lose, is going to use up more government resources (and taxpayers' money) going to help, or is it going to cost money that could have been used to fix the problem that you're suing over? This is always one of the big problems when it comes suing governments. Another is that even if you're after nominal damages and just want a head or two to roll it's actually taxpayers being sued, or at least picking up the bill, and that includes whoever brought the suit. Campaign all you like, maybe even bring a private prosecution, but every time the government spends money we all pay. We should probably think about that before trying to force them to spend even more.
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