Steepest street challenge may have downside

A survey of the winding Welsh street challenging Dunedin’s Baldwin St for the title of the world’s steepest is complete but the methods used may be less than ideal.

Dunedin’s claim to be the home of the world’s steepest street has been officially challenged by residents of the Welsh town of Harlech, who believe their street, Ffordd Pen Llech, is steeper.

The man leading the challenge, Gwyn Headley, said  a group of residents had spent all day Wednesday walking up and down the narrow, winding street carrying a global navigation satellite system  (GNSS) surveying receiver.

A total of 14 data points were recorded on the 330m-long road, which had an accuracy of about plus or minus 5cm for altitude, Mr Headley said.

At one stage the bricks used to keep the receiver steady rolled down the steep incline, he said.

The information collected during the survey would be given to a mathematician, who would collate the data before it was passed on  to Guinness World Records.

It would take at least three months for Guinness World Records to consider the challenge, Mr Headley said.

A keen rugby fan, Mr Headley said if the street was to be recognised as the steepest it would be at least one victory for Wales over New Zealand.

But a Dunedin  surveyor has cast doubt on the surveying methods used by the Welsh.

University of Otago School of Surveying professional practice fellow Richard Hemi said the GNSS method used by the group might not provide the most accurate measurements.

To ensure they were as accurate as possible it was important the survey was from the centre of the road, which was easy on Baldwin St but much more difficult on a winding lane, Mr Hemi said.

"In my mind, there is still a little bit of a question with their windy street as to where you measure it.

"If you do it on any of the bends they’re invariably going to be steeper and for a record book I think you’d want something straighter."

If he had been tasked to survey the street,  he might have used a GNSS initially to find the steepest part, then used a more accurate  instrument, he said.

"I’ve done a bit of highway surveying and I’m not sure anyone with any engineering surveying experience would be using a GNSS in that sort of  urban area.

"It’s good for mountain tops."

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said it would not be the first time the city had fended off a challenge from another city or town.

"If the Welsh [bid] turns out to comply with  [Guinness World Records] and turns out to be steeper, it will have the record — at which point we need to arrange a bit of an earthquake to tilt Baldwin St a little more so we overtake them again."

An unintended consequence of the challenge was that it gave Dunedin free promotional coverage in the international media, Mr Cull said.

"They’re really doing us a bit of a favour, aren’t they?"

Baldwin St resident Lacee Dawes said it would be a shame if its title was taken away.

"It creates a cool atmosphere."

However, living there also had its negative aspects.

"The other day I was sitting on the deck and people were on my stairs there taking photos. I was like ‘This is my house, man’, but they were still very sweet."

tim.miller@odt.co.nz

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