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ACT can have transport choices or remain tied to the car

By Dr AB - 14 October 2016 22

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Canberra is at a crossroads, quite literally. We can continue down the road of car-dominated 1960s North American auto planning or we can embrace a city that puts people ahead of cars and allows for diversity, equity and a more sustainable way of life.

The concept of planning our cities around the health and well-being of the population really is nothing new. Some 2630 years ago Aristotle wrote, “We ought to plan the ideal of our city with an eye to four considerations. The first, as being the most indispensable, is health.” Yet, through the political discourse we are having in the Territory in the lead up to this Saturday’s election, you might think otherwise.

One potential government is asking us to continue on the same path and invest in roads and parking infrastructure. Cars and buses have worked for this city in the past and they will continue to work for this city in the future.

The other says cars and buses are part of the solution, but in addition we need to, where possible, move people away from cars. Their solution revolves around the development of a multi-modal transport network that incorporates light rail, buses, walking and cycling.

So what is better for health and the community?

Well today we have a public health crisis in Canberra. According to the 2016 ACT Chief Health Officer’s report, 63% of the adult population in the ACT is overweight or obese and the 25% of our children are similarly overweight or obese.

How is it that in Canberra, that model of the most planned city in the world, that city where we are the most educated, the best paid and where there are 385,000 self proclaimed planners, is also one of the fattest in the world? The answer is that we have planned and built a city for physical inactivity. It is a city that, by its very nature, is car dominated and, unless we change it now, will continue to make us sick.

Today we have freeways surrounding our city, six lane roads bisecting suburbs providing unrivalled access for motor vehicles but cutting people off from each other, our cultural places and open spaces. Indeed, should a Liberal Government be elected in Canberra on Saturday, there are plans for an eight lane road right through the heart of this city. A quick count on an aerial photograph of the Canberra CBD will show at least 14 surface car parks, and this is mirrored through virtually all of our town centres. Why walk when you can drive?

By prioritising the car over active travel (walking, cycling and public transport), we aren’t solving the inherent problems of physical inactivity in our city. If we continue on this path we are not building our city for people, rather we are building it for people in cars.

I often hear stories of how Autonomous Vehicles will change the very nature of public transport in this town. Perhaps, but in reality AVs will only serve to extend the sprawling nature of Canberra, pushing families ever further from work and education and reducing physical activity levels ever further. I’d ask you all tonight to watch the Pixar film ‘WallE” with new eyes to see the future imagined through the lens of Autonomous Vehicles.

Einstein said that “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” By continuing to plan, prioritise and build for the one mode of transport, the car, are we not, by Einstein’s definition, insane? There is one choice in the lead up to this election. We can begin to reduce our ecological footprint, build community and improve the physical and mental well-being of residents or we can continue to prioritise cars over people.

As Lewis Mumford said, “Adding highway lanes to deal with traffic congestion is like loosening your belt to cure obesity.” This is perhaps telling for a society where 63% could afford to lose some weight.

Light rail offers a clear and compelling choice for the Canberra Community. Its time to look forward beyond the 1960s and into the 21st century.

Dr Anthony Burton is a long time urban design and planning advocate. He is not a member of a political party, he works for the University of Canberra and the Heart Foundation, his views here, however, are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of either organisation.

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22 Responses to
ACT can have transport choices or remain tied to the car
wildturkeycanoe 1:20 pm 15 Oct 16

Did anybody notice in the picture featured, that if the cyclist were to go about 200mm to the right, they would probably end up with serious injuries? The other problem with it is the cyclist is going the wrong way, traffic goes along the left lane of our roads, not the right. Shall I say – stock image taken from the free pictures available on the internet?

Leon Arundell 12:02 pm 15 Oct 16

Labor, Liberal and the Greens all want to promote car travel by providing extra bus-free lanes along Flemington Road and Northbourne Avenue.

Masquara 6:48 pm 14 Oct 16

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with cars. They will soon be ecologically faultless. People will transition from petrol cars to solar-powered cars (or hydrogen or whatever). People who like chatting with strangers can continue to catch public transport once driverless cars are the norm. But there’s no “moral” imperative to do so.

bj_ACT 5:42 pm 14 Oct 16

Dr AB said :

KentFitch said :

If you base your predictions of the future on Disney movies, I can see why you are unaware about the actual technology associated with shared fleets of autonomous cars as they are being planned by numerous automakers and governments. I urge you to instead read the references from academia, practitioners in the field (including both experienced and many younger urban designers) and Governments listed here: http://canberraautonomouscars.info/#related

Here’s an example of how a shared fleet of autonomous cars will improve active travel. I live about 2km walk from a good supermarket. I am lucky enough to be healthy enough to really enjoy walking. But I very rarely walk there, because it means I also must walk back with all my shopping. With a shared fleet of autonomous cars, I walk there unless it’s is raining, freezing or very hot or I have a bad cold, and catch a lift home.

On lovely days, I would walk part of my commute: completely up to me on what occasion and how far.

AV’s will be lucky to have a 75% market penetration rate by 2035.

Wow 75% penetration of AV is absolutely massive. Even if AV got halfway there to 35% then that would ‘five times’ the current Public Transport percentage use in Canberra of 7%. This would have an unprecedented impact on any previous public transport infrastructure spending in ACT.

I also think your direct tying of ‘Obesity to lack of Public or multi-modal Transport’ in Canberra is a bit of a stretch. I would think the high incomes, high take away and restaurant visits, high alcohol consumption and high proportion of desk based jobs would also have a strong correlation to Canberra’s obesity issues. It’s a big claim you make to say the solution to our Obesity problems is the Tram, etc, etc.

Postalgeek 4:38 pm 14 Oct 16

JC said :

rommeldog56 said :

If u were “looking beyond the 1960s and into the 21st century, u wouldnt be looking at a tram.

I dont get this health argument. People walk to a tram. Or people walk to a bus (BRT) No different.

Worldwide experience has shown people will walk further for rail based transport including light rail.

Well, the majority of Canberrans will have do a fair bit of walking to gain the benefits of light rail. There’s a reason discussion about light rail continually refers to ‘corridors’.

From the ACT Light Rail’s own website:

27% – total percent of the current ACT urban area within 1km of Light Rail Network

Even after the completion of the Network, not just the Gunghalin-Civic leg, almost 75% of current ACT urban area will still be more than 1km from the Network, and that’s not saying people will even have a perpendicular as-the-crow-flies walk to the nearest stop. So let’s not pretend that all this money is going to get the majority of Canberra into public transport unless the majority of Canberra moves to apartment blocks situated along the route, though in the case of the second stage I don’t see how that densification is going to occur through Parliamentary triangle, past the Lodge and embassy row, and onto the storm water flood zone. There will be one pocket – Yarralumla.
BRT following similar routes will be as effective/ineffective. So the question is, what do we get for the money we spend on servicing 27% of the current urban area through LR or BRT respectively?

I’m all for public transport. I’m all for billions and billions being spent on public transport, if it’s effective. I’m all for urban densification along ‘corridors’. I don’t expect perfect solutions. I’d prefer light rail than no vision at all. But I do not see light rail to be the optimal solution for Canberra. I don’t trust the Liberal’s version of BRT. But if done properly, there’s little difference in terms of experience between a BRT and a tram.

Dr AB 4:25 pm 14 Oct 16

KentFitch said :

If you base your predictions of the future on Disney movies, I can see why you are unaware about the actual technology associated with shared fleets of autonomous cars as they are being planned by numerous automakers and governments. I urge you to instead read the references from academia, practitioners in the field (including both experienced and many younger urban designers) and Governments listed here: http://canberraautonomouscars.info/#related

Here’s an example of how a shared fleet of autonomous cars will improve active travel. I live about 2km walk from a good supermarket. I am lucky enough to be healthy enough to really enjoy walking. But I very rarely walk there, because it means I also must walk back with all my shopping. With a shared fleet of autonomous cars, I walk there unless it’s is raining, freezing or very hot or I have a bad cold, and catch a lift home.

On lovely days, I would walk part of my commute: completely up to me on what occasion and how far.

AV’s are totally a side issue but I’ll bite

1) I don’t base my predictions on Disney Movies, only in this case the Disney movie is surprisingly accurate… Why walk when you can stay plugged in and be driven? We already know that, within Melbourne Australia, private vehicle users averaged 10.0 min of incidental physical activity daily, public transport users 35.2 min and walkers/cyclists 38.3 min daily. Much of the private vehicle users PA is due to having to park away from their final destination – AV’s could potentially drop you at the door… ergo, less physical activity and increased sedentary behaviour.
2) Shared fleets… I’m going to want my AV, you’re going to want yours, Peta down the road want’s hers too. Shared fleets exist now, they’re called taxis, and we all love taxis… GoGet works well in locations where the density is high enough, but to assume that we’re all giving up our cars?

3) We already have that service where you can be picked up and driven door to door, taxis and uber. AV’s will add to that but they cant take the roll of mass transit.

4) As I’ve said elsewhere before, AV’s will be lucky to have a 75% market penetration rate by 2035. There are plenty of remaining barriers, initial costs will likely be unaffordable, licensing and testing standards need to be developed locally and nationally, liability remains undefined, there are security and privacy concerns linger, there are issues with motion sickness, how vehicles interact with random elements of the transportation system not to mention the ethical issue as to who the vehicle chooses to live or die in an accident. All of these and more will need to be worked through before we can fully commit to AV’s.

dungfungus 4:19 pm 14 Oct 16

Given the links the Heart Foundation and Canberra University have to the Labor Party, why I am not surprised that Dr Burton is posting to this blog on this day in support of Labor’s signature policy.

Robz 3:58 pm 14 Oct 16

JC said :

rommeldog56 said :

If u were “looking beyond the 1960s and into the 21st century, u wouldnt be looking at a tram.

I dont get this health argument. People walk to a tram. Or people walk to a bus (BRT) No different.

Worldwide experience has shown people will walk further for rail based transport including light rail.

Rommeldog56 doesn’t want to hear that mate. He has made up his mind based on his extensive research and travels deep into sand.

Robz 3:54 pm 14 Oct 16

“Einstein said that “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” By continuing to plan, prioritise and build for the one mode of transport, the car, are we not, by Einstein’s definition, insane?”

Attempting to convince the rommeldog56’s of the world is akin to breathing on a brick wall and expecting it to topple over. We know mate, you don’t like light rail.

JC 3:43 pm 14 Oct 16

wildturkeycanoe said :

I got as far as the statement about health being first on the list. I asked myself, “Why in this age of technology and prosperity, am I 569th in the queue to see a neurosurgeon in the public health system, to get an operation that would enable me to get to public transport instead of relying on my own car to get around?”.
Fix this first, then I will consider the tram as an option.

So how do you fix the neurosurgen issue? How do you force a surgeon who can earn a squillion dollars in private practice work for the public system for a fraction of the price?

And why can both issues not be addressed at the same time? Do our governments not know how to multitask? r is it an excuse to deride a proposal. Bit like how many argue there more ‘important’ things for a government to consider than SSM for example. (at the Federal level of course)

JC 3:41 pm 14 Oct 16

rommeldog56 said :

If u were “looking beyond the 1960s and into the 21st century, u wouldnt be looking at a tram.

I dont get this health argument. People walk to a tram. Or people walk to a bus (BRT) No different.

Worldwide experience has shown people will walk further for rail based transport including light rail.

KentFitch 3:35 pm 14 Oct 16

If you base your predictions of the future on Disney movies, I can see why you are unaware about the actual technology associated with shared fleets of autonomous cars as they are being planned by numerous automakers and governments. I urge you to instead read the references from academia, practitioners in the field (including both experienced and many younger urban designers) and Governments listed here: http://canberraautonomouscars.info/#related

Here’s an example of how a shared fleet of autonomous cars will improve active travel. I live about 2km walk from a good supermarket. I am lucky enough to be healthy enough to really enjoy walking. But I very rarely walk there, because it means I also must walk back with all my shopping. With a shared fleet of autonomous cars, I walk there unless it’s is raining, freezing or very hot or I have a bad cold, and catch a lift home.

On lovely days, I would walk part of my commute: completely up to me on what occasion and how far.

wildturkeycanoe 2:56 pm 14 Oct 16

I got as far as the statement about health being first on the list. I asked myself, “Why in this age of technology and prosperity, am I 569th in the queue to see a neurosurgeon in the public health system, to get an operation that would enable me to get to public transport instead of relying on my own car to get around?”.
Fix this first, then I will consider the tram as an option.

rommeldog56 2:28 pm 14 Oct 16

If u were “looking beyond the 1960s and into the 21st century, u wouldnt be looking at a tram.

I dont get this health argument. People walk to a tram. Or people walk to a bus (BRT) No different.

Garfield 2:21 pm 14 Oct 16

Not one person that I’ve seen commenting against light rail has been doing so from a perspective of being anti public transport. The economics of the first stage of light rail are terrible compared to BRT. If the main aim is to improve the health of residents, then spend money on the project that provides the better benefit ratio, and then there will be money available to improve walking and cycling infrastructure and other initiatives to draw people away from their couches and computer screens. The first thing that needs to be done is to prevent Labor and the Greens from committing us to decades of payments for a project that doesn’t stack up. Then if the Liberals aren’t putting together decent policies to promote public health, vote them out after 4 years.

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