Skip to content Skip to main navigation

Opinion

Canberra’s Leading
Relationship Lawyers

Canberra needs to rethink its transport – Part 2

By Robert Knight - 11 August 2017 14

This time last month I wrote here about why I think Canberra needs to rethink its transport. On reflection, and thanks in no small part to some constructive commentary, I see the concept I tried to outline could have been better articulated. By stating, ‘Canberra needs to rethink its transport’, is not to say ‘Canberrans need to rethink their transport’. Indeed, it is completely unreasonable to ask people with kids living in our more outer suburbs to do all they need to do on a bus, or for tradies to bicycle their tools to the worksite each day. But, this isn’t the point I was trying to make. My point is, collectively, we need to support strategic planning decisions aimed at the result of a more liveable city.

Canberra’s urban form today is a result of planning decisions made by the National Capital Development Commission (NCDC) in the mid-to-late twentieth century. The NCDC was responsible for the ‘Y’ plan and the development of Canberra’s ‘satellite cities’ of Woden, Belconnen and Tuggeranong, all interconnected and interlaced by high capacity, high speed road networks. At the time this was a visionary attempt to create a city comfortably nestled in its bush setting, with jobs, services and amenities decentralised to the suburbs, and high accessibility provided by non-congested roads. I’m sorry to say, however, this type of city layout, one characterised by high car dependency, high infrastructure demands, and isolated land uses, is economically and socially unsustainable, particularly when considered in the context of the modern knowledge economy.

The ‘Y’ Plan, courtesy of ACTPLA.

More and more today as our nation transforms from an industrial base towards a more knowledge and services based economy, we see the effect of jobs markets becoming highly concentrated into our urban cores. For example, the CBDs of Sydney and Melbourne, a combined area of just over seven square kilometres, generate almost 10 per cent of all economic activity in Australia. Canberra hasn’t escaped this phenomenon, with the Federal government seeking to rationalise its property portfolio and move departments as close to Parliament House as possible, and many knowledge based businesses choosing the city as their desired location.

This concentration of employment contributes to rising housing prices as a higher number of people seek to live in proximity of places of employment, or good accessibility to those locations. And while places like Belconnen, Braddon, New Acton and Northbourne Avenue have seen the development of high rise apartment buildings which provide greater accessibility for smaller households of 1-3 people, my question is, where are the places for families? The bulk of Canberra’s working families, if they want a dwelling large enough, (or one that’s affordable), are effectively given one option – a standalone house in the burbs. It’s these single use, sprawling suburbs which are subject to the disappearing local schools, shops and services, while extended the paltriest of bus services as the only non-car option linking them to the job markets, schools, and amenities increasingly concentrated in distant places.

What occurs when an ever growing body of people, effectively forced into car ownership, have to travel to a finite space to access jobs, services, and/or amenities? Traffic. Lots of traffic. Traffic which brings with it increasing commute times, loss of productivity, and reduced amenity in what should otherwise be a walkable urban area. Being stuck behind the wheel impacts our health, takes away time with our loved ones, and costs us serious money, (it costs $15,000 per year on average to own and run a car, and lets not even mention the social costs of infrastructure, policing, accidents, insurance etc). And if you build a city for driving, as the NCDC did for 30 years, then naturally you’re going to end up with a city where everyone drives, along with a mounting road upgrade and maintenance bill. It’s a negative spiral, the effects of which will only get worse as our population increases and we continue to build car dependent, sprawling suburbia on our city’s outskirts.

If we want an affordable, accessible, and vibrant city then we need to stop building it the way we have been. Stand-alone housing spreading out like a carpet, complemented by bucket loads of high rise apartments in town centres, (often lacking decent street level environments), is not the answer. Where are the options in the middle? The type of low-rise, yet high-density developments where some personal space is traded off for a high quality public realm, which in turn establishes a critical mass for the viability of locally based small business and high frequency public transport, is almost totally lacking in Canberra. Looking at other cities around the world it’s easy to identify these types of neighbourhoods as they’re now almost always the most desirable, and ergo, most expensive places to live. Places like Surry Hills in Sydney, Carlton in Melbourne, Beacon Hill in Boston, Brooklyn in New York City, and just about every European town you can think of, provide a variety of housing choice while having sufficient density that a diversity of public and private investments in communal facilities can be realised. The greater presence of better designed local parks, town squares, walkable streets, playgrounds, and well supported local small businesses brought about by this type of development not only increases economic vitality, it also provides a higher level of social inclusiveness to residents.

Beacon Hill, Boston.


Beacon Hill, Boston.


Example of Swedish medium density development.


Example of Swedish medium density development.


Sadly, as I see it, the only place where we come close to this type of environment in Canberra is Kingston, and in particular, the Kingston Foreshore. And while I’ve heard many people lament how the Kingston Foreshore has damaged our lakeside environment, and how ugly it looks, I’m afraid Canberrans are voting with their feet, and their money. There are reasons property values in the area are so astronomically high, and it has a lot to do with how much access people living there have to amenities, public services, and job markets, and how little there is of it. The Kingston Foreshore provides residents superb access to amenities such as the lake, cafes, restaurants, parks, schools and cultural institutions. It is located immediately adjacent to a high frequency bus route and has high accessibility for multiple other transport options including walking, cycling, driving, and even the train. And it is readily linked via these multiple transport options to several employment centres such as the City, Fyshwick, Russell, Woden, Brindabella Park and the Parliamentary Triangle. Go to the Kingston Foreshore on any night of the week, or during the weekend, and you’ll find large numbers of people frequenting the area, pumping life and urbanity into our city in a way rarely seen.

The Kingston Foreshore, courtesy of Kingsborough.com.au.

Having said all this the question must then come back to why I make the statement ‘Canberra needs to rethink its transport’. The simple fact is that our land use and our transport are inextricably linked to one another. If we decree that our primary transport method is the car, and that all of our land use must be based on that assumption, then we will only ever end up with suburban sprawl and inhospitable, inefficient, parking lot splintered commercial areas, (just look at Woden, and Tuggeranong for example). We don’t end up with types of places like the Kingston Foreshore which derive a great deal of their value from being walkable, and cycling and transit friendly. If one thing is certain about the modern knowledge economy it’s that employment concentration means people will have to live closer to one another if they’re to maintain reasonable accessibility to their workplace. We need more places like the Kingston Foreshore to be built around Canberra, giving more people greater housing choice, more transport options, and better accessibility to social and public amenities.

What do you think? Do we need to reprioritise our transport planning?

What’s Your opinion?


Post a comment
Please login to post your comments, or connect with
14 Responses to
Canberra needs to rethink its transport – Part 2
Arthur Davies 5:32 pm 20 Aug 17

The transport problem is not the transport routes & the distributed town centres, it is the refusal to acknowledge & utilised the much faster, cheaper, more convenient, more efficient technologies now becoming available. These would have moved people between the town centres & surroundings much more quickly & safely than cars & would have reduced the numbers of cars on the roads. There would then be a reduced need to put residences directly in the most dangerous areas of the city. Trams just will not cut it, they are too expensive & slow & will not entice people out of their cars. Apart from anything else the vast majority of us do not live close to a tram line, Metro’s own figures show that at best with a fully system 90% of Canberrans will never be able to use a tram as it has to follow a fixed limited route. Only by using the third dimension, moving above the traffic can high speeds be attained. The use of small autonomous cars which only need small light tracks which would operate “on demand” hence no timetable & very short wait times. Such a system has been costed at less than half the price of an equivalent tram line, being above the roadway. An overhead system would not need the trees to be cleared & it could also enter the suburbs & directly serve the existing shopping/community centres which the tram can not. Yet the “innovative” current govt did not investigate it in spite of being told of its existence, nor I might add the also seriously timid opposition. The community is going to hell in a 140 year old tram.

Arthur Davies 5:31 pm 20 Aug 17

There are several very important issues not addressed in this article.

One “elephant in the room” is population, a major part of the current problem is due to population increase. For years the Govt has spent a LOT of our money to encourage/bribe people to come here, not only do their direct numbers increase the population, they are usually at prime reproductive age & their children swell the population too. I asked Peter Newman (Perth planner) what the optimum size was for a town like Canberra, his answer was around 200,000 people. Above that the costs PER HEAD grow, bigger & longer electricity supply cables, water & sewer pipes, roads etc. Not encouraging population increase would have considerably reduced the problems we face now, actively discouraging population increase would slow down the escalation of the problem. We are “told” that we need growth to improve our standard of living & bring in more tax revenue to run the town. We are not told that all the increased revenue & some extra is need to accommodate the new citizens, more schools, hospitals, services as noted above, more land & housing etc.

The multi town centre design for Canberra (which never had a CBD) worked well for a long time & it was this that made Canberra unique & enticed most of us to stay here, scrapping that makes Canberra just another town like any other with all the inherent problems of a centralised city. The major transport routes were well away from living spaces as it was well recognised that living along such routes is a serious health hazard. Obviously noise & physical danger but also air & dust pollution, mental health problems to name a few.

itsatadnippy 12:20 am 19 Aug 17

I like your analysis about urban livability. I think you’re spot on about that, but are mistaken when you say that more use of public transport and less use of the car, will improve suburban livability. It won’t, because the choice of transportation is a symptom or a measure of livability, not the cause.

Individuals’ ready connections with their communities, nature and the economy (work and trade) are so important, but appear so difficult to achieve. Isn’t it pretty straight forward though – good design, and bang, there you go. Lovely, smaller houses and apartments, surrounding local and useful businesses, with wonderfully maintained communal spaces – large and small. Imagine a Glebe Park in every suburb. What about Rushcutters Bay Park? But high social amenity is far from being the objective of planners and builders.

Canberra’s public transport will always be an irritating and unworthy tool unless people prefer it to other means of transport. No one has convinced me, or even tried to convince me of the merit of a light rail system. The reason and objective appear to be confined to building it merely because other, lovely and more functional cities have them. For that reason, let’s install a system of canals, or chairlifts.

I fear for the mental health of Canberrans compelled to live in the newer ‘burbs, two metres from their neighbours, with the blinds drawn and no room for a tree. Sure, put people on every smaller blocks and in apartments, but for heavens sake make these stacked boxes desirable to live in. Not the architectural excrement left by the last, architecturally unregulated and socially bankrupt profit maker. Provide close amenity and enable people to just go outside. Discover what people actually need – yes: need, then build that. Then there will be community.

JC 8:53 pm 18 Aug 17

MartinDB said :

It’s all very well to discuss ‘planning’ options but it’s no good planning for what you can’t fund. Infrastructure provision is first & foremost about funding and under the current population growth obsessed administration, demand is being created faster than secure/sustainable revenue streams. If we want a more livable city we need to end our rapid population growth addiction, secure sustainable revenue streams, then develop a long term population and best practice town planning/transport infrastructure plan, Then work around these.

The government doesn’t make people come to Canberra or make them breed so a bit hard to control population growth. The government cannot hang a sign at the enterance to town saying immigrants not welcome can they?

Simple fact is population growth needs to be accommodated and the Y plan and 1970’s/1980’s urban planning mentality is not the way to meet that. Which is my one paragraph summary of this article.

MartinDB 5:54 am 18 Aug 17

It’s all very well to discuss ‘planning’ options but it’s no good planning for what you can’t fund. Infrastructure provision is first & foremost about funding and under the current population growth obsessed administration, demand is being created faster than secure/sustainable revenue streams. If we want a more livable city we need to end our rapid population growth addiction, secure sustainable revenue streams, then develop a long term population and best practice town planning/transport infrastructure plan, Then work around these.

ungruntled 9:37 pm 17 Aug 17

Lucas Worony said :

Much of Australian Urban planning has its roots from American city planning, with cities such as LA coming to mind. Action buses is already overstretched and running at huge deficit. It is impossible to provide effective public transport in a low population/ low density city like Canberra. Who pays for every extra km of road laid, for every extra empty bus? This is not theory its reality. It is why cities such as LA do not have a Metro system and why cities such as Barcelona, Paris and London do. In short who can afford to bore a metro tunnel ten times longer for the same patronage numbers; the fare and tax payers who will finance it. The same rule applies to light rail, public busses, trains and any other collective form of transport. Canberra’s lack of Urban density is at a point of insanity. Picture this, the entire medieval city of Venice can fit into Parliamentary triangle with a population of 66,000 residents. A dense city such as this is comparatively easy to service with many types of public transport . Comparatively in Canberra if you run light rail for 15 km you still will not have anywhere near the patronage within the corridor, but you have far higher capital cost and operating costs. Additionally the metro analogy applies to laying infrastructure such as power lines, multilane highways etc. For distances 5x greater, the capital, operating cost is also 5x greater which means this money is being syphoned away from other potential projects and into critical infrastructure that could be avoided. Every large $30m multilane overpass could be a library or heck anything rather than subservient infrastructure. Long distances_means high_car usage which means large amounts of surface carparks in_town centres and_a city divided_by highways, low_walkability and no vibrant urban_centres.

Lucas, Your comments & comparisons are interesting & I think on target.
What makes me really sad, is that in the intervening time between Canberra’s conception & the present time, technology has moved on & could have bridged the gap between the transport needs then & the needs & solutions available now.
Our Chief Minister turned away from the new technologies & embraced the old ones which were much more expensive, less efficient, required the destruction of 100’s of trees & did not meet our transport needs, but will increase the value of land along the corridor while it destroys our once beautiful city. I cannot help but be aware that some properties along this corridor are owned by some members of the Assembly & would really like there to have been a full disclosure of the pecuniary interests of all Members in any areas affected by the development.

ungruntled 9:12 pm 17 Aug 17

“The City”?? Which City? We have Town Centres. I like our Town Centres & I really object to all these people who want to turn my town into another Melbourne or Sydney, presumably because their minds are not broad enough or flexible enough to comprehend somethiing different.
Next, can you say please, what evidence you have that the buyers of these high density dwellings are Canberrans – & by Canberrans I also mean those who are people of this town, not Sydneysiders, Melbournians & people from overseas making a change to something “nice”, without making sure they are not just becoming part of the destruction of the very thing they are moving to enjoy.
Very recent statistics from Melbourne show that 40% of these “highly desirable apartments” have been bought by people living overseas, add to that, the very large number ar not owner occupied &/or are vacant for the tax benefits, this shows that far from people voting with their feet & their money to live in these “highly desirable apartments” are owned by people who do not live there.
This is a greed led recovery & your implication that people are buying these apartments to live in seems duplicitous at best!

Lucas Worony 11:59 pm 15 Aug 17

Much of Australian Urban planning has its roots from American city planning, with cities such as LA coming to mind. Action buses is already overstretched and running at huge deficit. It is impossible to provide effective public transport in a low population/ low density city like Canberra. Who pays for every extra km of road laid, for every extra empty bus? This is not theory its reality. It is why cities such as LA do not have a Metro system and why cities such as Barcelona, Paris and London do. In short who can afford to bore a metro tunnel ten times longer for the same patronage numbers; the fare and tax payers who will finance it. The same rule applies to light rail, public busses, trains and any other collective form of transport. Canberra’s lack of Urban density is at a point of insanity. Picture this, the entire medieval city of Venice can fit into Parliamentary triangle with a population of 66,000 residents. A dense city such as this is comparatively easy to service with many types of public transport . Comparatively in Canberra if you run light rail for 15 km you still will not have anywhere near the patronage within the corridor, but you have far higher capital cost and operating costs. Additionally the metro analogy applies to laying infrastructure such as power lines, multilane highways etc. For distances 5x greater, the capital, operating cost is also 5x greater which means this money is being syphoned away from other potential projects and into critical infrastructure that could be avoided. Every large $30m multilane overpass could be a library or heck anything rather than subservient infrastructure. Long distances_means high_car usage which means large amounts of surface carparks in_town centres and_a city divided_by highways, low_walkability and no vibrant urban_centres.

Woden Valley Communi 6:34 am 15 Aug 17

Robert, it is interesting that you mention ‘low-rise, yet high-density developments where some personal space is traded off for a high quality public realm, which in turn establishes a critical mass for the viability of locally based small business …’.
This is the point the WVCC has been making. Our draft precinct code provides for tall buildings to bring people to create vibrancy. It does not provide for the social needs of these people by identifying a site for an entertainment precinct, a community centre or a CIT. The apartments in Trilogy and Idahlia have been on the market for some time yet they have not sold them all.
The social, cultural and economic needs of a community must be met if you want a vibrant community that people want to live in. If these needs are not met a dormitory district is created which may lead to poor social outcomes.

michael quirk 10:12 am 13 Aug 17

I have major reservations with the prescription of more Kingston Foreshores as a way to a more liveable city as it does not recognise the lifestyle aspirations of many Canberrans.
In reaching this prescription he is highly critical of the Y-Plan, yet its polycentric city form is being advocated in most Australian cities. The more appropriate response is to build on the legacy of the Y-Plan, particularly the system of town, group and local centres, and the rapid transport spine linking the town centres.
While housing preferences are changing towards higher density housing, a change supported by Territory plan for 25 years, ongoing greenfields development is necessary to meet the housing aspirations of many Canberrans. Failure to supply sufficient land in the ACT will simply result in higher demand for car dependent locations such as Googong and Tralee.
Low density development needs to be accompanied by high quality and frequent, bus based public transport services providing good access to employment opportunities and the provision of employment, schools, shops, community, recreation facilities.
The increase in apartment demand in areas of high metropolitan accessibility including the town centres, along Northbourne Avenue and Kingston has occurred without the provision of light rail. Such development has been occupied primarily by singles and couples. The challenge is to make such housing attractive to families with children.
The greatest strategic planning failure of the last 20 years has been the failure to attract significant employment to Gungahlin – a product of location decision making being decentralised to individual departments and the inability to control development at the Airport. While the knowledge economy is resulting in inner city jobs growth, much of the Federal public service does not need an inner city location and incentives should be provided encourage employment in Gungahlin.

KentFitch 5:43 pm 12 Aug 17

Robert, writing about rethinking transport without discussing the imminent arrival of shared fleets of autonomous cars is a little like rethinking work without considering artificial intelligence and robots, or medicine of the future without mentioning CRISPR. I encourage all Canberra citizens to read NRMA’s recent report “The future of car ownership” [ https://www.mynrma.com.au/-/media/documents/reports-and-subs/the-future-of-car-ownership.pdf ] which shows their timeline for the arrival of Level 4 autonomy, sufficient for operation of a shared fleet without drivers in a mapped urban environment, as happening between next year and 2021 (pg 32).

The implications for transport, urban planning, land use, health/safety, mobility and equality are huge. On just one aspect, road congestion, NRMA cites several results from academia, including “A study by the University of Texas estimates that 90 per cent penetration of self-driving cars in America would be equivalent to a doubling of road capacity and would cut delays by 60 per cent on motorways and 15 per cent on suburban roads.[53] Research by Dan Fagnant of the University of Utah, drawing on traffic data for Austin, Texas, found that an autonomous taxi with dynamic ride sharing capabilities could replace ten private vehicles. This is consistent with findings that suggest one share car typically removes 9 to 13 private cars from the road. [54]”.

Planning for shared fleets of autonomous cars must begin in Canberra now, as it has in Singapore and many US and UK cities, and is just now starting in Australia. Without this planning, we will fail to control this change, fail to maximise the social benefits and will risk pointless waste on unneeded infrastructure.

bigred 7:38 am 12 Aug 17

Thank you for this interesting piece. A few points to mull over. You point out Kingston foreshore as an example of where we should head, but I think there may be a dark underbelly of poor quality construction that will undermine its longer term desirability – a future slum? You have skirted around the social factor of the rapidly ageing population requiring different transport modes – we all see geriatric motorists totally befuddled by modern traffic on an almost daily basis. Not sure the move to the 24 hour lifestyle is discussed? Also, you have not raised the impact the almost certain inner city stadium will have on travel demand. Cheers

gazket 9:59 pm 11 Aug 17

Plenty of Asian countries have urban sprawl and its not due to the car . So your whole argument ids flawed no matter how many you want to reword it .

Leon Arundell 8:13 am 11 Aug 17

The 2012 “Transport for Canberra” strategy failed to meet its 2016 journey-to-work mode share targets of 10.5% for public transport and 6% for cycling, and has a snowball’e chance in hell of meeting its 2026 targets of 16% for public transport and 7% each for cycling and walking. Labor made an election commitment to meet the public transport targets of 10.5% and 16%, but its patronage projections indicate that the public transport mode share will remain below 8% until at least 2019. Cordon count numbers indicate that the 2016 cycling mode share was only 4%. They also show that walking numbers increased by the required amount from 2012 to 2016. Because there was no comparable walking count in 2011, we will not know the result until 17 November when the census results are released. You can read Living Streets Canberra’s analysis at: http://grapevine.net.au/%7Emccluskeyarundell/LSNewsJul2017.html#__RefHeading___Toc1075_1651917948

Related Articles

CBR Tweets

Sign up to our newsletter

Top
Copyright © 2017 Riot ACT Holdings Pty Ltd. All rights reserved.
www.the-riotact.com | www.b2bmagazine.com.au | www.thisiscanberra.com

Search across the site