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Canberra needs to rethink its transport

By Robert Knight - 30 June 2017 107

It’s arguable that our last Territory election was effectively a referendum on whether or not we wanted to move ahead with the most significant shift in transport planning our city has seen since its inception. To be sure, the ongoing resistance displayed by some Canberrans against light rail shows just how ingrained our car-centric transport culture is. But here’s the thing; sometimes cultural habits can be harmful, and when it comes to what cities are for and how they function, a car-centric transport culture is precisely that.

Cities are places that came about at the dawn of human civilisation and reflected our evolution from bands of hunter-gatherers, into settlement focussed, organised societies. Cities were places that allowed humanity to harness our two greatest assets standing us apart from the animal kingdom; the ability to employ high cognitive function, i.e. our brains, and to come together for combined social activity. Bringing people together, cities were the cauldrons of human endeavour leading to advances in science, organisation, and industry which set us on the trajectory towards the outright dominance over nature and quality of life we now enjoy.

It is therefore the case that for tens of thousands of years, long before the time of modern city planning, we built cities which evolved in an organic way, reflecting our need to be close to one another for basic needs like protection, but also higher order needs like competition and cooperation in figuring out new ways of doing things. For that reason, cities were compact; formed on the basis that people were its primary users, having to walk, or later use horse-drawn carriages through the spaces between buildings. These spaces, or as we would call them now – streets – provided not only a means of transporting goods, but the public realm in which a diverse mix of people interacted on a daily basis. This urban agglomeration where people lived, worked and played all at once, provided such diversity and cross-pollination of ideas that when we got the sanitary conditions right, our societies exploded.

Then along came the car. As our most inefficient form of transport, cars demand disproportionate amounts of space to operate. At their proliferation advent in the early to mid-twentieth century, cars were a poor fit into dense urban locations and many cities destroyed great swathes of older areas to both move and store them. Planners, particularly in the Anglosphere, saw the opportunity to open up hitherto undeveloped outlying land by building roads, roads, and more roads such that the majority of new urban dwellers through the latter half of the twentieth century were now living in suburbs. We became accustomed to this kind of city as the norm.

Unfortunately, this norm has actively damaged the fundamental social underpinnings of what a city is for. Busy roads push away social activity, and can devolve otherwise decent people into sociopaths behind the wheel. Cities like Canberra, based on a roads only, car dominant transport paradigm, allow for vast swathes of single function land use, i.e. suburbs, office parks etc, totally lacking in diversity. People who cannot drive are relegated to non-citizen status and forced to feed off the scraps of under resourced public transport systems. The local economy suffers as the convenience of large shopping malls and big box retailers, who provide cheap and plentiful parking to people who are effectively forced to drive anyway, muscle out small businesses, or force them into paying exorbitant rents. Our city’s environment and budget suffer as political pressure mounts to build more and more pavement and other associated infrastructure to support the free and easy movement of cars. And our political discourse suffers as any attempt to address the problem, like building light rail for example, is met with uninformed, nonsensical arguments concerned with not upsetting the traffic status quo.

Canberra, we’re going to have to change our ways. Our transport culture has been a toxic one, but it seems to be slowly changing. The support for better public transport and active transport (walking and cycling) that exists in the community now, must be built upon and encouraged. As well as looking at better ways for us to move around, we need to stop and understand what a city is for – is it for motorists, or is it for people?

What do you think? Is our city a people friendly place?

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107 Responses to
Canberra needs to rethink its transport
Damien Haas 5:13 pm 30 Jun 17

Leon Arundell said :

Before making further uninformed comments, Damien should read the economic analysis on pages 29 ff of the ACT Government’s 2012 submission to Infrastructure Australia, at http://www.tccs.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/887674/Light-rail-August-2012-Infrastructure-Australia-submission-City-to-Gungahlin-Trans….pdf

The link to the implication that bus rapid transit could provide all the benefits of Stages 1 and 2 of light rail, for less than the cost of Stage 1 is a logical one that follows on from the relative benefit-cost analysis.

ACT legislation requires that decisions are made based on environmental, social and cost factors. Benefit cost analysis is only one tool in the decision makers toolbox.

There are a wider range of economic benefits that are able to be delivered by light rail than a bus only option can deliver. That is not just an informed opinion, its a verifiable universal truth.

Continued selective quoting doesn’t support your contention.

Damien Haas 4:37 pm 30 Jun 17

A_Cog said :

Umm, Damien, in your rush to dispute Leon’s (accurate) comments, let’s all be clear that you’ve been a vocal advocate for the Light Rail, even running the website and NGO advocating it. So of course you’re going to dispute the bus option.

That is because I advocate evidence based decision making, not fantasy based decision making.

A_Cog said :

Secondly, there is no difference between bus routes and light rail. Melbourne growth shows no differential between density increases along tram routes or roads with bus routes. So no, LR is NOT a force multiplier over buses. The only thing it multiplies is the costs, because…

Arrant nonsense, with nil evidence to support it.

A_Cog said :

…thirdly, let’s remember that the LR Business Case estimated the bus alternative as $276m, and the light rail option as approx. $680m. That has now blown out to over $1.1b.

Ignoring selective quoting and interpretation of the business case, how has the cost ‘blown out’? It is $85m a year. For 20 years.

A_Cog said :

That cost blowout explains the ratcheting up of rates and everything else, and explain Barr’s overestimation of public housing sales revenues along the Northbourne Corridor (land sales revenue estimates underpin the financing).

Tax reform explains rate increases. Light rail is less than 1% of the territory budget. It has nil impact on rates or any other tax increase.

A_Cog said :

The light rail is a smokescreen for justifying enormous density increases along the entire Northbourne Corridor, which will then ripple outwards in the decades ahead. As for Stage 2 ever being built, hahahahahaha.

Light rail is the backbone for an integrated transport system. It will allow a city that will grow ANYWAY, to grow in a planned way, and still allow us to travel around it without road congestion impacting our lifestyle or productivity.

ChrisinTurner 4:34 pm 30 Jun 17

Robert suggests the opponents of Light Rail are car-centric. He should read the reasons given by Infrastructure Australia for not allowing Federal funding because LR is “unsuitable” for Canberra. Canberra is the same geographic size as Sydney. It needs Rapid transport. The proposed tram from Civic to Woden will take two to three times as long as the buses, depending on the route chosen. Buses in bus-lanes are best if we can’t afford a Metro rail system like Sydney and Melbourne.

Postalgeek 4:20 pm 30 Jun 17

shadow boxer said :

Cyclists and motorists used to co-exist so nicely back in the day, by all means share our roads but you take your chances and show some manners by not blocking the traffic..

No. They didn’t co-exist nicely, not during the 25 years I’ve ridden on ACT roads. I’ve been buzzed, had bottles thrown at me, abused, and honked, all for riding as far to the left of the road as was safe to do so, and when I say know that I prefer the hazards on the edge of the road to the clear asphalt next to the cars. But you keep telling yourself that.

Theres a practical reason to cycle lanes related to motorists’ behaviour that motorists should reflect on.

No_Nose 4:14 pm 30 Jun 17

A_Cog said :

Secondly, there is no difference between bus routes and light rail.

Aside from the fact that bus routes cost almost nothing to install and can be easily adjusted as required due to demographic changes or even simply the time of the day, whereas light rail costs over a billion dollars to install and is then set on a path which cannot be altered without considerable time, effort and expense.

A_Cog 2:22 pm 30 Jun 17

Damien Haas said :

Light rail is a force multiplier in an urban planning sense. A bus only transport system is not.

Umm, Damien, in your rush to dispute Leon’s (accurate) comments, let’s all be clear that you’ve been a vocal advocate for the Light Rail, even running the website and NGO advocating it. So of course you’re going to dispute the bus option.

Secondly, there is no difference between bus routes and light rail. Melbourne growth shows no differential between density increases along tram routes or roads with bus routes. So no, LR is NOT a force multiplier over buses. The only thing it multiplies is the costs, because…

…thirdly, let’s remember that the LR Business Case estimated the bus alternative as $276m, and the light rail option as approx. $680m. That has now blown out to over $1.1b.

That cost blowout explains the ratcheting up of rates and everything else, and explain Barr’s overestimation of public housing sales revenues along the Northbourne Corridor (land sales revenue estimates underpin the financing).

The light rail is a smokescreen for justifying enormous density increases along the entire Northbourne Corridor, which will then ripple outwards in the decades ahead. As for Stage 2 ever being built, hahahahahaha.

Leon Arundell 1:32 pm 30 Jun 17

Damien Haas said :

Leon Arundell said :

Many Canberrans argued in favour of buses which, according to the Government’s analysis, could provide more than 90% of the benefits of light rail at less than half the cost.

Except that isn’t true. …

Leon Arundell said :

That analysis implies that bus rapid transit could provide all the benefits of Stages 1 and 2 of light rail, for less than the cost of Stage 1.

Please provide a link to the analysis that supports your claim.

Before making further uninformed comments, Damien should read the economic analysis on pages 29 ff of the ACT Government’s 2012 submission to Infrastructure Australia, at http://www.tccs.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/887674/Light-rail-August-2012-Infrastructure-Australia-submission-City-to-Gungahlin-Trans….pdf

The link to the implication that bus rapid transit could provide all the benefits of Stages 1 and 2 of light rail, for less than the cost of Stage 1 is a logical one that follows on from the relative benefit-cost analysis.

shadow boxer 1:24 pm 30 Jun 17

Imagine how many more cars (people) would get down that road if the cyclist was moved to the ample space on the footpath and an extra lane was built, the pedestrian lights were removed and people walked around and under the bridge to get to the other side and a light rail ran down the middle.

Cyclists and motorists used to co-exist so nicely back in the day, by all means share our roads but you take your chances and show some manners by not blocking the traffic.

The hatred of cyclist is not because we are all psycopaths, theres a practical reason related to their behaviour that cyclists should reflect on.

Queanbeyanite 1:16 pm 30 Jun 17

What Leon said…

“To be sure, the ongoing resistance displayed by some Canberrans against light rail shows just how ingrained our car-centric transport culture is.”

No, it’s an ingrained aversion to massive compulsory debt.

Reprobate 12:02 pm 30 Jun 17

Leaving aside my personal circumstances, what really irks me about this pseudo-intellectual article from a long term tram apologist is the underlying premise that our road network exists only to serve individuals in their own cars. There is not even a suggestion that roads are necessary for buses to provide public transport, for trucks to deliver goods to shops, for ambulances to transport patients, or even to connect us to surrounding areas let alone the rest of the country.

Reprobate 12:01 pm 30 Jun 17

I live in a suburb of northern Tuggeranong (sorry, the author probably resides in the inner North and may have to look up that region of Canberra on a map) and have a primary school aged child who attends a school in Weston Creek. I work in Woden.

I drive into work each day via Weston Creek; this allows me to take my son to school in the quickest and most efficient way possible and then drive on to my work. Most days I do the pickup from after school care in the reverse direction. The journey to school is about 12 minutes, to a carpark near my work is a further 10 minutes.

As there are no direct buses between the two adjoining areas of Tuggeranong and Weston Creek (regular ACTION buses or school services), I would invite the author to consider the daily public transport “option” for us would be a bus from our suburb to Tuggeranong, another bus to Woden, another bus to Weston Creek, then for me another bus back to Woden. That is approximately 1 hour and 14 minutes each way, including some walking time, and assuming we make all the connections on time. Then around the same time again to return home in the evening.

My son also plays soccer on the weekends. That involves playing at different fields throughout Canberra. If he plays a match at Hawker ovals we can drive there in 24 minutes. With ACTION, it would be 1 hour and 47 minutes utilising 3 different buses. Oh wait you say, what about carpooling with another family – well that also utilises that terrible and wasteful private transport, right?

Holden Caulfield 11:32 am 30 Jun 17

dungfungus said :

The photo accompanying this article is totally disingenuous as it depicts total gridlock which can be understood by reading the electric sign “Acton Tunnel Closed”. This is not a normal situation but let’s milk it for all it’s worth anyhow.

It’s a precursor to the NCA’s plans. 😉

By the way, I ride my bike to work everyday. Sometimes I walk 10km too.

What’s your point?

Damien Haas 11:31 am 30 Jun 17

Excellent article Robert, there has been a real change in Canberra at a government and community level in accepting that we need to change our planning and travel behaviour. Public transport and active transport can be the dominant transport preference if our built form can be planned to accommodate it. This will take time, decades perhaps, to achieve, but it can be done.

This doesn’t deny anyones choice to continue to use their private car for their particular circumstances, it is about better transport options and choices.

Leon Arundell said :

Many Canberrans argued in favour of buses which, according to the Government’s analysis, could provide more than 90% of the benefits of light rail at less than half the cost.

Except that isn’t true. Selectively choosing what benefits can be achieved is disingenuous. What is excluded from this inaccurate claim? Light rail is a force multiplier in an urban planning sense. A bus only transport system is not.

For accuracy purposes, it should also be pointed out that at the last election Canberra were presented with two visions:
1 – light rail and buses as an integrated transport option
2 – a bus only option.
Note that bus only option was not a bus rapid transit option. this sort of renders this dubious claim (90% of the benefits of light rail at less than half the cost) moot, as BRT wasn’t offered as an option.

Leon Arundell said :

That analysis implies that bus rapid transit could provide all the benefits of Stages 1 and 2 of light rail, for less than the cost of Stage 1.

Please provide a link to the analysis that supports your claim. As stage two hadn’t yet been decided upon until well after the stage one business case had been delivered, I find this contention highly unlikely.

dungfungus 9:55 am 30 Jun 17

The photo accompanying this article is totally disingenuous as it depicts total gridlock which can be understood by reading the electric sign “Acton Tunnel Closed”. This is not a normal situation but let’s milk it for all it’s worth anyhow.

What is normal about the scene in the photo however is the single bicycle in the vast space allocated to it.

Canberra was planned for the motor car and what great foresight that was. We are the envy of most other capital cities in the world. I think your comments about some motorists evolving into “sociopaths” and non-drivers being relegated “non-citizen status” are highly emotive.

By the way, I walk 10km everyday.

Leon Arundell 9:07 am 30 Jun 17

Many Canberrans argued in favour of buses which, according to the Government’s analysis, could provide more than 90% of the benefits of light rail at less than half the cost. That analysis implies that bus rapid transit could provide all the benefits of Stages 1 and 2 of light rail, for less than the cost of Stage 1.

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