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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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Canberra needs to rethink its transport
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bryansworld 5:43 am 12 Aug 17

Yep. The cars that are Canberra.

dungfungus 9:51 am 08 Aug 17

JC said :

dungfungus said :

JC said :

Kirsten Anker said :

dungfungus: I’m surprised at your assertion that Canberra was designed for cars. I would assert the opposite. The design competition for Canberra was conducted in 1911, a time when the ubiquity of cars would have been unimaginable. True, by the time the city plan was really developed – after WW2- our patterns of transportation were very different, and the city planning had different priorities. But Burley Griffin’s design, in fact, created a beautifully decentralised city – a bit like the situation in Europe, where villages or small town become associated with larger population centres. Each “town centre” has its own identity and a strong social life, as people shop, go to school and work in that area. Public transport can be dense and therefore a credible alternative to a car as it only has to provide services for a small area, and distances are relatively short, so walking is a real option. If you need to go to one of the other “town centres”, you can move quickly, along one of the fast linking roads. Meanwhile, the natural environment flourishes between centres, rather than being completely destroyed under an extensive artificial conglomeration.

A good example of this situation is the development on the western edge of lake Geneva, between Geneva and Lausanne. An area well-served by trains and buses, the 42 kilometres stretch is scattered with small towns and villages. Commuters travel to the larger centres every day for work, although light industry firms such as Logitech and Google also attract employees. The railway company is currently updating its infrastructure in anticipation of a 100% increase in passengers within the next few years. Many individuals still drive cars, but this level of activity would not be possible without significant public transport use.

Dungers is right. Canberra, well the 1960’s NCDC version of it was very much designed around the motor vehicle and we were the envy of the world when it was thought that more and more roads was the answer to the future.

What he fails to recognise is the world is changing and what was the mindset in 1960/1970 has proved to not work 50 years later and in fact is now the cause of many of our urban planning issues.

However he and others like him are still stuck in that mindset and are in denial of the need to accomodate people in the city in more imaginative ways than more and more urban sprawl and increasing number of width main roads.

Ironically the increase in housing density even in established suburbs has seen a resurgence in local shopping centres, something that the car centric NCDC plan and the emergence of large shopping centres had almost kill off. The ones that are thriving are inner city areas and areas of increased density. Go figure.

No “imagination” (other people call it vision) required JC. The 50 year old mindset is working well for most of us. There was an old advertising line that is applicable – “when you are on a good thing stick with it”.

Working well for most hey? Bugger the future or those who it doesn’t work for more like it.

And it doesn’t take much in the way imagination to work out we cannot continue the NCDC plan for Canberra. It is the reality on the streets of Canberra day in day out.

There’s no road traffic problems in Tuggeranong. All the bad traffic planning has happened in Gungahlin (where you now live) over the past 15 years. The “park, ride & stand” tram will not solve that.

JC 6:38 pm 07 Aug 17

dungfungus said :

JC said :

Kirsten Anker said :

dungfungus: I’m surprised at your assertion that Canberra was designed for cars. I would assert the opposite. The design competition for Canberra was conducted in 1911, a time when the ubiquity of cars would have been unimaginable. True, by the time the city plan was really developed – after WW2- our patterns of transportation were very different, and the city planning had different priorities. But Burley Griffin’s design, in fact, created a beautifully decentralised city – a bit like the situation in Europe, where villages or small town become associated with larger population centres. Each “town centre” has its own identity and a strong social life, as people shop, go to school and work in that area. Public transport can be dense and therefore a credible alternative to a car as it only has to provide services for a small area, and distances are relatively short, so walking is a real option. If you need to go to one of the other “town centres”, you can move quickly, along one of the fast linking roads. Meanwhile, the natural environment flourishes between centres, rather than being completely destroyed under an extensive artificial conglomeration.

A good example of this situation is the development on the western edge of lake Geneva, between Geneva and Lausanne. An area well-served by trains and buses, the 42 kilometres stretch is scattered with small towns and villages. Commuters travel to the larger centres every day for work, although light industry firms such as Logitech and Google also attract employees. The railway company is currently updating its infrastructure in anticipation of a 100% increase in passengers within the next few years. Many individuals still drive cars, but this level of activity would not be possible without significant public transport use.

Dungers is right. Canberra, well the 1960’s NCDC version of it was very much designed around the motor vehicle and we were the envy of the world when it was thought that more and more roads was the answer to the future.

What he fails to recognise is the world is changing and what was the mindset in 1960/1970 has proved to not work 50 years later and in fact is now the cause of many of our urban planning issues.

However he and others like him are still stuck in that mindset and are in denial of the need to accomodate people in the city in more imaginative ways than more and more urban sprawl and increasing number of width main roads.

Ironically the increase in housing density even in established suburbs has seen a resurgence in local shopping centres, something that the car centric NCDC plan and the emergence of large shopping centres had almost kill off. The ones that are thriving are inner city areas and areas of increased density. Go figure.

No “imagination” (other people call it vision) required JC. The 50 year old mindset is working well for most of us. There was an old advertising line that is applicable – “when you are on a good thing stick with it”.

Working well for most hey? Bugger the future or those who it doesn’t work for more like it.

And it doesn’t take much in the way imagination to work out we cannot continue the NCDC plan for Canberra. It is the reality on the streets of Canberra day in day out.

dungfungus 9:00 am 07 Aug 17

JC said :

dungfungus said :

Doesn’t this sound vaguely familiar?
http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/documents-reveal-1-billion-funding-gap-for-parramatta-light-rail-20170804-gxp5ba.html

Please do tell, how is this familiar?

It’s about “light rail, “value capture”, “levy on property development”, “funding from other sources including Federal”………………

dungfungus 8:49 am 07 Aug 17

JC said :

Kirsten Anker said :

dungfungus: I’m surprised at your assertion that Canberra was designed for cars. I would assert the opposite. The design competition for Canberra was conducted in 1911, a time when the ubiquity of cars would have been unimaginable. True, by the time the city plan was really developed – after WW2- our patterns of transportation were very different, and the city planning had different priorities. But Burley Griffin’s design, in fact, created a beautifully decentralised city – a bit like the situation in Europe, where villages or small town become associated with larger population centres. Each “town centre” has its own identity and a strong social life, as people shop, go to school and work in that area. Public transport can be dense and therefore a credible alternative to a car as it only has to provide services for a small area, and distances are relatively short, so walking is a real option. If you need to go to one of the other “town centres”, you can move quickly, along one of the fast linking roads. Meanwhile, the natural environment flourishes between centres, rather than being completely destroyed under an extensive artificial conglomeration.

A good example of this situation is the development on the western edge of lake Geneva, between Geneva and Lausanne. An area well-served by trains and buses, the 42 kilometres stretch is scattered with small towns and villages. Commuters travel to the larger centres every day for work, although light industry firms such as Logitech and Google also attract employees. The railway company is currently updating its infrastructure in anticipation of a 100% increase in passengers within the next few years. Many individuals still drive cars, but this level of activity would not be possible without significant public transport use.

Dungers is right. Canberra, well the 1960’s NCDC version of it was very much designed around the motor vehicle and we were the envy of the world when it was thought that more and more roads was the answer to the future.

What he fails to recognise is the world is changing and what was the mindset in 1960/1970 has proved to not work 50 years later and in fact is now the cause of many of our urban planning issues.

However he and others like him are still stuck in that mindset and are in denial of the need to accomodate people in the city in more imaginative ways than more and more urban sprawl and increasing number of width main roads.

Ironically the increase in housing density even in established suburbs has seen a resurgence in local shopping centres, something that the car centric NCDC plan and the emergence of large shopping centres had almost kill off. The ones that are thriving are inner city areas and areas of increased density. Go figure.

No “imagination” (other people call it vision) required JC. The 50 year old mindset is working well for most of us. There was an old advertising line that is applicable – “when you are on a good thing stick with it”.

JC 8:10 pm 06 Aug 17

dungfungus said :

Doesn’t this sound vaguely familiar?
http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/documents-reveal-1-billion-funding-gap-for-parramatta-light-rail-20170804-gxp5ba.html

Please do tell, how is this familiar?

Leon Arundell 3:31 pm 06 Aug 17

Robert Knight said :

dungfungus said :

Robert Knight said :

michael quirk said :

Like many Robert Knight misses the fundamental point that the transport task performed by light rail could have been performed by buses more flexibility and far lower cost.
… The light rail project is an expensive folly. …/quote]
… In short, buses do not result in the same land use outcomes as rail based transport. As has been relayed by many, the light rail project is about more than just transport. It’s a city shaping project….

I’m curious dungfungus. Do you have any qualifications in urban planning, or transport economics?

I hope that the people who wrote the ACT Government’s 2012 submission to Infrastructure Australia had economic qualifications. They concluded that bus rapid transit to Gungahlin would produce more than 90% of the benefits of light rail, at less than half the cost.
As to light rail being a “city shaping” project, Capital Metro estimated that the amenity benefit of light rail would be equivalent to a 10% reduction in travel time. My Graduate Diploma in Economics helped me to understand the ACT Transport Demand Elasticities study. Based on that study, I estimate that light rail’s longer walk and wait times will negate the impact of its amenity benefit. This raises the question, “why would people pay a premium to live near a light rail system that is no more attractive to them than a bus rapid transit system?”

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