14 March 2024

City Hill is notoriously hard to get to. Could dropping the road around it to one lane fix it?

| James Coleman
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aerial view of City Hill park

The ACT Government begrudges that City Hill has become a ‘massive roundabout’. Photo: ACT Government.

City Hill was probably the busiest it’s ever been on Canberra Day (11 March).

The ‘big roundabout’ at the top of Northbourne Avenue should be the equivalent of our Eiffel Tower or Capitol Building or Brandenburg Gate. Indeed, Canberra’s architects Walter and Marion Griffin saw it as the cornerstone of their ‘Parliamentary Triangle’ design and had it earmarked for a grand city hall.

But most of us only know it as a haven for wascally wabbits. And a flagpole. Exciting stuff.

On Monday, however, 60 people made the pilgrimage across the busy Vernon Circle that encircles it for the ‘Discover City Hill Day’ tour.

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A variety of sessions across the afternoon highlighted the site’s Ngunnawal history, architecture, landscape design, and possibilities for active travel.

The tour is among a raft of ways the ACT Government’s City Renewal Authority (CRA) hopes to garner ideas from the community about how to “make City Hill more inviting as a park”.

It’s asking for students, community groups, local residents and businesses, and all members of the ACT community, to complete a three-minute survey, draw and submit your ideas, or run an activity with your class or group. The results will be put on display at the Civic Library.

“Considering it was a pretty hot day, to have 60 very engaged people on the tour, asking questions and taking in part of the city, was really good,” CEO Malcolm Snow says.

“It’s a place that lots of Canberrans would drive around on the assumption it’s just one big roundabout. But of course, it wasn’t conceived as that.”

He says many were surprised by the impressive view from the top, and it became “really clear” Canberrans want it to remain a park.

“It’s looking a bit forlorn and sad – and I don’t mean just because of the rabbits – but we’ve also got senescent trees that are possibly reaching the end of their useful biological life, so that opens up opportunities for improved shade.”

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He says the flagpole should pave the way for more special ceremonies, with ample space for picnics and other “temporary events”.

“It’s a pretty blank canvas in that respect.”

One of the wackiest ideas called for the construction of a new stadium on the site, something ACT Chief Minster Andrew Barr has already ruled out in more ways than one, most recently by saying, “It will be nothing other than a park, so there should be no conspiracy theories about any significant development here”.

City Hill

It’s perfectly pleasant once you get there, but getting there is the issue. Photo: City Renewal Authority.

City Hill is surrounded by two lanes of Vernon Circle, and the key issue remains access, but the CRA has ideas on how to improve this.

“The traffic using the Northbourne Avenue/Commonwealth Avenue corridor – 60 per cent has no destination within the central city at all – they’re simply using it as a high-speed route to get from north to south,” Mr Snow explains.

Stretching the infamous 40 km/h speed limit of Northbourne Avenue up to Vernon Circle is one possibility. Another is removing a lane.

“While the raising of London Circuit project is under construction, one lane is out of action on the eastern side and traffic is still flowing perfectly fine in the AM and PM peaks,” Mr Snow says.

“I can imagine Vernon Circle becoming a narrower, slower road.”

He says this would, in turn, encourage traffic just passing through to take alternative, higher-speed routes like the Majura Parkway, “Certainly, if we are to claim back Commonwealth Avenue and Northbourne Avenue as proper city streets as opposed to sub-arterial roads”.

Once consultation is over, CRA will prepare a report for the government to consider.

Canberrans have until 25 March to contribute their ideas for City Hill on the YourSay Conversations website.

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Jenny Graves6:01 pm 15 Mar 24

Please bring back the rabbits and let it be seen that we really are a garden city, not one full of big concrete buildings.

Barry Cronut7:28 am 16 Mar 24

While an invasive feral pest represents politicians well. Bringing them back serves no purpose.

Deciduous trees, seats and availability of live music, a space where any musician, singer or band can play. Pedestrian overpasses are essential.

Jacinta Gould9:08 am 15 Mar 24

I tried to complete the survey but it is skewed to only getting submissions from people who want to do something with the hill rather than acknowledging it is just a roundabout. It is impossible to submit without selecting 5 options for how to use the space, where none of the options offered for selection were of the ‘do nothing, leave it alone’ variety.

Yes, people are using it as a way to get from north to south. Duh! That’s because it links to one of the only two bridges across the lake. Unless Mr Snow is proposing another bridge, then this is going to remain a major traffic area. Even a slight diversion to bypass Vernon Circle would need to go through prime real estate land in Civic or on the Acton side. Can you see any of the owners of all the new developments agreeing to pull down their buildings?

Gregg Heldon6:51 am 15 Mar 24

Or just leave City Hill and Vernon Circle, alone.
There are now traffic lights on Vernon Circle now. Put in a Pedestrian Crossing at the lights.

One giant community veggie patch plus some more seats

What’s the obsession with populating every green space. Aesthetically it’s cool, green infrastructure and that’s enough. Next thing there’ll be an argument for a coffee van!!
Right or wrong Northbourne Avenue will always be the major thoroughfare through the centre of Canberra. Reducing city hill to one lane and the speed limit to 40 kph is nuts.

Following on from Startme up – why not a giant tram sculpture? Seriously, pedestrian access needs to be EASY. There needs to be an attraction, somewhere to sit and take in the view to Parliament House and maybe have a coffee. Unfortunately there won’t be views to West Basin as it will be surrounded by apartment towers.

David Watson2:32 pm 14 Mar 24

This could only be a suggested solution from a Canberran. Build four access tunnels under the road and move on to more important real life economic problems

Linda Seaniger1:45 pm 14 Mar 24

It might be just easier if we move the Civic town centre of Canberra to a new location. What nations capital in the world has a single lane ring Road and a 40 km speed zone? Plus a town park that you can’t access because it is surrounded by traffic congestion, which is not visually attractive has no direct pedestrian access. Can we please employ qualified town planners.

A new location for the city pool? A recreational field and oval for the residents of the city, which is supposed to increase by many thousands over the coming decades. an ornamental park that no-one goes near is useless.

Honest, serious suggestion here….

Most traffic that intends on driving straight past/through Vernon Circle are obviously traversing North / South of the lake.

Why not tunnel underneath it for two lanes each way to pop out either side at an appropriate location. This will allow those people just passing through to get on with their journey with minimal impact/flow disruption.

Then, for the local traffic, keep it to just one lane above ground using the same model used elsewhere in the city to keep the flow calm and pedestrian friendly.

How does that sound?

that’s exactly what i was going to propose. getting through traffic out of civic solves so many problems and opens up so many opportunities

They should have put a tunnel in for light rail and had it go straight ahead, then the stupid route it is taking.

that would make perfect sense if it didn’t have to pick up and put down passengers

It would be a good idea if not for how much it would cost. There has been lots of options considered for tunnelling roads in these areas but all have failed due to the feasibility once costs are considered.

If people want more access to City Hill, it would be far easier and cheaper to construct a couple of pedestrian underpasses rather than close roads.

Tunnelling underneath, long term is part of what I had in mind. But for a different purpose.
If we ever get electrified lines to Sydney, a train station is needed in Civic. The existing station site is ridiculous. A station with a northern approach would not need much tunnelling, compared to trying to join the existing line in the south. Underpass walkways could join to the tram system (if 2B ever gets NCA approval) improving intercity and local transport connectivity.

However, for now they want cheap short term projects. Walkways under the road are still a decent idea, with perhaps playground equipment added to the site and being fenced.

I don’t use the roundabout at all. Reducing it to one lane of traffic and/or slowing it down to 40kph will do nothing to attract people to a forlorn hill. Even one with a view. It has no connections to anything else. I imagine you’d be parking a mile away (don’t tell me people are going to go there to ride bikes). Beyond a grand opening of something, why would anyone go there. Just replant it, build a decent lookout if you must, maybe a statue of Andrew Barr pointing the way for Light Rail Stage 2 and leave it alone.

People get from place to place in civic by walking, not by driving. Just have it be a nice way to get between east and west in the city, plant some trees that actually provide shade, and people will use it. Why would anyone drive to a city park when they could instead drive to a park by the lake?

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