Confessions of a rat runner: it’s a road to nowhere

Ian Bushnell 24 June 2021 32
Slow traffic

A queue of traffic in suburbia shows the false economy of avoiding the main roads. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

I’d known about it for years, even used it occasionally, but for the most part, I’d stuck to the multi-laned arterials that are there for a reason – to funnel large volumes of traffic to their destinations.

But this year, the flood of vehicles, the snail-paced progression through the gauntlet of traffic lights and sometimes the mix of claustrophobia and terror of being stuck in a river of traffic populated by trucks and buses got too much.

In Canberra, there are times when everybody seems to want to go somewhere at once, and that just seemed to happen again and again.

So I yielded to temptation and tried a well-worn rat run that flowed at a constant 50 to 60 km/h with less traffic and even a scenic view or two.

At first it worked like a dream, and then, as if my great idea had mysteriously migrated among a collective consciousness, cars came from everywhere, feeding into the route from surrounding main roads and, of course, from suburban streets where the inhabitants were simply exercising their right of access.

Gridlocked among suburban homes, I felt a mixture of guilt and regret and vowed to return to my usual route.

The COVID-19 pandemic appears to have coincided with the arrival of new development across Canberra, diverting public transport users, particularly bus travellers, to their cars, and many simply haven’t returned.


READ ALSO: Are Canberra drivers becoming more aggressive?


It has exacerbated the clog on Canberra’s roads at peak times, particularly morning flows as people try to get out of their suburbs to work.

The run out of Molonglo is a perfect example, and the government has endeavoured to ease the journey by strategically tweaking traffic lights.

Many have commented that letting a new area fill up and letting it rely on one route out is just bad planning, something Gungahlin had to live with for years.

Another road is planned out of Molonglo to the Tuggeranong Parkway that will relieve some of the pressure, but it will be years away.

There must be many instances across the ACT where congestion beaters like me are just clogging up suburban streets and secondary roads, inviting government to respond with pacifying measures such as speed bumps and chicanes.

I won’t be catching a bus because an hour-long, two-leg journey to my workplace doesn’t stack up against my 15 to 20 minutes in the car if the run is reasonably clear and no one initiates a head-to-tail chain reaction as the Parkway regularly endures.

But somehow, the government has got to get previously regular commuters out of their cars and back on the buses, deter rat runners and start frontloading infrastructure instead of just thinking about it and retrofitting when demand is overwhelming.

Residents should not see their normally quiet streets choked with vehicles driven by the hopeful, the desperate and the curious.

My message is: drive if you must but stick to the straight and not so narrow, the road most travelled, the route that was really made for you.

A strategy that might work is to stagger your departure times or leave a little earlier. Of course, some days we will all have the same idea at the same time.

Think of that as a community.


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32 Responses to Confessions of a rat runner: it’s a road to nowhere
Ol L Ol L 11:00 am 27 Jun 21

But if everyone works from home won’t all the cafes and many shops in the office locations go belly up?

    waldorf waldorf 3:55 pm 29 Jun 21

    Maybe, but the local cafe in my suburb is doing better than ever!

Jeremy Nell Jeremy Nell 9:41 am 27 Jun 21

Easy fix is to promote telecommuting for the public service/other desk jockeys. I bet technically most of those drivers could spend at least part of the week working from home.

Des Jeremic Des Jeremic 6:31 pm 26 Jun 21

Nothing to see here...

Try peak hours , long weekends , in Sydney or Melbourne.

Then try Canberra again.

Not so bad after all , is it ?

Paul Mathews Paul Mathews 3:14 pm 26 Jun 21

yes, bc u run into neighbours' BARKING DOGS

Paul Hinchy Paul Hinchy 11:46 am 26 Jun 21

If we took a much smarter approach to traffic lights so that traffic on main roads flowed then it would be much better. The current lack of design means you can travel at the speed limit between 5 sets of lights and get caught at every one . If you could sequence the lights correctly then that traffic would clear.

Not logistically easy thats for sure but surely with computer modelling it should be easily achievable . Especially stop where side roads bank up with dozens of cars while no cars pass on the main roads

Will Lancaster Sr. Will Lancaster Sr. 11:27 am 26 Jun 21

Tamara Lancaster

Martin Ross Martin Ross 6:00 am 26 Jun 21

Rat running is common in Queanbeyan when oaks estate road is shut. Cars go along thurralilly St into wanniassa st. Yass Rd is already blocked with cars and also Kings Hwy (Canberra Ave) is also heavy with cars. So there’s no real alternative route. What the ACT gov need to do is build a higher based bridge into Oaks Estate to alleviate this problem. Yes it’s ACT gov issue, not NSW.

Bill Gemmell Bill Gemmell 10:08 pm 25 Jun 21

That traffic in Lyons is about to get a whole lot busier with all the construction about to start

Michael Roy Michael Roy 7:45 pm 25 Jun 21

We need to create some LTNs

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 6:59 pm 25 Jun 21

“… and start frontloading infrastructure instead of just thinking about it and retrofitting when demand is overwhelming.”

With rare exceptions (which are probably more in the nature of clerical errors), catch-up infrastructure is what Australian governments do, because their finances are heavily reliant on the Ponzi scheme known as Big Australia – and that means paying for yesterday’s infrastructure needs with the revenue from tomorrow’s population-related economic growth.

Of course, there’s always the possibility that Canberra’s transport problems might be eased a little by a re-installed Deputy PM who seems to be very keen on regionalising and decentralising.

Mick Andrews Mick Andrews 6:18 pm 25 Jun 21

Honestly I love doing 85 on the parkway, il stick too it😆

Brindie Brindie 4:42 pm 25 Jun 21

Given that our main roads are so congested (Tuggeranong Parkway; Adelaide Avenue) and that our public transport system is so hopeless, it is understandable that motorists seek out other routes. It’s time the Labor-Greens Government addressed the source of the problem.

Ol L Ol L 3:17 pm 25 Jun 21

Canberra. If the traffic gets bad just put in more traffic lights, that’ll work real good…..check out Hindmarsh Drive Phillip for an example of this reasoning.

Kylie Wylie Kylie Wylie 1:50 pm 25 Jun 21

Residents of Lyons suffer badly every work day. Every main road is gridlocked with rat runners that mostly won't even let others in to get out of their residential streets.

carnardly carnardly 1:24 pm 25 Jun 21

it didn’t help that many of the bus routes in the the tuggeranong area were axed or altered. walking a couple of kms to a bus stop isn’t always cool when it’s -3 outside….

    Finally Relented Finally Relented 11:41 am 26 Jun 21

    Agree…they cut the Macrossan Cres loop in Latham where lots of elderly live. The loop, a simple loop, would add a whole 5-7 minutes. Dumbest cut ever so can only imagine southside

    bj_ACT bj_ACT 5:11 pm 26 Jun 21

    Too right. Even before Covid, Bus use in Tuggeranong, Belconnen and Woden reduced by 5% since the network redesign.

    How do you take away 750 bus stops and still claim you will magically make buses better?

    The designers of the 2019 bus network should have been sacked not promoted.

Lauren Montagnese Lauren Montagnese 12:06 pm 25 Jun 21

The street pictured is notoriously bad. If you are a resident in this area it’s incredibly difficult to get out of driveways and turn off a side street into the Main Street. All made worse by those cutting through from molonglo valley and road works on Carruthers street and Launceston street in Woden.

Lauryn Roberts Lauryn Roberts 11:37 am 25 Jun 21

…that would be ‘Waze’ sending everyone in gungahlin thru Throsby in the morning because of the traffic lights along the main road…. 😂

Tried it once. I’ll sit in the traffic I think.

Deepak Ramanath Deepak Ramanath 10:32 am 25 Jun 21

We have parkways where new intersections are added to mitigate the traffic. I don’t understand how this would help. Instead, underpasses and overpasses should be built so that parkways have free flow of traffic.

    James Forge James Forge 2:18 pm 25 Jun 21

    Deepak Ramanath the government is about to demolish an overpass and replace it with yet another set of traffic lights

    Deepak Ramanath Deepak Ramanath 2:19 pm 25 Jun 21

    James Forge Wow, where is this?

    Andrew Brain Andrew Brain 4:48 am 26 Jun 21

    Deepak Ramanath London Circuit and Commonwealth Avenue. It's planned to be removed for the construction of the Light Rail to Woden

    Deepak Ramanath Deepak Ramanath 7:31 am 26 Jun 21

    Andrew Brain That’s an irony.

    Jaffa Groube Jaffa Groube 2:30 pm 26 Jun 21

    James Forge the article referred to a lack of planning.

Eric Anthony Lucas Eric Anthony Lucas 8:08 am 25 Jun 21

It’s hard in Canberra, because no suburban street is straight!

Andrew Kristoffersen Andrew Kristoffersen 7:40 am 25 Jun 21

I would take the back roads around Downer, Hackett and Ainslie to get into Civic. Often Google Maps would suggest it and there would just be a constant stream of cars, all flowing of course. This would shave crucial minutes off the trip and pop me right into the carpark near work rather than struggling from Northbourne.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 11:02 am 25 Jun 21

    You could have cycled to Civic from there. I did. An easy cycle. No need for all that back street driving. Get a bike; even an electric one.

    Nick Savino Nick Savino 11:04 am 25 Jun 21

    Andrew Kristoffersen I’m going to reprogram to delete Ainslie from that route I’m over people racing thru intersection s because they are in such a rush I’ve been nearly cleaned up a few times

    Timothy Bailey Timothy Bailey 12:57 pm 26 Jun 21

    There is no way I am ever going to take up riding a bike again in Canberra for shopping / visits. For exercise? Yes!

    When I was employed I did, even in Winter, From Kambah to Barton and then later to Tuggeranong.

    Now retired, we drive - two, sometimes three times a week. We do not have a bus service that suits any of those 3 trips. ? Sunday, the weekly shop, trolleys don't fit in buses. Plus the occasional outing.

    I did use the bus service, on rainy and COLD days, when I was employed.

    And, we own an energy-efficient home. East-West orientation, shaded Nth side, insulated and, we both still walk to the local shops.

    Since 1981, after the 70s oil-shock.

    I do get that commuting to work, and 'carbon' is an issue, for many folk.

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