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
Gerald Lynch Gerald Lynch 12:52 pm 30 Jun 21

You can have whatever roads you like for your personal vehicle, but how about paying the real cost of road provision and full cost of parking as well as adapting to climate change requirements and the health effects of particulate emissions from tyre/road wear? None of us pay fully for road costs or maintenance despite a continual dissatisfaction with various charges imposed federally and by local jurisdictions. And no one factors in the cost of loss of social or community facilities through ever bigger road provision; think of the bleak isolation around Glenloch Interchange and the barrier created between Black Mountain and the lake by six lanes of Parkes Way (and a forthcoming study into further augmentation, i.e. more carriageway). We need to think better not bigger.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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