Is it time to rethink Canberra’s roads?

James Coleman 27 August 2020 66
Commonwealth Bridge

With a relatively small population over a large space, travelling in the ACT is usually a doddle. Photo: File.

There’s a handful of cars around me, all driving at a steady rate. I ease off for the upcoming roundabout, throw a glance to my right and keep going, along the straight and through to the next roundabout in a similar fashion. Turning up a slip-road now and there’s a line of cars banked-up. About four of them. After a brief pause, I continue across the bridge.

It’s about 8:30 am and I’m driving through the middle of a capital city.

One of the things we love most about our ‘Bush Capital’ is the fact that our 457,000 residents are spread out over a wide area, so getting anywhere within half an hour is a doddle. For those of us who like to drive without turning into a flustered mess, this is perfect.

However, it’s also changing.

We’ll start at the beginning.

When Mr Burley Griffin submitted his plan for Canberra in 1911, the judges looked for growth capacity. This remained a priority when it came to laying out the southside of the ACT.

For instance, main arterials roads in Tuggeranong such as Isabella Drive and Johnson Drives are flanked on either side by huge nature strips, allowing space for extra demand in the future (something we saw three years ago with the Ashley Drive duplication).


READ ALSO: How you can satisfy your need for speed without breaking the law


That was the forward-thinking during the 1970s and ’80s; the thinking now seems to be more a case of ‘public transport will solve everything’. All over Canberra, this means more and more multi-story apartment and office complexes are appearing with barely a hand raised about where all these people are supposed to park.

At the University of Canberra, students have to pay for car spots they may not even get because the uni is attempting to nudge them into buses or onto bikes.

The long-term ideal solution does lie in a blend of cars and public transport, but given how maligned the bus network is, and the fact it’s increasingly impossible to find a park in the city, we’re a long way from that.

Tidbinbilla Road

Tidbinbilla Road – the best of the best in the ACT. Photo: James Coleman.

This brings us to speed.

Modern cars typically go, stop and corner vastly better than their predecessors, but speed limits have hardly changed for 40 or 50 years, and those that have, have gone down.

Of course, it’s a little more complicated than that.

Speed limits have to strike a happy medium between a learner driver and Mark Webber, an Audi RS3 and a Leyland P76, a clear, crisp day and a wet, icy night. But we could still go all day listing roads that could safely benefit from a bigger number (the Federal Highway springs immediately to mind).

A good sign is if a mobile speed-camera van is often parked along the same road. Either it’s a particularly treacherous stretch or, more likely, enough people are frustrated with the limit to make it profitable.

The incredibly narrow streets in many of the newer suburbs are also designed to slow down traffic, which seems strange.

The whole reason behind not speeding is because it’s not safe, but I don’t look at the likes of McConchie Circuit in Weston and think, “That looks perfectly safe”.

I think of the rubbish truck driver’s dilemmas and the law which forbids parking on the nature strip so cars are left on the side of the road instead, and … oh boy, there’s another car coming, I’ll almost mount this curb so we can both squeeze past.

The older suburban streets aren’t exempt either, thanks to an obsession with speed humps.

These plastic or concrete lumps in the middle of roads are not only annoying for nearby residents whenever a tradie’s tools go airborne at 5:30 in the morning, but also contribute to emissions (the UK is also in the process of removing many from their roads).


READ ALSO: Three great drives for a cool car around Canberra


It all comes down to the mantra of ‘speed kills’. So we end up with a simplistic equation of less speed = fewer deaths.

When I was getting my L plates, I had to attend a two-day Road Ready course. Much of this involved watching videos of car accidents.

After each one, the instructor would ask the class where it had all gone wrong. We would respond with “the driver was fiddling with the radio”, or “the driver was tailgating”.

But no. It turns out that if the driver had simply been going 10 km/h slower, nobody would have been killed. You can see where this logic goes.

Managing roads and the people using them is always going to be tricky business. But I only ask that we think ahead, and that goes for the ACT Government as much as it does for us ACT motorists.


What's Your Opinion?


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66 Responses to Is it time to rethink Canberra’s roads?
mark boast mark boast 11:26 am 07 Sep 20

Who are you James Colman? Do you represent an organisation or is this a personal view? Respect you right to write but hard to see a way ahead without the writer’s context and purpose.

gerard gerard 1:56 am 04 Sep 20

There is a red camera van driving around taking photos of cars parked on nature strips and partially on footpaths. The ACT government must be short on money so they are doing a bit of revenue raising by fining cars that have sensibly not parked on the road on the narrow streets.

Queanbeyanite Queanbeyanite 5:47 pm 03 Sep 20

Your local council wanted to concentrate development within the artificial boundaries to rake in the rate income. If you’d planned ahead and diverted the train underground into Jolimont you could have expanded all the way to Goulburn and the other way to Bombala, Eden and Jindabyne. Everyone could live in small villages in the countryside, not jammed into 300 square metre blocks with no room for a vege garden.

Mark Boast Mark Boast 10:44 am 02 Sep 20

More cars, more roads, get rid of buildings, get people out of the way, more roads, more cars... Yes, my watch says its 2020. Year of weirdness apparently.

Cris Piper Cris Piper 10:26 am 02 Sep 20

Walter designed the capital for 300 hundred to 350 thousand.

Maybe time to control immigration and do things "the Walter Way".

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 3:41 pm 02 Sep 20

    I have read lower population than this, but I have been unable to find the links, even though I read one very recently. One was for only about 27,000 people, and the other for a population of 100,000 & something people.

Paul Melling Paul Melling 9:27 am 02 Sep 20

I have looked at the streets that have been laid out in Whitlam and if a car is parked next to the gutter, on opposite sides of the road, there appears to be no room for another car to get through.

    Adrian Fui Fui Moy Adrian Fui Fui Moy 10:28 am 02 Sep 20

    This is incorrect. Local access streets are in fact 0.5m wider than the minimum, and have been proven to adequately allow three vehicles to simultaneously pass - either two parked and one pass, or one parked and two pass.

    Jon Rooks Jon Rooks 5:05 pm 03 Sep 20

    Maybe incorrect for Whitlam, but try some parts of Dunlop and Ngunnawal

Steven Kirwood Steven Kirwood 8:24 am 01 Sep 20

Bring back those safe silent cops,,,,not

Peter Palmer Peter Palmer 4:49 pm 31 Aug 20

I like the idea of widening and separating the bike paths from motor traffic, commonwealth ave could easily be two lanes of free fro

Vince Craig Vince Craig 7:31 pm 30 Aug 20

Well thanks James for rethinking our whole road system in the basis of your unsupported anecdotes and with no idea of the impact of technological changes that are on our doorstep such as self driving cars.

    John Coleman John Coleman 12:26 am 31 Aug 20

    Your point is irrelevant. Contary to the more hysterical claims, self-driving cars are not on our doorstep, they are not aided by more complex infrastructure, and speed bumps? If Canberra's roads are being designed for an imminent self-driving future, we wouldn't be seeing increased traffic calming measures.

    The ancedotes are empirical and relatable - a tomorrow full of cars that don't crash isn't.

    Vince Craig Vince Craig 6:34 pm 01 Sep 20

    Neville Butler that’s not what I said

John Machin John Machin 7:07 pm 30 Aug 20

This article is quite odd.

Tony Whichelo Tony Whichelo 6:36 pm 30 Aug 20

Learn how to drive better more to the point

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 6:32 pm 30 Aug 20

Get rid of the parking spaces at the Legislative Assembly building – that would do a lot to focus the hearts and minds on practical solutions to transport problems, rather than more of the usual “do as I say, not as I do” blather about active transport.

Then do the same for other ACT Government workplaces, starting with the executive levels – the people who develop, apply, enforce and review all the policies which bear on transport problems need to be constantly reminded – in a very practical way – of those problems.

cycladelec cycladelec 6:31 pm 30 Aug 20

It is a good time to rethink Canberra’s roads because of the changes coming with electric vehicles, ride-share, autonomy and TaaS (Transport as a Service). Self-driving vehicles will need some changes to design and marked lines. Shared vehicles and autonomy will require less parking. Small EVs will support use of public transport and cater for ‘last mile’ trips. There is much more to be consider than speed and congestion. Transport strategy 2020 has just been released. https://www.transport.act.gov.au/act-transport-strategy/home?fbclid=IwAR0pvfj758Fo7a7EowVBgVV7kbPQZAHYsGHDkqRvPUl-WkPydM2GtiaUWLs

Philip Vels Philip Vels 5:46 pm 30 Aug 20

Narrow? There's so much space! Maybe I'm just comparing to Sydney lol

Finally Relented Finally Relented 5:34 pm 30 Aug 20

Agree about stupid speed humps everywhere ..new one in Gungahlin turning left onto Flemington Rd..only had to stop once for a pedestrian, and yes I did stop. And years ago we trialled 20 km/ h , 30 and 40 km/ h around schools and it was deemed 20 and 30 ks was too slow. Don’t we have safer cars etc now? Nanny state it feels like. This is why people can’t make (good)decisions for themselves…

David Brown David Brown 5:26 pm 30 Aug 20

In the good ol days, land was developed for the good of the community. These days it is for the profit of the developer. 😟

Josh Reynolds Josh Reynolds 4:46 pm 30 Aug 20

Worst part is roundabouts that clearly can't cope with the traffic demand aren't upgraded and still form one lane on each end.

The ridiculous solution: put part time traffic lights or that monstrosity on Gundaroo drive😑

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 3:45 pm 02 Sep 20

    Love the lights there. A big improvement. Where I saw lots of roundabouts with lights, was in the UK.

Chris Ellis Chris Ellis 1:07 pm 30 Aug 20

Tradies tools wouldn’t go flying if they went over the speed humps at the proper speed lol.

    Scott Coulson Scott Coulson 5:36 pm 30 Aug 20

    So that raises the question; why is there a need to slow traffic to 20kmh in 60kmh and 50kmh speed zones?

    Scott Coulson Scott Coulson 8:50 pm 31 Aug 20

    Sorry Chris Ellis but the speed bumps have not been placed in rat runner hot spots. They have been placed right through the suburbs on major thoroughfares.

Peter Nelms Peter Nelms 12:48 pm 30 Aug 20

I guess it doesn't help to have a push bike riding Greenie as the Minister

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 1:49 pm 30 Aug 20

    Shane Rattenbury is Minister for Climate Change and Sustainability (October 2016–present)

    Minister for Corrections and Justice Health (November 2012–present)

    Minister for Justice, Consumer Affairs and Road Safety (November 2012–present)

    Minister for Mental Health (October 2016–present)

    Not “Minister for Roads” as you wrongly claim. Never has been either. The closest is: Minister for Road Safety (January 2016–October 2016)

    The Minister for Roads and Active Travel is Chris Steel.

    Your ignorance and closed eyed prejudice is showing. Although often they are the one and the same.

Dennis Forbes Dennis Forbes 12:46 pm 30 Aug 20

From SMH on line

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