22 March 2024

Letter from the Editor: if the government wants to limit our car use, they'll have to make it easier

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Woman and man riding bicycles in line of traffic in Canberra

Commuters were encouraged to ride their bikes or scooters to work during the Make the Move campaign. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

I think we all know the ACT Government wants to get us out of our cars.

And fair enough, too. We’d all be fitter and healthier (and possibly have more money in our wallets) if we used our cars less.

Mid-century urban design decisions were all predicated around car usage and now, as we face transitions away from fossil fuels, we’re stuck with the consequences of a spread-out city that’s still overly reliant on motor vehicles.

This will always be a problem: unlike larger, more densely packed cities in Europe and Asia, most of us can’t walk, cycle or catch public transport everywhere, all the time.

In its efforts to prise us out from behind the wheel, the government is rapidly eradicating above ground car parking – and again, fair enough. They’re a waste of valuable space in town centres.

But where is the recognition that if you remove the support structures for cars, you need to replace them with something else that facilitates people’s everyday lives?

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The Canberra Symphony Orchestra’s Symphony in the Park was a case in point: hundreds who were encouraged to leave their cars elsewhere were completely stranded when buses failed to materialise late at night.

Events ACT shrugged its shoulders and said people should have checked the timetables before making their plans, despite buses frequently being laid on for other late night events.

Advocacy group Pedal Power has made a strong point this week about the promised separated cycleways on Northbourne Avenue from the 2018 City and Gateways Urban Design Framework.

These have quietly disappeared from the latest Active Travel Plan. Pedal Power is querying what responsibility the government has for cyclists who may be seriously injured or even killed as a result of notably poor cycling infrastructure on arterial roads.

They say the government has a moral responsibility to provide better facilities and follow through on their promises if they want us to drive less.

Anyone who travels on Northbourne Avenue regularly knows that a line on the road offers no magical protection to the many peak hour cyclists.

Just a few days ago I saw a very slow cyclist being overtaken by a faster one who veered into the path of oncoming traffic, while at the Macarthur Avenue traffic lights, a car waiting to turn left had completely blocked the cycle lane.

Separated cycle paths on major roads would significantly enhance safety and surely cost less than the decades-long project to get light rail around the entire city.

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The ACT’s budget is always tight, but if we are serious about an investment in active travel in a city where many people are already keen cyclists, it can’t be impossible to make it safer and easier for commuters.

A reasonable starting point would be to ensure that our political leaders walk the talk on active travel themselves.

In The Hoot podcast this week, my co-host David Murtagh made the point that most senior politicians and ACT public servants still have allocated parking spaces as part of their job entitlements.

Should those entitlements be removed? Should the parking spaces be returned to the general public?

And would senior pollies be more alert to these problems if they had to duck out every now and then to feed the meter, or work out how to get home without a car late at night?

If decision-makers are going to pursue generally worthwhile aims, perhaps they should have to face the same battles as the rest of us while they’re doing so.

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15-minute cities will solve the problem. You know, the ones where people, in interest of paying their respects to the secular faith’s eschatological teachings, aren’t allowed to go far from home, so as keep their carbon footprints to a minimum.

No car (or suitable replacements). No worries. Just work from home. Shop from home. Be alone from home. Escape reality (using VR and Meta) from home. And have your sustainable kibble delivered by drone to home.

This editorial resonates deeply with the current challenges faced by commuters. It succinctly highlights the disconnect between policies aimed at limiting car usage and the practical realities of public transportation infrastructure. As someone who understands the importance of efficient transport solutions, I believe it’s crucial for the government to prioritize accessibility and convenience in their initiatives. After all, enhancing public transport options not only reduces congestion but also aligns with the growing demand for sustainable mobility solutions. It’s a win-win scenario that benefits everyone. And for those looking to make a positive impact while upgrading their vehicles, services like Cash For Cars Canberra offer a convenient solution to responsibly dispose of old vehicles while contributing to a cleaner environment.

A great article thanks Genevieve … agree with all your points. The fast bus which was well patronised was taken off the Hughes route. Now we have one slow bus . It just doesn’t make sense. It sure is time our politicians started listening to what the community wants rather than what they want. Very disallusioned with how the Canberra community is administrated.

The Woden Community Council is holding a forum south Canberra transport at the Hughes Community Centre 7pm on 3 April.
Confirmed speakers include:
Transport Canberra – bus services
Dr Simon Copland – Pedal Power
Dr Michael de Percy – UC Political science
Milad Ghasri – Senior Lecturer in Transport Modelling UNSW
There will first be speeches from our experts and then time for questions and hopefully answers.

This will be a hybrid meeting, with online access via Zoom.
Meeting link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/3645757423
Meeting ID: 364 575 7423
Tea and coffee will be available for those able to attend in person.

“Anyone who travels on Northbourne Avenue regularly knows that a line on the road offers no magical protection to the many peak hour cyclists.”
In case you hadn’t noticed, concrete kerbs don’t offer a great deal of protection either – just look at all the flattened signs around after a weekend, or a few spots of rain. What exactly is envisaged with “separated” cycle lanes?

“at the Macarthur Avenue traffic lights, a car waiting to turn left had completely blocked the cycle lane”
The car probably also blocked the vehicle lane too – what’s your point?

HiddenDragon9:24 pm 23 Mar 24

“In The Hoot podcast this week, my co-host David Murtagh made the point that most senior politicians and ACT public servants still have allocated parking spaces as part of their job entitlements.”

I have made that point several times over several years on this site – not just to highlight the “do as we say, not as we do” hypocrisy of a government which is so fond of blathering on about the (claimed) unsustainable horrors of private car usage, but also to draw attention to the extent to which quite unrealistic and unreasonable claims about the practicalities of active and public transport are used as justifications to make it ever harder and more expensive to travel by private vehicle (the latter usually just being a form of green-washed revenue scrounging).

The double standards and hypocrisy on this issue will roll on for some time, but we’re not too far from a crunch point where the ACT government will have to face up to the fact that the gap between rhetoric and reality on active and public transport is large and, if anything, getting worse.

GrumpyGrandpa9:03 pm 23 Mar 24

A fair portion of this articles has been devoted to bicycles.
The problem however is that if the government wants us to get out of our cars, for the vast majority of people, bicycles are not the answer.

Bicycles just don’t cut it, in the cold, the rain, the heat, for people needing to commute distances (unless they are young/healthy/athletic), for people dropping off or picking up kids at or from school, for grocery shopping, and so on.

For the majority of us, if we were to leave the car at home, we’d be looking for reliable and fast public transport.

A weekend bus service through the suburbs every 2 hours doesn’t cut it. Services that cease and leave people stranded at concerts don’t cut it. The absense of good planning in our Bus services doesn’t cut it; people in Tuggeranong who need to travel to Belconnen, need to travel via the City- this ridiculous. The government removed the direct Woden to Belco and Tuggers to Belco services. People in Tuggeranong can’t go to Fyshwick or the Airport, without going into the City; crazy.

And to make the public transport travel time for those of us in Tuggeranong, the government wants to increase a slow LR to Woden.

And I’m only talking about Tuggeranong. I’m sure other areas of Canberra are aa badly impacted.

Let’s be frank and honest, if the government wants us out of our cars, we need reliable and fast public transport.

CM Barr and Minister Steele, you have a lot work to do.

Interesting. There is no.public transport in my suburb. You have to walk at least 1km to the bus stop, then wait for a bus, then change over in Woden and wait for another bus before getting into the city. When my kids were young I had to drop them off at the child care. Was I then expected to drive home and do the above to catch a bus. I don’t think.so. oh yes and do the reverse if there was an emergency. Yeah right.

Apart from that it would be very difficult to tow my caravan with an EV let alone a push bike.

Governments are meant to enhance the public’s lives not dictate if we can or should drive cars. That’s what we pay them for. Some people can’t function without a car no matter how good public transport is.

Stephen Saunders1:53 pm 23 Mar 24

(A) Barr-Albanese want the fastest population growth possible, at any cost (B) The steady decline in infrastructure and services is not their problem, tell somebody who cares (C) What part of this model is the author not following?

kaleen_calous1:12 pm 23 Mar 24

Right on Genevieve. A bit of green paint sure is cheaper that actual physical infrastructure, trouble is cyclists are still moving targets until some sort of separation occurs especially on main thoroughfares. There is also a woeful neglect of existing cycle paths around Canberra. Tree roots and piles of leaf litter are real problem. There are places around Lake Ginninderra where you actually have to leave the cycle path because tree roots have destroyed the surface. As I bump my way around Lake Ginninderra I often wonder how often Mr Barr et al actually get on a bike and join the hoipollio in experiencing what is often a very average experience when cycling in Canberra. The tram fetish sure soaks up what funds are available for improving the micro amenity of Canberrans.

Quite right Genevieve; but governments also need to accommodate those who are less mobile and struggle with walking and certainly can’t ride. The city should be for all, not just fit young people!

yes hgo7627, and along with those who can’t ride and struggle with walking, they need to accomodate those who can’t, or struggle with, driving.

Agree 100%! Pedestrians just need footpaths and pedestrian crossings. Shouldn’t be hard. Why do those with vehicles (whether cars or bikes) come first? Surely a person walking is no less important than a person on a bike or in a car.

Where there is a pedestrian crossing, all too often the bikes cut across the pedestrians walking across the road, demanding they take priority. The same occurs on footpaths, with scooters an added hazard, with many of those riding them expecting pedestrians to get out of the way.

And where there are traffic light crossings motorists are often going through a red light when the green walk light is showing for pedestrians, cutting the time pedestrians may cross at the green light and creating safety hazards.

I’d love to ride my bike to work, however I have to drive to a regional area on a daily basis. It is very dangerous to cycle on these roads even thought they have shoulders, but those shoulders are barely wider than my handle bars. Bike paths – forget it, there aren’t any.
Anyway, I limit my cycling to riding around LBG on the weekend

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