I was ambivalent about the light rail. That is until I bought an apartment two minutes walk from one of the tram stops. Now suddenly I have become a huge light rail tram fan. I can’t wait until it is up and working so that the kidlets and I can whiz into Civic for the Multicultural Festival or other events, head up to Dickson for shopping, drop into the Capital Region Farmers Markets for some fresh fruit and veg, visit the Handmade Markets without having to park a kilometre away, or even venture into Gungahlin to see friends. I’m also banking of the light rail improving the value of my apartment.
But the roadworks and the interruptions are doing my head in.
Up until now, I have been mostly philosophical about the inconvenience that the major capital works have had on my life. Okay, so it takes around ten to fifteen minutes extra along Northbourne Avenue. One evening it took me 35 minutes to travel from Barton to Dickson – I could have driven half-way to Goulburn in that time. Some mornings the traffic up the side street where I live is so full of commuters dashing by to avoid Northbourne Ave congestion that I can scarcely get the car out of the parking lot to drive the kids to school. Then there was the time I had to take the car into be serviced at Mitchell – my Uber ride took 45 minutes and cost a fortune. Flemington Road was, and probably still is, a mess.
All of this I have taken in my stride. I have even decided to turn it into a bit of a positive and have started cycling into work. I don’t do it every day as it is a bit too hard for my unfit self to ferry kids the days that I have to drop off the preschooler across town at childcare. But I did use the Northbourne Avenue and associated congestion as an excuse to get into fitness. I love the slow ride through the magnificent Autumn colours that Canberra has to show. It is a special time.
So mostly I have accepted the light rail works. Until I realised that the intersection between Condamine St and Northbourne Avenue was being blocked off (i.e. near Fenner Hall and Hotel Rex). Not just for a day or two, but for two whole long weeks to prepare work for the light rail. To say this is a major inconvenience on my life is an understatement. It will necessitate a major detour. Further, it is not just me who will be doing a major detour – half of O’Connor and Turner has been full of motorists that are probably not from the inner north for months.
This is not the only intersection that will be blocked off. Previously the Northbourne Avenue/Girrawheen St in Braddon intersection (and associated bus stops) were closed from 4 May to 27 May. The next one is probably the Northbourne Avenue/Macarthur Avenue/Wakefield intersection, near the ABC, which is a busy intersection.
To be fair, as someone in the affected community I have been getting letters in the mail letting me know what is happening. I have been invited to briefing sessions. There is also a website, although I find it is more gloss about how fabulous the tram will be than providing easy to find updates on how residents and motorists are being affected. So there has been community engagement. I can’t complain that there hasn’t been. But still, from my perspective the construction sucks. It does not make it any easier, as a single mother with two kids, to get us up and around to where we need to be in the morning or at the end of a long day.
Rather than just be a whinger, I thought I ought to think constructively about what more the ACT Government could be doing to better prepare and support the community through this time. Here are some ideas.
- Dedicated law enforcement for the traffic around the back roads along either side of Northbourne Avenue. Far too many motorists are using these narrow laneways to circumvent Northbourne Ave, and in doing so they are going above and beyond the speed limit. Often there are young children walking to school at this time (sometimes me and mine), and there are also many cyclists. Now that the days are getting shorter and it is darker, this is a fatal accident waiting to happen. There are often cars parked on either side of the street I live on and this makes it especially dangerous for cars to rev up and down along my street. ACT Police – you need to be doing more here. If roadworks make it difficult for motorists to travel along Northbourne Ave they will find another way.
- Put on extra buses. To reduce congestion some extra express buses dedicated to the Flemington Road – Northbourne Avenue – Civic route could help. This could encourage people to be more sustainable, help decrease congestion and change commuting habits ahead of the advent of light rail. Would people use the extra buses? If there is already enough public transport along this corridor or not enough interest, why is the ACT Government building the light rail?
- Acknowledge that Northbourne Avenue has become congested and do something about it. Don’t just wait until the light rail is here as the answer to all of our prayers. Does anyone really think that traffic congestion will stop once the tram is here? Yes, more people will travel in an environmentally sustainable and fun way (including tourists) – but it will make it harder for cars as well. What is needed is better roads to divert traffic from Gunghalin and Canberra’s northern suburbs away from Northbourne Avenue, and parking near tram stops to encourage people a little further away from the tram to use it. Perhaps in retrospect doing major roadworks in Horse Park Dr at the same time as work on Northbourne Avenue and Flemington Road wasn’t such a good idea, but moving forward, perhaps looking at the traffic congestion in an integrated way would help.
- Better lighting and security for cycle paths. Now that I cycle home some nights my route forces me to pass through Haig Park colloquially known as ‘Rape Park’ by female friends who live in the area. I thought she was exaggerating until I read about a female cyclist being chased in this area. It is scarier than a Gruffalo book to cycle through this park at night – or early morning, when statistically most sexual assaults occur. No-one should have to endure this, especially not women. The light rail works are forcing more people to drive less (a good thing) and walk or cycle through unsafe territory (not so good). I know there is a consultation plan on the Haig Park redevelopment. But someone is going to get be hurt and/or sexually assaulted if action is not taken now, during the darkest months of the year.
I am looking forward to the light rail being up and running. But right now I can’t wait until it is over.
Are you over the light rail construction? What do you think about the construction and consultation?