18 July 2022

Monaro mess proves traffic lights are lazy fix to road planning problem

| James Coleman
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Monaro Highway

One of the Monaro Highway’s troubled intersections. Photo: ACT Government.

The Tuggeranong Parkway is almost spot on, but Hindmarsh Drive needs a new name. I’m thinking Hindmarsh Stop-Start.

You can’t go more than 100 metres in places without having to stop at yet another red traffic light, such that commuting between Fyshwick and Weston will either take you 15 minutes or 20 entirely depending on your luck of the draw. Not only is this intensely annoying, it’s also causing problems. And here’s the thing – these problems aren’t going away.

No one seems to realise this, certainly not the ACT Government, which has just set aside $24 million for road safety works in the upcoming Budget.

Among other things, this includes four new sets of traffic lights at the hot spot intersections of Streeton Drive and Namatjira Drive in Chapman, Streeton Drive and Heysen Street in Weston, Tharwa Drive and Lawrence Wackett Crescent in Theodore, and Tharwa Drive and Norman Lindsay Street in Conder.

The thinking is that all will be well as soon as motorists are told exactly when to stop and go. Peak zen will be achieved.

READ ALSO ACT Budget: More red lights to make intersections safer in $24 million roads package

But Weston Creek Community Council chair Bill Gemmell said it first.

“They can create more issues than they are solving,” he told Region on 12 July.

“The first response seems to be to put a set of traffic lights in when more thought to design, traffic flows and sight lines may be a better way. It’s a constant source of bemusement to me at the proliferation of lights without a thought to the downstream consequences.”

So what happened to traffic lights improving the situation? They’re part of a road safety package after all. What are these downstream consequences?

Hot spot: The Streeton Drive and Heysen Street corner in Weston, where lights will be installed. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

Drive down almost all of Canberra’s major arteries and you’re living in one, but take the Monaro Highway for another example.

At different times in years past, the ACT City Services department has signed off on several sets of traffic lights on the highway between Tuggeranong and Fyshwick – one for the Alexander Maconochie Centre, one for Lanyon Drive, and three for the Mugga Lane, Tralee Street and Sheppard Street intersections.

But it seems that at no point in this process did something occur to them about the Monaro Highway. I’ll give you a hint – it’s in the name.

They put traffic lights on a highway. That’s like putting a tow bar on a Ferrari.

READ ALSO 40 km/h suburban streets could be part of Canberra’s active travel future

There is a word for this – well, there are many, but let’s stay polite – “stroad” .

Stroad was coined by US advocacy group Strong Towns in 2013 to describe “those dangerous, multi-laned thoroughfares you encounter in nearly every city, town and suburb in America”.

“They’re what happens when a street – a place where people interact with businesses and residences – gets combined with a road – a high-speed route between productive places.”

Monaro Highway was meant to be a road. But traffic lights have turned it into a street. And the result is predictable. If it were a medical condition, it would be called “atherosclerosis” and you would be rushed to hospital.

Thankfully, the Australian and ACT governments have together committed $230.5 million to fix the problem that should never have existed in the first place. Almost all of the traffic lights will be removed and replaced by a blend of large roundabouts and sweeping overpasses.

READ ALSO Is it time to rethink Canberra’s roads?

This is not to say all traffic lights are of the devil. But they need to be planned in advance and not simply pulled out of the pocket whenever an intersection pings the accident register one too many times.

Don’t get me wrong – Canberra has good roads, on the whole. They’re wider, quieter and smoother than nearly any you’ll find in Sydney or Melbourne. But that’s not the point. Those cities are lost causes. Canberra is still growing and being built.

Yes, public transport will shoulder some of the traffic burden. But guess what buses drive on? Unless we are building dedicated bus lanes everywhere, they’ll end up just as stuck and flustered as the motorist.

Future Canberra will have more cars and we need to be thinking seriously now about this.

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Ross McConchie6:58 pm 20 Jul 22

There also seems to be a level of “ideas & suggestions disappearing down a black hole”. Years ago I made a comment to planners at a public meeting that the rebuilding of Anketel St should be wide enough for a separate public transport corridor (Separate and Dedicated; NOT just another lane). Their answer? “ooo we hadn’t thought of that!” The result? Only enough room for a normal street. Why? What happened to my suggestion? Nobody knows…

Ross McConchie6:54 pm 20 Jul 22

I think a lot of the problem with the planning mechanism is that it is not ALLOWED to “think outside the box”…
Q – “What if we incorporated these 2 intersections…?”
A – “NO! The budget/scope of works/media release only covers this ONE intersection. It’s not your job to work on the second intersection, that’s a different project team!”

Look at what they have done to Southern Cross Drive in Belconnen. Yet another successful failure.

A shame James’ article did not point out the amount of money wasted in providing all this infrastructure free of charge to people coming from another jurisdiction (looking at Googonians here) in order to use our shops, schools, hospitals and other services.

The ACT Government has to eventually say “enough” and work out a way to capture some of this “lost” revenue.

A number of years ago in Victoria the traffic control lights were switched to flashing amber at around 1opm. Given that, any vehicle that approaches the intersection and slows to observe if there are any othe vehicle present and sees none can proceed through without having to stop. It is pointless to stop at an intersection at 1 or 2 am in the morning if there is no traffic. Perhaps a similar system could be employed here and the traffic control lights could be swithche to amber at midnight. Even if only Mon-Frid when the traffic is lights. Just a thought and would save on fuel by not having to sit at idle until lights changed.

HiddenDragon6:33 pm 19 Jul 22

In characteristic fashion, this government can’t help but add insult to injury when it decides to take away another little bit of freedom and responsibility from drivers – months before the new lights go in, up will go the “We are Signalising This Intersection” signs.

It’s as if the grateful proles should be dancing in the streets and throwing rose petals at the feet of their ever wise and beneficent overlords for saving them from themselves.

Or put in in a large round about years ago then add traffic lights (aka as the Barton Highway round about) rather than over/under pass

ChrisinTurner3:10 pm 19 Jul 22

The overpass was too expensive when $billions are going to build a tram to Woden which will almost double the travel time.

Good article. Its a schemozzle. Our traffic systems are some of the dumbest in Australia.

What’s missing from this whinge-piece is exploration of the options that are mentioned by name once as if to suggest that the ACT Government doesn’t know about this deep magic.

Changing the road’s construction to add “sight lines” and change traffic flows is a disruptive and expensive option. Traffic lights are a stop-gap measure that will address the immediate issue (too many impatient drivers taking risks with other people’s lives) until there’s enough money available to do things like widening roads, adding slip lanes and half way refuges for vehicles turning right from minor roads.

Its Tuggeranong, so always the bottom of the list for anything the ACT Government has to take responsibility for.

Ummm they are rebuilding that now to be a flyover….. so clearly not the bottom of the list.

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