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.
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?
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.
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.
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.