12 July 2021

Too many shortcomings in Woden Interchange plans

| Ian Bushnell
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Woden interchange

The Woden Interchange project is facing challenges already. Image: ACT Government.

Few will mourn the passing of the Woden bus interchange, an ageing uninviting bit of infrastructure that at the wrong time of the day could be the wrong place to be.

So news of a start on the new integrated transport interchange is exciting, linked as it is with the eventual extension of light rail to Woden, and something the government wanted to trumpet.

What Transport Minister Chris Steel was less keen to do was reveal just how many conditions the planning authority had placed on the project which reflected just how much had been neglected or not thought through.

The government has its reasons for opting for the linear design on Callam street as opposed to sticking with the current loop system that allows a reasonable flow of buses in and out of the interchange.

The new facility needed to also be a light rail station and the current interchange site was slotted for the new multi-storey CIT campus, despite its small footprint.

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The result is that limiting the interchange to Callam Street brings with it a host of traffic challenges, which the project approval lays out and will require solutions, from bus scheduling to signal synchronisation to new traffic lights.

Major intersections, such as Hindmarsh Drive with Melrose Drive and Athllon Drive, that are already problematic will be under even more pressure, and what is not mentioned is that there are major high-rise construction projects planned on all sides of the Town Centre: Hindmarsh on the east, Geocon’s WOVA on the north and Zapari and Doma on the west.

The government also proposes a new throughway in and out of the Town Centre, created by connecting Bradley and Bowe Streets, that will become a new major collector road but also a shared space between the CIT and Woden Town Square.

This will divert vehicles from Callam around the CIT, past Grand Central Towers, which no doubt it will service, and out again. But it will sever the so-called pedestrian boulevard to the Town Square from the interchange.

Incidentally, the approval also highlights the need for better access between the pedestrian link and the Town Square, currently a concrete staircase and a lift.

The road proposal is out for consultation.

But there is one line in the approval about the interchange structures lacking protection from the elements that should be ringing alarm bells.

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If there is one thing that deters people in Canberra catching buses or light rail it’s having to stand at stops without sufficient shelter, whether it is freezing mornings like we are experience now or the blisteringly hot summer days to come.

How a project like this gets to the DA stage with a design that may not offer protections from Canberra’s extreme weather is bewildering.

The planning authority also called out the inadequate tree plantings to cover the loss of many mature trees on Callum Street, something that, given the government’s own policies on urban vegetation, the urban forest and managing climate change, is also troubling.

There are also no public toilets, something that apparently can wait until the CIT is built.

This is an important piece of public infrastructure that the people of Woden, who will number in their many thousands by the time the Town Centre boom is over, and the commuters who will use it will have to live with for a long time.

This is the siting and design the government has settled on. It will need to get the project right.

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HiddenDragon6:17 pm 12 Jul 21

Yes, it’s an ill-considered impractical mess cooked up by people who will make little, if any, use of it – but light-rail-at-any-price is the governing obsession in this town, so call-in powers or some other weasel option will be used to push ahead with it after making cosmetic changes, and all the real effort will go into intelligence-insulting spin about how wonderful it is.

Karl Chamberlain3:45 pm 12 Jul 21

Did they consider putting the buses underground?
Bondi Junction in Sydney and a station in the Perth CBD – both good examples of what can be done.
I don’t think it will last 20 years as planned.

There have too many constraints imposed before starting even the conceptual design for the interchange. The linear model is poor for the bus movements, and is made a lot worse by making the pedestrians cross the routes of the buses. For the safety of pedestrians and the efficient movement of buses the design needs to separate people from traffic here: by extending a pedestrian link at the level of the Woden Town Square, bridging above the interchange buses and tram tracks, above the newly busy Bowes St, with steps and escalators down to the interchange platform, there would be relief from the problem of pedestrians crossing the traffic. It would create part of the east-west link from the town square to the interchange and to the remnants of the park and across to the creek.
And yes I would like to have some public toilets in the interchange for the years it is is operating until the CIT campus is completed. People of all ages need to use buses; civilised cities provide toilet facilities in public places like interchanges.

I’m gonna say it again. I really don’t think they’ve fully considered the wider implications on the extended Woden precinct in the development of the new bus/rail interchange, CIT and pedestrian throughway.

When you only do a $100k planning study to kick things off, it’s not surprising that you don’t get a first rate solution that tackles the broader Woden urban design and related car, bike, pedestrian and public transport issues.

Unions ACT get oversight of all ACT Government procurement, they need to prioritise the benefits and outcomes of each tender to Canberrans, above the benefits they see for Union officials and members. This is an opportunity for Unions ACT to demonstrate the insight and value they can bring to ACT procurement.

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