Saturday, February 19, 2011

Roads and Roundabouts - the Canberra dilemma

Anyone who drives their car to work in the morning in Canberra will experience the ridiculous traffic jams that in the last four or five years have become longer and more infuriating. While road congestion in Canberra is not on the scale of Sydney or Melbourne problems, that's not really a good comparison to make. Both of those cities grew explosively and radiated out in a pre-urban planning era. Canberra is the planned city. Canberra also has the advantage of inheriting a road system that was built with a certain level of traffic factored in, and sadly our elected self governments at the local level have failed us in providing new transport solutions - both private and public - since this inheritance was passed to us.  

Although there have been significant pieces of road infrastructure constructed, such as the Monaro Highway extensions, the Gungahlin Drive Extension and the Glenloch Interchange - it would be difficult to claim that these projects were completed on time, on budget or that they have solved road congestion problems. For the cost of the Gungahlin Drive Extension a dual line light rail route could have been built from Civic to Gungahlin Town Centre.  

Recent expansion in Gungahlin has seen the new suburb of Crace constructed since mid 2009 near the Barton Highway. Access to Crace is via the single lane Gundaroo Drive and a roundabout. Gundaroo Drive has been notoriously overstretched for several years now, and Crace has simply added to that. While there are other exit points, most direct traffic to Civic is coming from the Gundaroo Drive roundabout exit/entrance. 

This is leading to major frustrations in Gungahlin commuters. Roundabouts are built to serve a certain volume of cars performing a certain percentage of turns. When the flow of traffic exceeds a certain volume in any direction, the roundabout and its advantages - fail. Instead of being an advantageous tool to assist traffic flow, it becomes a bottleneck. 

Compounding this problem is the fact that traffic flowing from Gungahlin into Civic continues to grow, and as the population in new Gungahlin suburbs grows - this will only increase. Some good work has been done upgrading Flemington Drive to dual lanes most of the way in both directions, but you really have to ask why was the dual lane access constructed in 2011 not 2001?

Canberra was designed for a level of car ownership which has now been surpassed. Developers unconcerned with the transport needs of the people who buy into their developments have ensured that our new suburbs have roads too small to even accommodate parking the one car per person that the inadequate public transport infrastructure forces people to adopt. This leads to parking on nature strips. Another effect is that some roads and roundabouts in Gungahlin are too small for Action buses to navigate. 

The madness of building entirely new suburbs serving tens of thousands of new residents without the public transport infrastructure in place (or indeed the road infrastructure) continues unquestioned by our elected representatives, hungry for the money that land sales and stamp duty pours into the treasury coffers, but blind to the other end of the financial equation, where they must pick up the bill for inadequate infrastructure. This failure to plan and build appropriate transport infrastructure  is irresponsible, but also a hallmark of all local governments since self government. It needs to change. 

There are solutions to these transport problems

Long running transport failures such as Gungahlin, with its endless road and public transport access issues, show that before the first residents move in there must be appropriate public transport - beyond a bus sign on a pole - and appropriate dual lane access via roads into and out of new areas. The growth in cycling would indicate that grade separated cycling paths should also be built. Usually organisations learn from business failures in the past, it seems that governments aren't the same. 

Several years ago ACT Light Rail made  a submission on the planning proposals for the new Molonglo suburbs and noted that the ACT Governments own research showed that public and private transport access to the new areas would be inadequate at all stages for at least the first fifteen years that Molonglo would be undergoing construction and populating. Simply unacceptable! Yet this will not stop people buying homes there and moving in, then experiencing transport problems and blaming the government. It is a repeat of Gungahlin in every respect. The Canberra Transport Plan (long overdue) is meant to address these issues for existing Canberra transport issues, one hopes that the strategies extend to future proofing planning proposals to include appropriate transport infrastructure. 

To tackle road congestion, the ACT Government need to increase patronage on public transport. To properly achieve this the ACT Government needs to build a backbone for mass transit public transport that will allow regular commuters to travel in comfort, efficiently and reliably on time, from where they live to where they work (or go to school). Appropriately scaled Park and Ride centres would allow people to commute in a timely fashion. 

Ideally grade separated light rail with integrated bus services for local areas would best serve the public transport needs of Canberra. Despite some positive moves recently, such as the creation of Transport for Canberra putting policy and timetabling responsibilities back in govt hands, other actions such as the fact that the Canberra Transport Plan - which was scheduled for release in first quarter of 2010 and is now a year late - need to be addressed. 

Think local act local

We need to take some responsibility at an individual level. Instead of whining about all the other cars on the roads, when you are sitting in your car alone contributing to the situation, why dont you see if anyone else in your workplace is willing to carpool ? Or you could take the bus, or cycle. 

If road congestion and poor public transport issues concern you, I suggest you lobby the ACT Transport Minister and Roads ACT directly. Whinging on the RiotACT and angry letters to the Canberra Times are venting measures, but writing to the people with their hands on the levers of power may prove more useful (or not). 

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