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Canberra Today 14°/15° | Wednesday, October 20, 2021 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

The stubborn generation that won’t let go of the car

Trained planning professional *DAVID JONES says the combined cost of Stages 1, 2a and 2b of the ACT’s light rail are roughly the same as the financial costs of around 10 years worth of car crashes in Canberra.

ALMOST every argument I hear against investing in mass transit reeks of ignorance and general hostility to change. 

Light rail in Civic.

In a recent opinion piece columnist Paul Costigan said investing in light rail means taking away hospital beds.

The trauma caused by our current reliance on cars routinely ties up a significant portion of Canberra’s health resources, including our hospital beds.

The cost of road trauma in Australia is around $30 billion per year. Based on the ACTs percentage of Australian road fatalities, the financial cost of Canberra’s road trauma is more than $200 million a year. That figure rivals Canberra’s entire annual transport budget. It represents over 10 per cent of Canberra’s annual health budget. 

That figure doesn’t include road building or maintenance costs, just the financial cost of crashes. Nor does it include other external costs associated with everyone driving cars either, such as environmental damage or increased rates of childhood asthma from pollution, increased cardiovascular problems from environmental noise pollution, or increased community health costs caused by physical inactivity. 

It doesn’t include the financial costs associated with the poor mental health of our children, who have grown up unable to independently explore their communities thanks to parents’ legitimate fears that their child will be killed by a motorist. 

It doesn’t include the costs of owning and running private cars, which for a two-car family can easily be 25 per cent of an average household income. It also doesn’t include lost opportunity costs families endure every year by having no choice but to fork out for expensive transport appliances.

The combined cost of Stages 1, 2a and 2b of the ACT’s light rail are projected to cost roughly the same as the financial costs of roughly 10 years worth of car crashes in Canberra. Every tax dollar we spend on transport infrastructure that gives Canberrans options to leave their cars at home, is a dollar well spent.

Every medium to high-density development near mass transit is also an excellent thing. We have a rapidly growing population and a housing affordability crisis. We need to build medium-density, mixed-use areas all over this city to cope. 

We also need to build mass transit all over this city, as the private car is dangerous, and is the most spatially unsustainable form of transportation humans have ever adopted. Like it or not, the end of the era of the private car is coming; to be honest, it can’t come soon enough.

The original Griffin plan for Canberra saw what’s now Adelaide Avenue as being a grand boulevard of sorts with a range of uses and a range of building types. 

Unfortunately, car-centric planning of the ’60s and ’70s instead saw the corridor become an “internal freeway”, devoid of character, devoid of buildings and dangerous to anyone not in a car. 

Contrary to popular belief, many of Canberra’s green spaces were not spared by the NCDC for the sake of green space, but rather, to minimise the potential for traffic congestion to occur. See Paul Mees’ peer reviewed article titled “A centenary review of transport planning in Canberra, Australia” for more about this topic. 

The key development priority of post-World War II Canberra was not to build a grand capital city for people; it was to build a city where driving a car is easy, no matter what the consequences.

The NIMBY community council members typically represent a vocal portion of an older generation. A generation that stubbornly continues to advocate for the low-density, car-dependent environments they’ve lived in since the mid-20th century, despite overwhelming evidence that these environments are fiscally and environmentally unsustainable, inequitable, dangerous, and bad for our physical and mental health. 

If only Canberra’s younger generations had the time and resources of Canberra’s retired public servants to form their own community council clubs, we’d likely hear far more YIMBY messaging than NIMBY rhetoric about Canberra’s light rail. 

We’d hear about how people who live in medium to high-density housing and commute via public transport are responsible for far fewer carbon emissions than suburban RZ1 dwellers who are forced to drive cars everywhere. 

We could have more discussions based on facts and science, rather than nostalgia. We could get on with the job of undoing the planning mistakes of the second half of the 20th century and build a better Canberra.

*EDITOR’S NOTE: David Jones is a pseudonym. “CityNews” would not ordinarily publish unsigned work, but I felt the issues he raises were an interesting addition to the public-transport debate. In a private note to me he says he wants to see genuine and drastic change to Canberra’s built environment and transport systems for the sake of our physical and mental health.

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11 Responses to The stubborn generation that won’t let go of the car

Tony says: October 5, 2021 at 7:50 am

I support any investment in light rail that is complimentary to the existing bus routes, or improves on them. That is, I support increased and improved service.

My journey from the northern suburbs to Woden via public transport has increased significantly since the tram took away the existing bus. When the tram extends further to Woden (replacing the existing bus across the lake), my journey will become slower, again.

Who wins in this situation David.

PS, you should read some NCDC publications from back in the day, as I have. They knew exactly what the issues were, back then (actually go and read them, it’s very informative). The point was to have a decentralised city, with employment hubs close to where people actually live. Part of the issue is an abandonment of this plan.

Mark Boast says: October 5, 2021 at 8:56 am

Despairing the CT’s Letters to the Editor for the constant drip of anti Light Rail sentiment, how refreshing to read this clarifying opinion piece. Thank you “David Jones”.

Old bloke says: October 5, 2021 at 11:26 am

A poor article. It conflates concern over the cost of light rail with a more general opposition to public transport which isn’t necessarily the case. I’m also at odds with the contention that low-density housing is bad for physical and mental health. Melbourne tower lockdowns anyone?

Bill Gemmell says: October 5, 2021 at 12:49 pm

Good opinion piece that I never thought I would see in this publication. Congratulations all round. As a community, we really need to capture the true costs of automotive dependency as opposed to disguising as happened with the recent CTP reforms. We also need to make the charging reflect the true costs.

The work by Government on the light rail stage 2a business case was quite sloppy, and rightfully called out by the Auditor-General. Assumptions were not well explained, and not all the benefits clarified. Neither were the costs. Simply not good enough. However, the bleating (and falsehoods) by a certain ageing demographic about LR being unaffordable have little to no basis in fact. It is not doing a LR network that is unaffordable!

As a current Community Council Chair, I must reject the generalised allegation about NIMBYism. We are working hard to engage with the entire community and that statement is particularly unhelpful.

jumpingjac111 says: October 5, 2021 at 1:16 pm

In all animal species, over population in small spaces leads to aberrant behaviour.
One example of this is the anecdotal stories of how much water is used in apartments as people have longer showers.
Basically there is always a balance. I am against high density housing, the cons majorly outweigh the few pros.
I am not anti tram, however I do think it could be implemented through a more cost effective and future proofed model and without hamstringing the bus services to make the tram solution appear to be more efficient than it actually is.

John Mungoven says: October 5, 2021 at 1:26 pm

Much to comment on here but

1, what is the personal cost/benefit of the general CONVENIENCE of car vs public transport usage. Incalculable probably on an individual basis.

2. the part of the community most unlikely to abandon car travel is the family sector with the multi demands on their time and need for flexibility of transport – weekdays or esp weekends
– also the tradies, and others employed where a vehicle is necessary. Little change likely there.

3. Post Covid changes to home/work location also may impact on viability of all transport options.

4. The elderly NIMBYs ridiculed in the article may be significant PT users given many can no longer drive or prefer not to.

Christopher Emery says: October 5, 2021 at 5:24 pm

Public Transport should be provided to benefit everyone not just property developers. Currently the speed limits between home and school are too high to travel by bicycle. Our footpaths are a disgrace. Bicycle lanes cease without warning.

Danny Corvini says: October 10, 2021 at 8:37 am

Light rail is for 100 years and it’s long term benefits will outlast any of the current aversion to public transport due to COVID-19. I agree with the writer that Adelaide Avenue could become a MUCH nicer ‘boulevard’ with the help of a tram. Many of us despair at Canberra’s suburban freeway character.

Jenny Howard says: October 11, 2021 at 11:21 am

These questions, queries, hypothetical analysis of unsolved problems has been going on since I was a teenager and definitely a contributing factor in to leaving Canberra as soon as the next available Murray’s bus was leaving for Sydney.
Canberra in the 1990’s was anti youth. The bus time tables told us so. They would stop going into Civic at 9pm but would still be going to shuffle you back to wherever you came from. They didn’t want you there.
Little things that I look at now make me smirk How now the circular bus shelters are being used as a icon. When in actuality they were the only ones to stop the icy wind blasts before school or the rain and sleet. Gave shade from harsh sun and blistering heat. They stopped building them and replaced them with singular poles.
I do like Canberra. The NIMBY problem has always been there. Even my generation have succumbed to it. It will prevail because Canberra never had a vision of what it was meant to be. A new Government would be sworn in, a new generation were able to buy a house and start voting with their wallets. A new wave of International students would arrive. Generations would age and now had the outlets, confidence and voice to raise their concerns just as loudly as the new generation of screaming babies arrived with their announcement that they too were Canberrans and given the chance will ‘know what this City needs…’
We know how to tart ourselves up on short notice. We can put in new developments, patch up a few loose ends, tick boxes and KPI the living crap out of a proposed idea or concept stage.
Let’s honestly fix our hospital system. Let us be the envy of Australia with Health, Aged and Disability care.
Make Public Housing a gold standard benchmark that others could only dream of.
Honestly champion the Arts. All facets of them.
Make this City a real hive of Science and Technology and new skills training. Not a forgotten Business Park.
Love, explore, nurture our Environment.
Stop saying yes to every new apartment and land investment deal. The place is starting to look tacky. We don’t really even have a ‘style’ it will come with confidence when we honestly have the solid foundations that will give us the backbone.
But most important of all we must never ever loose is our sense of humour. Because we have nailed that. Even the NIMBYs.
(We should SOooo have a suburb named Nimby Hill… No… No more new suburbs… what about a new fleet of free 1 seater electric tiny cars? ‘Meep, Meep! Go Around!’ 😂


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