Transport to the Future… It’s About TimeWhen so many aspects of our lives get better as the years go by, why have our transport woes mounted? Stories of the grand armadas and British fleets, the railroads sweeping out across the American mid-west and even visions of The Jetsons from the future offer portraits of transportation as a type of deliverance from old ways of travel into brave new better worlds. Yet clearly transport around our cities and the flow-on impacts of travel have not only become major sources of frustration, but a barrier to our economic growth. Transport is critical to our capacity to get to school, to work and to go about our business. Transport, though, is failing us.
Not just in the Eastern Suburbs, but all across our city, it seems that people are increasingly frustrated by trains with jam-packed carriages that run late, buses frequently cancelled and wasted hours of our lives spent stuck on traffic-snarled roads or slow crawling motorways. As public trans- port fails, more people revert to driving, the roads get increasingly crowded and traffic slows to a halt, so extra roads are built, more cars take to the road, traffic slows again and the pattern continues. Only a large scale and efficiently run public transport system to move us from our homes to our places of weekday work or weekend leisure will break this vicious cycle.
Alas, in Sydney and especially the Eastern Suburbs, we seem to have been lumbered with the worst of all worlds when it comes to our transportation needs. While we’re still waiting for that Back to the Future-like utopia, with hovering cars rising above and swerving around obstructions, we are stuck right back down on earth in our gridlocked neighbourhoods. While government has invested in a light rail system that will already be chocker-block on opening day, and while more and more bus services are cancelled, both public and private transport users have become trapped in a nightmare of construction zones and detours.
When workers take to theircars and seek to avoid bottlenecks around the light rail construction areas snaking their way through the east, adjoining suburbs and even the narrowest back streets become rat runs for those desperate to get to their destination.
Consider the case of a woman I know who lives in Maroubra and works in Bondi Junction. She drives to Bronte each morning to park her car and take a bus to work in an attempt to shave a few precious minutes off her commute.
We live in a great country, a rich state and a beautiful part of the world, but in recent years the freedom to move around the city and conduct our daily lives has come under threat. In my day-to-day work, I speak to people from all walks of life, ages and demographics. What has struck me most in recent times is a deep sense of people’s frustration with the way our city and its suburbs are being developed and planned.
There is also a growing sense of loss and even sadness associated with the closure of what were once Sydney’s very best bus services. The human faces of a cancelled bus service include those friends, family members and neighbours unable to access their library, hospital, school or work without huge amounts of additional time, resources and inconvenience. In the case of the aged or infirm, many citizens are now denied basic access to the means to travel from place to place.
Unfortunately, things may get worse. A monstrous motorway is coming to a suburb near you and it’s effectively the Randwick tentacle of WestConnex. It is called the Alexandria to Moore Park ‘upgrade’ and the plan is to connect Anzac Parade and Alison Road to WestConnex via a giant new interchange, all just to deal with the 50 per cent forecast increase in traffic spewing out from WestConnex towards the east.
As if the Randwick and Kensington areas have not experienced enough destruction and loss of green open space with the light rail, we now face the prospect of a‘Continuous Flow Interchange’ in the middle of our locality, emitting high concentrations of carbon monoxide and greenhouse gases into the air around our precious parks and suburban streets.
The real tragedy of all this is that it could so easily have been averted had better transport planning been adopted over the last few years.
I’m not suggesting a government should never build another road. The tide of transport planning history is, however, turning well away from enormous cash- cow motorways and towards more sustainable and healthy means of moving around.
Amidst all the concerns, if we change the way we plan transport we can find reasons for optimism. We only need to look around the world at what other cities have been doing in recent years. Cities across Europe, in Asia and even in the often-criticised United States are moving away from the culture of the big motorway. Smart cities are moving towards rapid transit systems often powered by renewable energy, active transport corridors, more walkable cities, and even smarter ways of working to reduce the pressures on a city caused by the traditional com- mute. Australia should be at the forefront of this movement.
Sadly, this seems to be the opposite of what’s happening in Sydney, but it’s not too late to change. I believe the community has already changed its mind and is now extremely wary of overdevelopment, with people realising the urgent need for a more future-focused transport planning mix. The next step is changing our politicians’ minds, but if you can’t change the politicians’ minds, perhaps it’s time to change the politicians. As the old saying goes, if you can’t change the people, change the people!
Dr Marjorie O’Neill is a Waverley Councillor. The views expressed here are her own, although we generally agree with them.