Creating a Sustainable Garden City – curbing our car dependence

The ACT Government recently released Canberra’s Draft Planning Strategy, the first update of a regional strategy for Canberra since the Canberra Spatial Plan of 2004.

The newly reinstated Chief Minister of Planning, Mr Simon Corbell, outlined some of the concepts behind the strategy in a talk entitled ‘Creating a Sustainable Garden City’. His talk while delving extensively into planning theory and history, was a little glossy when dealing with some of the hard questions for Canberra, like can we deliver a functional public transport system that can compete with car trips in terms of convenience?

The Draft Planning Strategy promises a bus stop within 500m of all homes – not dissimilar to previous planning policies, other than the fact that apparently planners are going to ensure that it is 500m walking distance, rather than within a 500m radius of all homes (as the crow flies).

While this spatial policy addresses accessibility to a service, this does not address the frequency or speed of the service – two critical factors in getting people on board buses. While there will be rapid services offered in select locations, the remainder of Canberra will be serviced by meandering coverage routes. This does not address the critical issue that the public transport system needs to be able to compete effectively with car travel, particularly in regards to travel time. A lot of Canberrans are relatively well off money wise, but the trade off is that they are time poor. Working families in particular do not have time to take a one hour ride to Civic, via circuitous suburban routes. Has there been any thought put into more direct routes with less stops from a range of places (not just interchanges at Woden, Civic, Belconnen and Tuggeranong). My bet is that physically able people would be willing to walk, ride or get dropped off by car or taxi to a location more than 500m from their home, if it meant getting on an express service (with similar distances between stops as heavy rail) if they were guaranteed a quicker ride than doing the same trip by car.

A curly question posed by an audience member was should there be disincentives for car use introduced in Canberra? The response was that there will be built in disincentives as petrol prices rise and that the ACT Government is aware of the need for managing parking demand and is introducing staggered increases in parking costs. While a politically diplomatic response, I am not sure this will be enough to get us to a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

What do you think about the future plans for Canberra? What would a sustainable Canberra look like for you?

Draft ACT Planning Strategy

Transport for Canberra:  Transport for a Sustainable City

Canberra Urban and Regional Futures

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