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). 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

MyWay about to go live

Transport for Canberra have updated their website with a page on the MyWay ticketing system which has been in limited use for several months. The page has an FAQ on MyWay use and questions people need answered such as how to add money, how to use it etc. This is a very strong indication that the system is about to become fully operational.

The system trial has had a few hiccups,  with the drivers not being able to understand french instructions on the MyWay terminals and the manufacturer having to change some minor interface functions (such as the language) to make it suitable for ACTIONS workforce.
Interestingly the information is hosted on 'Transport for Canberras' website, not ACTION's website. Transport for Canberra is a relatively new government body which is intended to coordinate Transport Policy and operational matters under one management structure. This is a much needed move, which I hope works well. 
The Chief Minister did say last year that the ACT Government will extend use of the MyWay card to pay for ACT Government services such as parking at some point in the near future. The system has cost ACTION $8 million and although the introduction has taken some six months longer than initially planned, it will be a much better ticketing system than the one ACTION currently uses.

If there are any lessons to be learnt from this, it is that by failing to invest in transport infrastructure an existing system will only work for so long before its failings impact upon operations. The existing ticket systems are broken so often that many buses are unable to sell tickets and collect cash. Hopefully this will be resolved very soon.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Jugiong 2011 - Michael Livingstone Run

Packed carpark at the Jugiong local pool/public park

Michael Livingstone passed away several years ago, but his contribution to the Classic Car movement is recognised annually by the Cootamundra Antique Car Club with the annual 'Michael Livingstone Run' to Jugiong.  

Michael was a key figure in the Leyland P76 movement (and the Model A movement, and the Cootamundra Car movement...) and was the founder and President of the Country NSW P76 Club. He and Gwen also organised the 2006 Nationals in Cootamundra - which ran like clockwork. His Aspen Green Targa Florio P76 was a repeat concourse winner at the Nationals he attended with it, and Gwens 6 cylinder P76 (recently sold) was also very well turned out. 

It is a small event which I enjoy attending as it gives me the opportunity to catch up with Gwen Livingstone, and also to look at the different cars that the Cootamundra Antiques drive. This year there was a large contingent from the Illawarra Vintage Car club. Normally there are a few P76's in attendance at this event, but I figure the nasty weather may have played a part in numbers being down this year. It rained almost all the way from Canberra ( a 90 minute drive). Oddly, none of the Country P76 Club members attended. So I was the sole Leyland P76 at this years event.

I was looking forward to the long drive (240 km round trip) as this would be the first decent drive in the P76 since I had my exhaust system repaired and replaced late last year. My car had been making excessive noise and an odd rattle I couldn’t trace. I only figured it out when I opened my bonnet in the dark one night, and noticed that the passenger side exhaust manifold had come adrift from the head. The intermittent shooting flames sort of gave it away. I had a poke around and it appeared a bolt had sheared at some point. This also explained why the car was a little ‘exhaust fumey’ for some time.

I have always found Belconnen Exhaust Centre to be very professional and reasonable to deal with, so I had them repair the manifold and replace the rusted out exhaust. As this car was in a shed for nearly 20 years, I am reasonably confident that this was the first exhaust change for this car! The change in ‘note’ is very obvious, the car is much quieter. I miss the raspiness of the previous exhaust, but not the excessive noise or fumes. The drive was trouble free and reminded me once again why of all my cars, I enjoy driving the 4 speed V8 Super P76 most of all. Its road handling is superb, it is comfortable to drive and the ergonomics are fantastic (apart from the location of the wiper switch). The V8 also has plenty of power and makes overtaking easy and safe. 

Before I departed I spent a futile hour looking for my camera, I couldn't find it, and I also couldn't find my 'car show' cap, which is a 2008 P76 Nationals Cap, festooned with Leyland badges and pins. I suspect the two items are colocated... So I present todays photo essay courtesy of my camera phone.
 Model A Ford Woody owned by Gwen Livingstone
Model A Ford sedan
 Peugeot 404
 Nice HQ Statesman
 EK Holden
 FC Holden Wagon
 HZ Holden Kingswood
 EH Holden 
 Very 70's colour scheme on the Torana
 4 door Studebaker Lark
  Isuzu Bellet
 4 door XB GT
 Late 60's Fairlane
 Uniquely Australian Chrysler Royal. Half Chrysler, half de Soto. 
 CM Chrysler 

Triumph Renown (made from 1949-54)
 Triumph Stag
 1937 Austin 10
 Morris Oxford (1948-54)
 Morris Minor
 Austin A30
 Mercedes Benz
 BMW 323 M
 Karmann Ghia based on VW type 3 mechanicals
 Last of the MG's
 Jaguar Mk II
 Jaguar Mk II
 Vauxhall Cresta or Victor from the mid 60's
 I so badly want a Humber Super Snipe.
 1953 Bedford Fire truck
 Hillman Super Minx Estate
 Hillman Gazelle
 I dont know why there is a pig on the parcel shelf, looking at the traffic behind it, but Im sure there's a reason. Nice macrame rug.
 Walking stick with indicators and mirror. His thumb is on the indicator switch!
First outing for the Bitter Apricot 4 Speed Super P76 since I fitted the new plates.  

It was a very pleasant gathering, and after wandering around looking at cars and chatting to the owners and spouses, I went and had lunch at the 'Long Track Pantry' a charming cafe in Jugiong, across the road from the swimming pool/local park. Today it was booked out, and I guess that doesn't happen every weekend - then again, i'm not sure how often a hundred old cars turn up in Jugiong for the day either. 

While I was lunching it struck me that about 80% of the cars on the run, were British! There's a whole PhD in why the Australian car market went from primarily British to primarily Japanese, but I dont know if in 40 years time we will see the same affection for Camrys that we do for Hillman Super Minx Estates.