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Don’t mention the traffic!

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In A Plan for Growing Sydney produced by the recently established Greater Sydney Commission (http://www.greatersydneycommission.nsw.gov.au/ ), Lane Cove falls into the North Region for which part of its vision (p.124) is -

…to be an attractive place to live, work and visit with a thriving economy….Increases in the supply of housing and jobs will be focused on centres with good public transport. The subregion will offer a growing diversity of high amenity living and working environments.

Two of several priorities to be addressed are stated as -

  • Improve transit connections throughout the Global Economic Corridor to better link centres and transport gateways.
  • Work with councils to identify suitable locations for housing and employment growth coordinated with infrastructure delivery (urban renewal)

While these are noble and much needed long term objectives, in the interim it seems to be a case of business as usual promoting development – but don’t mention the traffic!

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Lane Cove is getting more than its share of development, to which the Rosenthal Avenue site will be added next year creating more retail and parking for 500 cars that will generate yet more traffic on local streets already struggling to cope following increased residential density over the past 5 years. Peak hour congestion on Epping Road continues to grow due to the traffic choke gifted from the original Lane Cove Tunnel contract inherited by current owner Transurban. But the warped idea that toll returns would be better if ground level traffic was penalised by lane limitation did not prevent the first operator from going broke, leaving locals with a legacy of overloaded streets and rat-runs!

 

Authorities are increasingly looking to get returns on road infrastructure costs that are shared by all, even those who don’t drive or can’t afford a car. Parking costs are factored into the supermarket groceries or embedded in rental prices where parking is attached to an apartment building. Typically developers are required to meet a minimum parking provision whether for residential units or commercial, although there has been a recent change in some cases where proximity to public transport enables reduced maximum parking.

 

Many cars, on average, are used less than 20% of the time, but take up the same 15 sq.m. area of open carparks. These paved spaces also have environmental impacts through increased stormwater runoff, contribution to heat islands, increased glare and light pollution, and in conjunction with roads severely affect urban character. The imminent arrival of driverless ‘autonomous’ vehicles could see an Uber equivalent evolve where one is booked in lieu of a taxi for point to point service and return. Such initiatives would certainly help reduce both traffic and parking pressures, but not likely in time to ease the current jams.

 

Recently the NRMA promoted development of innovative smartphone technology for an Air B’n’B style phone app system that would offer short term rental of vacant car spaces to nearby drivers, reducing demand on traditional parking and thereby better utilising existing capacity.

 

In the Nightingale residential project in Melbourne, architects and ethical investors made a legitimate attempt to create a more sustainable and affordable model for building apartments whereby car parking was excluded. By elimination of car spaces, a saving of $30,000 per dwelling was passed on to buyers based on the site’s proximity to a railway station, bike path, car share service, bus route and tram line. Where basement parking is involved the saving could be even higher at up to $50-60,000, and certainly a step towards more affordable housing for those prepared to .

 

There is significant evidence from economists that some form of road pricing to reduce congestion could be economically viable, regulating demand and making it possible to manage congestion without adding more NorthConnex or WestConnex projects. Questions on the best form of pricing and potential implications for political backlash may see this also take a few years to even be considered. When it is, it would seem logical to take tolls off the motorways and have a toll system for the rest based on time of use – fair user sharing of costs and a real incentive to encourage more use of motorways or take up of public transport alternatives, car share systems and cycling.

 

Massive development activity looming under the Baird Government’s mooted state budget allocation to infrastructure of $70 billion has its primary focus on the much needed Sydney Metro. However, with the sub-text ‘value capture’ in the scheme suggesting another development boom around the Metro stations, perhaps the Greater Sydney Commission could lobby for ‘design thinking capture’ in parallel that could promote some of the above initiatives to ease congestion – and please mention the traffic!

 

This article appeared in the Lane Cove local paper, The Village Observer.

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