Weston Creek Community Council – Submission to Transport for Canberra

The Weston Creek Community Council welcomes the opportunity to provide feedback on the Transport for Canberra 2011-2031 draft report. While we support the overall direction of the plan and its action items, we have a number of suggestions as well as concerns we wish to raise. We’d like to see these taken on board in the final version of the report, as well as in the implementation of the transport plan over the next twenty years.

Our concerns and suggestions are detailed further below in two sections. Section 1 includes general comments on the report and the ACT transport strategy, while Section 2 deals specifically with the Weston Creek district – identifying Weston Creek residents’ views on what’s in store for our area, the potential impact of proposed plans, and suggestions on how they could be improved.  Some of the key issues are summarised below for reference.

Key issues:

1. We agree with the overall sentiment to increase both public transport and active transport. In particular, we welcome the proposed future establishment of a Rapid Service passing through Weston Creek. However, we don’t consider that the current design of the route will make bus travel competitive with car travel, unless it is also complemented with frequent direct and quick routes into Civic, not via Woden.

2. Weston Creek doesn’t want to hang off the coat-tails of Molonglo. We’re a well-established community and a separate district in the ACT. The Community is not part of Molonglo and doesn’t want to be absorbed or usurped by Molonglo. We have the population of over 20,000,are in a central location which both warrants and really demands a significantly improved bus service NOW, not when Molonglo is fully developed. If a Rapid Route to Weston Creek can’t be established now and we would want to know why it can’t be established now, at the very least the existing coverage services need to be redesigned to allow for

(a) frequent, rapid and well-spaced services between Woden and Weston Creek Group Centre; and

(b) more direct services to Civic, for instance one or two additional 729 Xpresso buses each way, or an all-day direct route down Cotter Rd and Adelaide Avenue, or alternatively via Curtin, Deakin or Yarralumla. These City services would be able to stop next to the Kirkpatrick St Park-and-Ride, further accentuating their appeal.

3. The key to increasing bus patronage is making buses more frequent as well as competitive with cars in terms of directness and speed. Circuitous routes or backtracking (e.g. travelling from Holder to Civic via Woden adds over 6km and 15-30 minutes to the trip) takes away from the attractiveness of buses and should be minimised. Having to change buses at (poorly maintained) interchanges is also not attractive and is really a discouragement to utilise the service.. Bus network design needs to take human behaviour and psychology into account – people hate and avoid interchange layovers where they can. They simply want to be able to go from A to B on the one service.  Bus routes may look good on paper, but will people buy them if the price is wasted time, annoyance and perceived danger?

4. Council does not believe it appropriate to link good public transport with higher densities.  This is something which the Transport for Canberra Plan does repeatedly. To Council it is an excuse or justification for excess development. The problem and issue then is that higher density might come, but a future government will conveniently forget the promise of better transport. You can have higher densities and poor public transport (e.g. Gungahlin, parts of inner north away from Northbourne Avenue, countless overseas examples), or low densities and good, well-designed public transport. Even at low densities many more people can be encouraged onto buses through various policy and design options. The emphasis should be about creating demand and ramping up capacity, not increasing density.

5. How will Action be made accountable for implementing the public transport strategy? There is a risk that, for all the well-intentioned words about improving bus routes in Transport for Canberra, the rollout of any future bus system will fail to meet expectations because it is the responsibility of a different set of people. Action, who on past experience appear to have limited capabilities when it comes to putting together rational bus routes and timetables (or even replying to complaint messages)does not have the support of the Community. The other questions that need to be raised are

a] what guarantees are there that future governments will provide sufficient funds that are necessary to improve the bus network? And

b] How likely is it that a future government will prioritise pubic transport funding over, say, yet more over-engineered and expensive freeways like the GDE?

6. In relation to regard to planning and building road infrastructure particularly in Molonglo, Council would like to  see a more forward-planning, evidence-based approach to road planning. In this sense Council would want to see roads built in anticipation of demand, instead of well after traffic chaos ensues. To alleviate pressure on the Weston Creek community (already asked to bear much of the burden of Molonglo development, with negligible discernible benefits) and to allow an earlier rollout of the complete Rapid Service, we request that the extension of John Gorton Drive to Bindubi Street be expedited. This should happen by around 2015, not well after 2020.

SECTION 1: GENERAL COMMENTS ON DRAFT REPORT

ON PAGE 1 OF THE DOCUMENT

  •  there is a very clichéd statement about Efficient and Effective and we note the definition on page 8.   But everyone has their very own personal view.
  • The statement that you want everyone to have access assumes that everyone wants access
  • On one hand you say “manage travel demand” and on the other hand “how can we encourage people to walk and cycle” one needs carrots and sticks The balance is going to be crucial and dependent on how the community will react to both.

THE CASE FOR CHANGE IN HOW WE TRAVEL

On the whole we have no argument with this general concept. However need to be realistic about the employment patterns in Canberra.

  •  In particular the many families with 2 working parents.  Council suggests that wherever possible new child care centres should be located close to employment.
  • The ageing population living longer will hang onto their cars far longer than in previous generations and this issue needs to be factored in. They also are far more socially active with often a wide variety of activities so the planning of activity hubs is important. At the moment activities are based on older available buildings which are very scattered and difficult to service with public transport. Flexibility of bus transport will be paramount. We note that there is some discussion of ‘Flexible Transport’ options, including a proposed trial in Molonglo, on page 29.
  • The survey results for the expenditure of transport investment are interesting but a response by the government along these priorities may be naive and careful testing is suggested. The thing with such surveys is, respondents tend to choose ‘feel good’ options not necessarily reflective of actual beliefs or actions.

TRANSPORT FOR CANBERRA STRATEGIC GOALS
Accessible and Socially inclusive  –

  • we note the acknowledgement of some ‘deprived areas where services are poor’. In some cases such as Weston Creek this could be managed in the short term by better timetabling of the existing bus services prior to a more radical overhaul.  At present during the day, 3 of 5 bus services leave Cooleman Court at the basically the same time [25 after the hour] with the other 2 within 15 minutes of this time and there is a clear 30 minute gap with no bus departing Cooleman Court for Woden.  The same applies from Woden in reverse.  This is simply a poor timetabled service for Weston Creek during the day which could be easily fixed to provide a bus every 15 minutes from Cooleman Court to Woden and reverse.  It is little wonder that people use their cars where they can.
  • The creation of an urban form that encourages active transport is a fundamental requirement. Historically this seems to have been a minor factor in a practical end result sense despite lip service to it as an objective. This needs to change and is a crucial basic element of the whole plan.  Landform also needs to be a consideration in all of this as it is more difficulty in Weston Creek which is much more hilly and saucer shaped than the Inner north and there are areas within Molonglo which are also not conducive to cycling.

Safe

  • The plan suggests using measures to support more active streets and information and awareness programs. What it does not address is the importance of the original road design, which too often in the past has been inadequate in relation to the interaction between pedestrians, cyclist and vehicles.

Integrated transport system

  • Yes, there was originally a well planned urban structure but this has been compromised in some areas. In some areas such as Gungahlin this has resulted in a lack of well located footpaths making walking and cycling not an easy choice. It is important not to replicate these mistakes in new green field sites.
  • The proposed linking of the spatial components of transport plan into the draft ACT Planning Strategy is applauded and perhaps the rapid routes will increase demand on the major transport corridors. Where does this leave low density suburban areas?

Active communities sounds good in principle, but people will not leave the car at home unless the local lines are within easy reach and the timing and frequency of services is appropriate.

Sustainable

  • Encouraging a shift to public transport will be a slow process but is supported. However encouragement of car pooling, provision of cheap park and ride facilities may have a more immediate effect.
  • Council suggests that you look at the park and ride facilities in Norwich, UK which has a population of approximately 130,000. The parking is free and there are dedicated buses travelling to the city centre. Most people  use it to travel to work, to do the shopping etc. Norwich is a regional centre for surrounding area, and this park and ride approach allows a large regional commuter population to park on the city’s outskirts, then ride the free and frequent buses into town. The number of cars this takes off the road is astonishing. Given Canberra is a rapidly growing regional centre, with tens of thousands of cars commuting across the border into the ACT, well serviced park and ride facilities at the eastern, north-western and southern ends of the ACT could be very popular and take thousands of cars off Canberra streets.

Active

  • Fully support the encouragement of active travel for both social and health reasons. The increased signage on bike paths is a huge step forward and more should be provided.
  • The provision of more off road bike paths should be advertised and possibly linked to a program to encourage children to cycle to school albeit in convoy.
  • The Active Travel to School Program should be one of the priorities in the list of smaller initiatives.
  • What is to be the balance in expenditure terms on-road bike lanes as opposed to

Off-road bike paths? Off road cycle paths are far safer then on-road dedicated lanes, and in many cases are more popular and cater to a bigger cross section of the community, including children, and infrequent and less experienced cyclists. In terms of encouraging active transport and recreational cycling they are far more effective. 

  • There is the continuing problem of relations between on road cyclists and car drivers.  Many people are reluctant to cycle, in particular on roads, due to fear of abuse from badly behaved drivers. Drivers abusing cyclists  is a common problem in Canberra and cyclists, in turn, need to be conscious of their responsibilities on the road.  There needs to be more respect from both groups to alleviate these tensions.. The alternative would be greater separation between cyclists and cars.

Efficient and cost effective

  • This section mentions the benefits but the costs are absent. Canberra is a city with a narrow revenue base. The money available for the proposed actions will of necessity be limited and it may be that some of the ‘smaller actions’ will be the most effective. These might include a real time passenger information system or the tweaking of a route. The move to establish an offset parking fund is applauded.
  • The continuing push by many for a light rail system should be examined in the light of both the initial and running expense coupled with the practical aspects of design and construction. In such a high volume corridor grade separation would be essential to maintain a reasonable flow of traffic not commuting. Could these be done without compromising the landscape and ambience of this entrance to Canberra? Could the rail be below ground or elevated? The answer could be Yes, but at what cost. See for example Brisbane, where they have fixed routes where one can change from one to another rather than one very permanent fixed route similar to the rapid route scenario.
  • In essence, if travellers can be offered a cheap or cheaper alternative to commuting by car then over time economics will prevail, so long as travel times and inconvenience are not seen as excessive.
  • The draft plan contains a wealth of strategies and actions the culling of these to implement those that are both cost effective and have maximum impact is a crucial element for success.

Managing travel demand

The Transport Plan appears focused on commuter parking at Town Centres. 

Council considers that  it would have been good to see more of a discussion on parking strategy with regard to group centres and other shopping districts. In many group centres around Canberra finding parking space can be difficult, a situation which will only get worse with future development. This is particularly the case for Weston Creek and Cooleman Court with the development of North Weston and Molonglo and an increase in population of around 40% with no Group centre in sight for at least 5 to 10 years in Molonglo.

This is an issue commonly raised with Government officials by the public and Councils.  The outcome is generally one of ignoring the problem, saying there is no problem, whereas it’s apparent to anyone using the area at certain times that’s it’s a major issue. Two years ago a parking survey was conducted at Cooleman Court at the behest of Council only to be advised that Council was correct in that parking was full but offering no solution to the problem. 

Group centres are used for grocery shopping and community interaction and, unlike Town Centres and other workplaces, catching public transport there is not an option for many people. The Government’s apparent policy of restricting or pricing parking to increase bus patronage is not one that is relevant to group centres and other suburban shopping districts, which have parking needs that need addressing separately to ensure resident’s amenity and access to services is not diminished due to development and limited parking. We would like a more holistic parking strategy discussed, one that is broader than the one outlined in the paper.

SOME QUESTIONS

Sensitivity of bus travel to price in Canberra economic environment

  • If bus travel was free how much traffic would it remove from the road ? We suspect only a very small percentage, as there are other factors at play like travel times, frequency and convenience.  So if reduced fares are implemented would you expect them to be effective?

Demand for travel

  • The paper states that the plan means moving to more demand management.  Council considers that service needs to be provided to create the demand not the other way around of reacting to demand and will pricing be used to manage demand?

Demand for commercial/business trips

  • Bus/rail is useless for meeting commercial demand in Canberra. Has access to commercial/industrial centres been specifically catered for?

Section 2. Weston Creek specific comments

Bus transport

It’s great that a Rapid Service is proposed for Weston Creek.  Council however, does have concerns about the proposed route, which is a very roundabout route for travel to and from Civic where the bulk of workers are employed. This indirectness will create a major disincentive for bus travel, unless the Rapid Service is completed by other relatively frequent buses traveling directly from Weston Creek area to Civic.

  • Using the rapid route to travel to Civic would take too long, involving significant backtracking of around 5km. Travelling either via Molonglo Group Centre or Woden would add at least 15 unnecessary minutes to travel due to the additional kilometres as well as traffic conditions (e.g. Hindmarsh route into Woden is already almost unviable at peak times due to traffic coming off Tuggeranong Parkway, etc).
  • The shorter Woden route into Civic would still involve changing buses, a disincentive to many to catching the bus. Changing buses at interchanges is discouragement for many residents, and unless bus frequency is radically increased should be minimised. One solution would be for buses to continue to Civic instead of terminating at Woden, then heading back to Molonglo via Parkes Way, creating a loop.
  • It’s hard to imagine great demand for Molonglo residents to travel by bus to Woden; most of their links are likely to be to Civic. Before the northern link road is built to join up with Belconnen, the Rapid Service is anticipated to run from Woden to Molonglo Group Centre only (as per Map 6). No other complementary services are proposed for the area on the map. It’s unrealistic to expect Molonglo residents to backtrack 10km to travel to Woden (a 20-30 minute bus trip in peak hour) before being able to hop on a bus into the city. When faced with such indirectness, most people would opt for the convenience of the car. To create an incentive for switching from car to bus travel, buses need not only be frequent but, on a door-to-door basis, competitive with or even faster than car travel.
  • None of the maps in the transport plan indicate plans for an all-day direct service into Civic, either via the Cotter Road or the Tuggeranong Parkway. To increase patronage, Council suggests that a service such as this from the Weston Creek region is really needed. If residents can travel by bus to Civic in 20 mins or less and the buses are relatively frequent, they will choose that option. Otherwise, if they have access to a car why would they, given they can already drive there in under 15 minutes?

Council notes that the Rapid Service route is proposed some time  into the future and is tied to the development of Molonglo. The Weston Creek Community Council believes that this  link should be decoupled to ensure that our district and the community  receive significant improvements to bus routes independent of any proposed Molonglo  roads linking it to Parkes Way and Belconnen. The Weston Creek area is well overdue for direct and frequent services in its own right.  It deserves these services now and does not need or want to be tied to the separate district of Molonglo.

Over the next year or two we would like to see:

  • Buses at frequency of 15 minutes or less 7am to 7pm between Weston Creek Group Centre (i.e. Cooleman Court) and Woden, with buses to travel the most direct route to Woden (most likely Hindmarsh). Ideally, half of these buses could then continue on to Civic or Parliamentary Triangle, avoiding having to change buses at Woden (a major inconvenience and turnoff for bus travel for Weston Creek residents). Coming from Woden, buses could branch out at the Weston Creek Group Centre to become coverage services, heading for Weston, Holder, Rivett, Chapman, Fisher, Waramanga, etc. At the very least, in the immediate term timetabling of Weston Creek services should be modified to ensure services are appropriately staggered, unlike the current situation where multiple buses come almost simultaneously, followed by long intervals  with not a single bus.
  • Direct buses from Weston Creek to Civic throughout the day, not just at peak times, with frequency of 20-30 mins at peak times and 30-60 minutes in the middle of the day. Buses could travel along the Tuggeranong Parkway or the Cotter Rd direct, or go via Curtin, Yarralumla and/or Deakin. The last  option would be for the buses to travel  via Woden as long as there was no changing of buses required.
  • Council also thinks that, at a minimum, there is demand from Weston Creek for an additional 1 to 2 buses each way on the 729 Xpresso Route. Currently there are two buses each way, and the services are often at capacity (by contrast, a lot of other Xpresso routes at that time of day get more services and/or appear half empty). Demand for the 729 service is expected to increase significantly with construction of the Park and Ride facility at Kirkpatrick Street, and with the first Molonglo people moving in next year. Another factor to consider is that the current timetable disadvantages people who want to get in to work later than 8.30, or stay at work after 5.15pm.  The current Xpresso services terminate too early. If you miss the 5.20pm bus or stay at work late, the road home is very long[upwards of an hour plus at times] and leads through Woden. By way of comparison a number of the  other Xpresso routes appear to have more services, with later times, yet appear to have lower patronage. There is definitely a case for additional 729 buses, starting in 2012.

For years now Weston Creek has suffered exceedingly bad public transport connections, despite its relatively central location and quick travel times to the city by car (3 to 4 times faster than by bus). The demand for public transport was always there, it’s just that the bus services provided are hopelessly poor outside peak times, with bus travel times too long, and the need for changing buses at interchanges so inconvenient that many who might have otherwise caught a bus have simply shied away. Why spend an hour plus negotiating buses to get to Kingston or Fyshwick or Russell or Civic, when in a car you can be there in 10 to 15 mins? Even by bike it takes less time to get to these places than by bus.

To date, outside peak services, the bus has only really been an option for those without access to a car. The Weston Creek Community Council welcomes Transport for Canberra’s intention to turn this around, however Council does not consider this will happen in the near term unless our suggestions, outlined above, are taken on board and implemented.

Council also wants  to see action now – in the next year or two – and don’t want to be dependent on the development of Molonglo or increased density more generally. We have the population and central location to justify better, more direct and frequent bus services NOW, not when Molonglo is built. The Rapid Service is a reasonable longer-term solution, but at the moment it’s really just pie-in-the-sky for the people in Weston Creek.

We need real buses, not lines on a map, and we need them today. Please make it happen.

Park and Ride and Bike and Ride

Maps 3 identifies the Park and Ride facility on Kirkpatrick Street, Weston as ‘Molonglo’. This needs to be changed in the next version of Transport for Canberra to ‘Weston Creek’ or ‘Weston’ or ‘North Weston’. This area is not part of Molonglo but the existing Weston Creek area (North Weston is always spoken of separately from Molonglo in all planning documents). As mentioned earlier, the Weston Creek community refuse to be subsumed by Molonglo by stealth through actions like this. Calling it Molonglo implies it is for Molonglo residents, whereas the park and ride will be serviced by Weston Creek’s existing 729 service. It’s a small correction, but an important one as words and map matter.

Map 4 shows a pronounced concentration of bike locker facilities on the north side, with none in Weston Creek. At the very least Weston Creek needs two – one at the park and ride proposed for Kirkpatrick Street near the RSPCA, and another at Cooleman Court, with frequent buses servicing both locations.

Map 8 ascribes a ‘Major Stop’ to Weston Group Centre, but a ‘Bus Station’ to Molonglo Group Centre. Bus stations are also envisaged for Fyshwick, Erindale, Barton and Dickson. In order to maintain parity and to avoid being subsumed by Molonglo, we think a ‘Bus Station’ for Weston is warranted. According to the Transport for Canberra report Weston will see about as many buses pass through it as Molonglo (unless the plans for the Weston Rapid Route fail to become reality).  Council will certainly raise this p[particular point with the Master Plan discussions for the Weston Centre.

Active travel

Council would also like to see greater emphasis on commuter route bike paths, and bridging gaps in network. Suggestions for Weston Creek include a more direct link with Woden, for example a bike path parallel to Launceston St/Heysen Street (a very dangerous and steep road to cycle on at the moment), or a path between Unwin Place and Curtin or Lyons via a new underpass under Tuggeranong Parkway

Roads, parking and freight

A more strategic approach to road planning and development should be embraced, one that anticipates and plans for future demand and doesn’t just respond retrospectively, when unmanageable traffic gridlock is already a reality (as has happened with the development of Gungahlin).

This is especially important with respect to Molonglo, which has the potential to totally disrupt and wreck traffic flows not only in the Weston Creek area, but along the Cotter Rd, Hindmarsh Drive and the Tuggeranong Parkway and Parkes Way. While we are advised that the Cotter Rd will finally be getting a much needed upgrade, the capacity of the Tuggeranong Parkway and Hindmarsh Drive through to Woden to cope with the extra volumes of traffic is doubtful.

A further  concern of Council is the initial reliance in Molonglo on only one road, the Cotter Rd, as a point of entry. Council  notes that there are no plans for John Gorton Drive to link up with Bindubi/Coulter until after 2020. This sounds like another traffic disaster waiting to happen, with 5 to 10,000  vehicles using the Cotter Rd to leave Molonglo in the morning peak, and likely gridlock on the already dangerous Coppins Crossing Road.  The other disappointing aspect of the planning is the failure to extend John Gorton Drive northwards sooner. The northern half of the proposed Rapid Service is dependent on this road being there and it will provide much better access to and from Belconnen and the northern districts. .  Council submits that John Gorton Drive should be built to link up to the Belconnen Road system as soon as practicable, ideally around 2015.

11 November 2011

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