Saturday, 7 September 2013

Why does Canberra have more crosswalks than Perth?


Today is Federal election day in Australia. A good day to compare Perth with Canberra.  
A big building with a flag
I recently made a trip to the national capital as a parent / helper with my daughter’s school class.  Our government provides some financial assistance for children who visit the capital on school excursions. There is a quite a business in providing support for touring school groups in Canberra. The city has nearly 130,000 school children visit each year. I have to admit Canberra had not been high on my list of cities to visit. My only previous experience was as a small child so this trip felt like the first time. All I could remember was wide streets and lots of space, however I really enjoyed the week and realised that apart from its obvious political significance it has some great museums and art galleries. 

Model of Canberra
It was also interesting to get some understanding of the city layout. Canberra did not evolve over time, it was purpose-built as a national capital in the early part of last century. Basically built from nothing, the location was a compromise between the rival cities of Sydney and Melbourne, Australia’s largest at the time. Before 1900, Canberra was just grazing land, now it is our eighth largest city and has a population of around 360,000.

The city was designed after the invention of the car and my first impressions are that it is still a city for cars. There seems to be a lot of tunnels, flyovers and big sweeping roundabouts. Lots of double lane roads. Is it my imagination or is Canberra trying to hide its car dependence? Shouldn't Parkes Way really be called Parkes Freeway? It seems like a freeway. Shouldn’t Belconnen Way be called Belconnen Highway? Also, who named the big road heading south Tuggeranong “Parkway”? In most Australian cites, eleven kilometres of multiple-lane road with a speed limit of 100 km/h and grade separated interchanges would be called a “Freeway”.

Tuggeranong Parkway, no park here

And if you hide the parking areas behind hedges, does it feel like you have less cars?

Hiding the cars

...still hiding
Our schedule for the week was very busy. I had no opportunity for bicycle riding but I did notice a lot of on-road bicycle lanes while driving around. Canberra does have a lot of space, it seems a shame that more effort is not made to provide separated infrastructure. This freshly painted example on Wentworth Avenue is interesting. If you look at the same spot on Google maps it shows the road is the same width in 2008 but without the sign and painted line. 

Wentworth Avenue, Canberra 2013

Wentworth Avenue, Canberra 2008 (from Google Streetview)
I bet after this effort, a couple of bureaucrats congratulated themselves for ticking-the-box for "provision of sustainable transport options" then went to lunch. 

I suppose it is a slight improvement but this is a 60 km/h road. My teenage daughter does not use bicycle lanes like this. Instead of just adding a sign and some paint, the ACT government could have made an actual improvement by separating bicycles and motorised traffic. There is ample space available.

Wentworth Avenue, Canberra from above.


This blog post is turning into a ramble. If you want to read more about Canberra's transport issues try these: "Fifty Years of Transport Planning in Canberra" Mees, 2012 (PDF 229kb) and Transport Policy at the Crossroads, Mees & Groenhart 2012 (PDF 418 kb)

Now onto the subject shown in the title: Why does Canberra have more crosswalks than Perth? Pedestrian crosswalks are a rare item in Perth. Why is that? Is walking less important in Perth?

Here is a comparison: the districts of Manuka in Canberra and Subiaco in Perth. Both areas have things in common: shops, restaurants and a major sports ground. Manuka appears to be a fashionable area and Subiaco, although in decline, is still one of the preferred places to live and visit in Perth.  Manuka's retail and restaurant area has eight pedestrian crosswalks, all within a few blocks. Subiaco has one.

Manuka, ACT.  Crosswalks shown with green squares.

Subiaco, Western Australia.  One crosswalk.
I visited Manuka on a Friday night. Every restaurant and bar was buzzing with activity. The footpaths were not busy but it was a chilly three degrees. It was a great pleasure to find so many crosswalks.
Manuka

Manuka (Google Streetview)


Subiaco has places where pedestrians can attempt to cross the road but these are not crosswalks. There are no zebra stripes and drivers of motor vehicles have right-of-way at all times.  It does get confusing, the road design implies a pedestrian crossing so the City of Subiaco has tried to fix the problem with extra signs to remind pedestrians they have no rights.

Subiaco. Pedestrians have to wait.
Signs remind pedestrians they are less important.

However, there are no signs for motorists. They are often confused and sometimes stop for pedestrians.

Traffic might stop, if you have a walking frame it helps.

These next two photographs sum up the situation in Subiaco. Stand and wait while people in big cars cruise past. Then, when you make your move, be on guard and move fast.

Rokeby Road Subiaco today.
On guard Rokeby Road Subiaco.
Why do we accept such poor conditions in Western Australia?




Update Monday 9 September: Subiaco's only crosswalk is currently unusable.
One becomes none







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