Does the RACV truly think long term?Posted: October 11, 2010
The Age published details on Monday of what it says is a leaked Vicroads “plan for hundreds of kilometres of new freeways”.
The “plan” is actually just a map showing how Melbourne’s road network might look in 2040. Vicroads isn’t conceding that it prepared the map but it isn’t denying it either. Most of the projects are already shown on the Melway or are well known – only the outer, outer ring road and two Geelong roads seem genuinely new.
There is a heap of negative comment on The Age site. The most interesting comment however is a quote in The Age from an RACV spokesperson who says the map represents the sort of ”truly long-term thinking” needed if the city’s road system is to cope with predictions that Melbourne’s population will grow to 7 million by 2049.
I have no issue with the need to think about road transport well into the future. As I’ve pointed out before, even the most optimistic long term public transport plans envisage that the majority of travel will still be by car. While the car’s mode share is likely to decline, the absolute level of car travel – in green cars – is nevertheless highly like to increase.
But I beg to differ with an RACV spokesperson who is quoted as saying that this road plan constitutes “truly long term thinking” about the road system. I don’t see how the efficiency, sustainability and capacity of the road system as depicted in this wish-list can be assessed without having information on a host of other variables that will affect the use of road space in the future.
Demand will depend, for example, on many factors related to public transport, such as the level of investment in new services and how trips are priced. It will depend on land use policy relating to issues like the density of population and employment, the extent of urban sprawl and whether or not satellite cities are thrown into the policy mix.
Even in relation to more obviously road-related matters, the required capacity of the road system will depend on how road space is priced, especially in congested periods and whether or not it is financed by tolls. And then there are various capital works that can increase capacity without the need for new roads, like reducing the number of level crossings. The availability of clean power sources for vehicles will also be a critical determinant of how sustainable this, or any other “plan”, is.
I appreciate that Vicroads is a road agency and hence has a restricted charter, but any endorsement of this “plan” by other parties without considering the wider context is pretty shallow.
The “plan” itself is so obviously a financially and politically unrealistic wish-list that it should be given no credence. It looks like someone on work experience catalogued every idea anyone in Vicroads ever had!
I wonder if The Age of twenty years ago would have bothered to publish it at all, much less as the lead story on page 4. See this 1974 story in The Age on cut-backs to the official freeway program (H/T Daniel Bowen).
The Government has quite correctly distanced itself from the “plan”. The Age quotes a Government spokesman (don’t Ministers speak to the press anymore?): “VicRoads has not provided this highly speculative document to the government, but it’s not unusual that they would consider potential future needs in 30 or 40 years”.
Of course, there’s a much bigger question that this story raises – is there any case whatsoever for even one new freeway? Or should all new investment be solely in public transport and cycling? That sort of question is so fraught there’s bound to be all sorts of misinformed preconceptions – it’s right up the Melbourne Urbanist’s alley, so I’ll look at it shortly.