Is there a case for freeways?

High St Reservoir - where road meets rail!

I’ve concluded before that the most plausible scenario in the forseeable future is that cars will continue to be used for the majority of trips in Australian cities. Increasingly, these cars will tend to be powered by clean energy sources and will be slower and more civilised than today’s vehicles.

I expect growth in public transport and cycling will be much faster but the absolute number of cars will very probably still increase. It is therefore inevitable that there will be continuing pressure for new freeways.

So is there any sort of case for freeways or should all new infrastructure funding be reserved exclusively for public transport, as proposed by the Independent Inquiry into Sydney’s long-term transport needs?

The key criticisms of freeways, most of which are pretty familiar by now, are that they:

  • generate more car travel and higher speeds, which in turn produces more emissions and pollution and consumes more oil
  • promote a sprawled, car-dependent urban form – the higher speeds provided by freeways mean people tend to live further away from activities
  • undermine the viability of public transport where they compete directly
  • impact on neighbouring uses – the amenity of adjoining land uses is diminished by noise and pollution
  • crowd out investment in transit – governments prioritise funding to roads and investment in public transport is neglected
  • sever social linkages and networks when they’re superimposed on existing communities
  • cannot deliver very large numbers of people to concentrated locations, like CBDs, without becoming congested relatively quickly

In fairness, it should be acknowledged that efforts have been made to ameliorate some of these issues. Much of the investment in freeways over the last twenty years has been by the private sector. Governments have built sound barriers along new and existing freeways and the almost mandatory use of tunnels in built up areas means severance is no longer the issue it once was. Read the rest of this entry »

Does the RACV truly think long term?

Click for detailed map (slow to download)

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. Read the rest of this entry »