Crisis is a word that gets used a lot in newspapers. There’s the cricket crisis. The Global Financial Crisis. The sports doping crisis. Crises like these are often unexpected, tumultuous events - they naturally grab the headlines.
And then there are the slow burn crises that sneak up on you. Like the obesity crisis or the energy crisis. They’re like a frog sitting in a pot of water over an open flame. Sometimes you don’t notice the crisis until your frog is completely cooked. And so let me draw your attention to a crisis that is directly in front of us, and about to reach boiling point.
Our cities are in crisis. Deep down, we all know it. When it takes 30 minutes to drive a two kilometre stretch of road. When we’re late for work because the bus didn’t turn up. When our kids are late for school because you were stuck in traffic. When we don’t get home until 7pm because of a traffic incident in a suburb five suburbs away.
Our roads and rail systems are struggling under the weight of our ever growing population and it’s time we did something about it.
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The Prime Minister and I have something in common: we both want to live close to where we work.
So as Julia Gillard decamps to the outer suburbs of Sydney this week, I’m heading the other direction, moving to an apartment in the city. I’m ditching the car and walking to work from Monday.
Phew. No more traffic. No more tailgaters. No more erratic driving from increasingly irate and desperate fellow commuters.
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Are you sick of being stuck in Sydney traffic for hours? Are you annoyed about the near constant traffic chaos around Sydney airport? And do you ever wonder why there are so many cars driving through Sydney’s CBD?
Well, what you are seeing is a general failure of transport planning by successive governments over many decades. Not since Dr JJC Bradfield have we had a true transport visionary in Sydney. What we get is an endless procession of so-called transport experts who are increasingly just free market fundamentalists having this delusional view that the market will fix all transport and infrastructure problems.
The so-called market in this case are those big private sector companies that just want toll roads so they can simply milk motorists for decades with ever increasing tolls. It’s so easy for a private sector company to build a toll road that barely meets the existing transport needs to just rake in lots of easy money until the toll road can’t cope anymore. Then there’s inevitable call for a new toll road with a new income stream to milk motorists.
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There are sweet days for city commuters and they’re called school holidays. Everyone knows them. They are the days when an empty seat welcomes you on the train or bus and the traffic seems to flow more smoothly along our motorways and city streets.
In a perfect world it would be like that all the time. But our cities are growing. There are more and more people depending on our existing transport networks. With our 18 major cities home to three-quarter of all Australians, congestion is becoming one of the greatest problems we face. It drags like an anchor on our national productivity and steals time better spent with our families.
Here are three uncomfortable facts. Firstly, eight of ten commuting trips in Australia today are still undertaken by car.
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Supposedly I’m a menace and a f*%king idiot. Why? I’m not really sure, but I think it’s because I ride a bike around Sydney.
I wear a helmet. I ride on the left side of the road. But, I have a cheap hybrid bike that can’t move all that quickly, and sometimes, when it’s dusk, I don’t put my lights on.
Last week two men in cars started yelling at me while I was on my bike. This isn’t unusual, it happens a lot, and I’m quite used to it.
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It’s highly annoying when recounting a tale of woe, pouring your heart out and shaking your fist, only to hear an unsympathetic someone crow: “That’s nothing, mate … blah, blah, blah … my neck’s bigger than yours.”
So when I hear Australians complaining about how other Australians drive, I tend just to nod my head rather than thicken my neck. I tend not to mention the past 10 years sharing asphalt with the Italians, for whom the speed of light is considered conservative, in the wet, in reverse, in their driveways.
That’s not to suggest I haven’t seen daredevil tactics in Oz. Despite the recent “good news” about 2011 registering the lowest number of road deaths since 1946, we still have our share of hoons, road rage and drink-driving are still a problem, and if I had a dollar for every P-plater I saw texting while driving… It’s as though they think you can steer with a smartphone. Perhaps one day you’ll be able to, if Darwinism extends to gadgets.
How can you tell the difference between a newly-elected government and a party that’s been in power for nearly a decade?
A newly-elected government is happy to admit that things could be done better.
A classic case in point this week was the new Liberal Government in NSW switching off 38 speed cameras deemed to have no real safety benefit.
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As we embark on another busy holiday period on our roads, I’m reminded of a tragic story.
It was late at night. A car ran a red light and an innocent family was in trouble.
As a police officer, I was one of the first on the scene. The father had died on impact in the car. The mother – who was given CPR by ambulance officers – also died at the scene.
Everyone should abide by driving laws but I reckon there’s a need for a guide to driving etiquette.
Is it just me or are drivers becoming more agitated, more selfish and lacking any respect for other motorists? They aren’t necessarily breaking the law, they just make driving more annoying.
Gone are the days when driving was a pleasure. Today it’s a means of getting from one place to another with the least amount of aggro.
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At the outset I declare that I am unashamedly pro-bike. Cycling is a great sport, a clean form of transport, and has undoubted health benefits for those who regularly ride.
Most years the annual “pollie pedal” route is through my electorate – as was the case this year. Had I not been heavily pregnant, I would have ridden with the team again (albeit for a short distance).
But I have to say: what’s the deal with designated bike lanes?
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