Things are getting quite exciting in Gungahlin, Canberra’s newest suburb. For a couple of years now, there has been much talk of a light rail line running from Gungahlin to the city centre in Civic, but soon, work on the line is expected to begin.
It may seem odd to get excited about what ostensibly amounts to the start of several years of roadworks – and there are plenty who oppose the idea of building a tram network in Canberra, as the arguments ahead of October’s local elections confirm — but I have my reasons.
First, I think urban planning is best done in advance rather than in arrears. Canberra is growing and Gungahlin is the fastest growing of its suburbs. While its rush hour may pale in comparison to those in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane et al, anyone who tries to get to and from Civic during peak time will tell you that Canberra has a traffic problem that is only going to get worse as the population grows.
But here’s the thing – the very people planning that population growth are also thinking about the transport infrastructure needed to support it. That’s a rare thing in my experience and you might say that it’s a stroke of all too hard to find genius. Except it’s not really their idea. Suburban rail was sketched into the original master plan for Canberra more than 100 years ago by Walter Burley Griffin. So, while modern Canberra can claim credit for actually building the light rail line, the foresight was all Walter’s.
Second, I’m a great believer in integrated public transport and, while Canberra benefits from a pretty good bus service at the moment, it does seems to be creaking at certain points, as Suzanne Orr’s Facebook community charting day after day of overcrowded commuting testifies. Canberra also has some odd anomalies too, like regular bus services to a mainline railway station that only has three departing trains a day, but no bus service to an airport that has just secured international flights for the first time in a generation.
If high-speed inter-city rail ever comes to Canberra, integrating all of these things into a coherent network will be a major challenge for the ACT government of the day. Oh, but wait. There’s already a master plan that shows how that might work. It omits the still unplanned high-speed rail component, but it would link suburbs, city and airport properly for the first time.
Third, I’m not a great believer in voting something down just because you might not benefit from it immediately. As you might expect, in Gungahlin, there is widespread support for the first light rail line. Elsewhere, support becomes patchier and, in the southern suburbs, opposition seems particularly vocal. But I take the view that society has to adopt a big picture approach if it is to function well for everyone, otherwise we’d see schools only funded by parents with school-age kids, or hospitals only paid for by the sick. At some point you have to ask: will this make our community better? If the answer is yes, then you share the cost amongst everyone and hold fast to the ambition that, in the end, more and more people should benefit from that investment.
As regular readers will know, I moved to Canberra from Copenhagen, a city I still love very much. Whenever I go back there, I usually take a moment to reflect on what it is that made the place so liveable for me and the rest of the CBRbound family. Easy access via a top-notch public transport system was one, and continuous reinvestment in the city’s infrastructure was another.
But most of all, it was a sense that this was a city looking to the future; a place where living there seemed a wise choice because its long-term future looked confident, assured and in safe hands. Those are all the same reasons that made us choose Canberra as our next home city, which is why I will see all those pesky roadworks as the first steps on a fast track to the future.