The Fall of Car-Based Planning in Victoria

December 29th, 2014

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After Labor won the Victorian state election, new Premier Daniel Andrews listened to the people and agreed to put a stop to the construction of the East-West Link freeway tunnel in Melbourne, reported Peter Newman from Curtin University on The Fifth Estate.

The end of the East-West Link is a victory for those who value 21st century urban thinking over the car-first mentality, which is nearly out of date now. It also offers financial relief, considering that the construction of the tunnel had more to do with politics rather than economics, said Newman.

The Royal Automobile Club of Victoria and VicRoads were the only groups that wanted a tunnel built in order to link the Eastern and CityLink freeways in Melbourne. And as it was just a freight project that was also expensive, it therefore made no economic sense. Public transport was in higher demand, and if the tunnel was to go ahead it would be based on its popularity, not whether it offers value for money, Newman argued.

Additionally, economic growth in Victoria and the other Australian states no longer depends on building more roads, but on having more ‘knowledge economy’ jobs. These jobs enable creativity, productivity and innovation, and are usually found in dense city centres.

According to Ed Glaeser and Richard Florida, who are both US urban economists, the knowledge economy depends on people being able to closely interact with each other and to deliver projects. This means that intensive spaces are needed in cities, particularly in central and inner-city locations. And to enable this, intensive modes of transport are also required, such as rail, cycling and walking.

On the other hand, ‘consumption economy’ jobs need cars and trucks, but these are dispersive modes of transport found in dispersed suburban spaces. Plus, consumption economy jobs don’t drive productivity growth as well as knowledge economy jobs.

Melbourne’s walkable city centre is perfect for knowledge economy jobs, so instead of adding more roads and cars, it should encourage more people to commute by taking the train, cycling or walking, stated Newman.

Furthermore, Melbourne should start building a city that isn’t car-dependent by replacing the East-West Link with more sensible and low-cost transport planning solutions, such as:

  • Upgrading rail access to move people from east to west as originally proposed in rail projects like the Melbourne Metro Rail, the Airport Rail Link, and the Doncaster Rail.
  • Having a freight system that uses several inland rail freight interchange facilities.