The consultation dilemma

We all get frustrated with government consultations. Government consultations take effort, but frustrate when we can’t see much positive change. The Public Transport Association of Canberra (PTCBR) feels the same way and addresses the dilemma of consultations.

Where it can be found: The article found on the PTCBR`s website outlines their feedback to the Woden CIT/light rail terminus. This article is in two parts. First, the limits of consultations and after that issues raised with this light rail terminus project.

The limits of consultations

Many consultations come very late in the planning process. The concrete may not have been set, but at the time of these consultations the ideas are well advanced and there is little room, or time, to consider major changes to them. Those that reply to consultations are often happy to have any improvement. They typically don’t want to hold up the project. Realistically, the best one can expect from a consultation are minor changes, and these changes will rarely fix any fundamental issues that have been “designed into the solution”. If the issues lie deeper, the consultation may feel rather meaningless. Organisational psychologists know that it only takes 1 instance of “fake feedback survey” to create lasting cynicism. It’s a major withdrawal from the emotional bank account!

Why it matters: Whitlam is a good example. The Whitlam estate is so advanced that any issues with the estate’s design regarding the cycling infrastructure cannot really be fixed any more. As frustrating as it may be, revising the estate layout and designs, after years of planning, is impossible – and doesn’t make much sense. By the time the estate design is submitted as a development application for approval, it is too late to fix the bigger issues that will prove to be barriers to the successful uptake of cycling.

What others say: The PTCBR has similar feelings about the Woden light rail terminus.

“As an advocacy group, we’re realistic about what we can achieve out of community consultation. The ACT Government largely has put together a pretty comprehensive design, and this is really only just about tweaking

PTCBR’s submission on the Woden interchange. Public Transport Association of Canberra website. 18 April 2021. Accessed 30 June 2021.

“But it’s important to get involved in consultation for a few reasons. First, the world is run by those who show up, so speaking up is always better than saying nothing. Second, government bodies like to be seen as being responsive to community feedback, and often take on a handful of suggestions from the community, even if only to give the appearance of being consultative. Third, public opinion can be influential when there might be conflicting views within government about how to deal with a particular issue.”

PTCBR’s submission on the Woden interchange. Public Transport Association of Canberra website. 18 April 2021. Accessed 30 June 2021.
As seen in a Canberra cafe.

Common issues with Canberra planning

Going deeper: The PTCBR makes clear that the light rail terminus in Woden is most welcome, as one would expect. The problems with the project lie in the detail, as is the case with many ACT developments.

Lack of ambition

The first is that projects seem to lack ambition. In the ACT, the scale of our ambition is limited by the current requirement to fix current problems. We do not look ahead and build capacity for the future. Canberra is expected to have a population over 700,000 by 2058, a 75% increase on 2017. We do not envision – and therefore – build big or fast enough.

A few of the planning docs suggested that some bus routes would need to be rejigged so they could all fit in the interchange

PTCBR’s submission on the Woden interchange. Public Transport Association of Canberra website. 18 April 2021. Accessed 30 June 2021.

The planning documents do envisage a significant expansion of services up to 2030 (including light rail), but if there are already capacity constraints now, we’re concerned about what things might look like 20-30 years from now.

PTCBR’s submission on the Woden interchange. Public Transport Association of Canberra website. 18 April 2021. Accessed 30 June 2021.
Canberra is expected to have a population of over 700,000 by 2058, a 75% increase on 2017. ACT’s population is expected to grow steadily at an average annual rate of 1.3 per cent. ACT Government, ACT Population Projections 2018 to 2058, January 2019, 17.

Demographics of the Molonglo Valley in year 2041

Residents 58,648
Employment 7,955
Retail Space 43,000 [m2 GFA]
Education (Enrolments) 5,300
Tertiary Enrolments 0

WSP, Molonglo 3 East Planning and Infrastructure Study Transport Modelling Report, January 2021, 6.

Pedestrians are poorly served

Pedestrians are vulnerable road users, and our transport networks need to be laid out for pedestrians as a priority. Canberra does not do this. To get to a bus or light rail stop, pedestrians must brave crossing multiple lanes of traffic, such as on Northbourne Avenue. The design of light rail infrastructure could make the life of pedestrians easier.

Obviously the City Interchange is the worst offender, as passengers have to cross up to six lanes of Northbourne traffic, and then have to dodge buses in the interchange itself. This design is much better, with a number of signalised crossings

PTCBR’s submission on the Woden interchange. Public Transport Association of Canberra website. 18 April 2021. Accessed 30 June 2021.

Protection on cold and windy days

Why it is in the way of changing habits: The following comment is related to public transport. It may seem an irritation until we personally experience it. We feel very uncomfortable when exposed to the cold and wind. During periods of inactivity, such as waiting for a bus, it becomes most noticeable. The value of a good bus shelter is immeasurable when the weather is poor. ACT Transport should make public transport as comfortable as possible. The investment is worth it.

“angled roofs and relatively open to the wind. While they usually perform better than they look, we’ve made a few suggestions about what might make things more comfortable for passengers, the main one being walls to keep out the wind.”

PTCBR’s submission on the Woden interchange. Public Transport Association of Canberra website. 18 April 2021. Accessed 30 June 2021.
Light Rail Stage 2A. ACT Government
Light Rail Stage 2A. ACT Government

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