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What Happens Next - Bob Cotgrove

Published: 08/10/2020

What Happens Next?


Bob Cotgrove.


It’s clear that a two-way arterial western bypass around Hobart’s CBD will not be built in the foreseeable future.

The State government paid Melbourne consulting firm GHD $762,000 to give it the answer it wanted; that at a cost of $3.4 billion the project was prohibitively expensive.

Neither the ALP nor The Greens will disagree. All political parties would rather pander to the anti-car mantra of urban planners than listen to the concerns of the tens of thousands of Hobart suburbanites who daily suffer delays caused by road congestion.

The GHD Feasibility Report asserts “Hobart is more dependent on private vehicles than other Australian capital cities, with approximately 84% of commuters using private vehicles even though the mean commuting distance is less than 9 km.”

This inaccurate claim is based on data relating to the mode of transport used by those who work in Hobart, rather than those who live in Hobart. Of course, people living in rural areas are more likely to drive a car to work. Even so, the data show that Hobart is marginally less car “dependent” than the much larger city of Adelaide.

A more accurate guide to road congestion is the proportion of resident commuters who drive a car to work.

The Census data for Australian capital cities are: Sydney 52.7%, Melbourne 60.2%, Brisbane 61.2%, Perth 64.1%, Adelaide 66.0%, Hobart 62.4%, ACT 63.6% and Darwin 64.8%, while average commuting distances (km) are given as: Sydney 16.5, Melbourne16.8, Brisbane 17.4, Perth 15.7, Adelaide 13.5, Hobart 13.8, ACT 14.4 and Darwin 13.1.

It can only be assumed that the Report is deliberately creating the false image that Hobartians are lazy, selfish and uncaring in their travel behaviour.

The Report mentions social and environmental costs of the western bypass but ignores the considerable benefits that would result from diverting traffic away from the Macquarie/Davey couplet, such as better access to Sullivans Cove, reduction of damage to heritage buildings, and greater amenity to pedestrians.

To the layman the two designs investigated by GHD in the Report seem to be extravagant gold-plated Rolls Royce versions of the bypass proposal.

The concept of linking the three arterials, Southern Outlet, Brooker Avenue and Tasman Highway by a western bypass around the CBD was a key part of the 1964 Hobart Area Transportation Study. The 1971 Hobart Transportation Revision confirmed the need for the bypass but the 1979 Derwent Region Transportation Study abandoned the concept in favour of essentially the current street arrangement, established in the 1840s.

Between 1971 and 2016, Hobart’s population increased by 67 thousand, from 150 thousand to 218 thousand, with 97.6% of that growth accruing to the outer municipalities of Brighton, Kingborough, Clarence and Sorell.

During the same period female employment rose from one-third to one-half of the workforce, principally due to the employment of women with dependent children.

In 1971 20% of households had no car and only 29% had two or more cars. By 2016 the number of households with no car had dropped to 8% while those with multiple cars increased to 54%.

These trends will continue into the future, yet the Report ignores them.

So what happens next?

Increasing congestion will force changes in land use and travel patterns.

Working from home, accelerated by the COVID epidemic, will continue at a faster rate.

WFH benefits not only workers, saving time and effort on daily commutes, but also employers by reducing office construction and maintenance costs. Modern electronic communications systems provide an adequate substitute for face to face contact.

Public transport use will decline due to passengers becoming more aware of the air borne health dangers of viruses spread by crowding within enclosed spaces.

The proportions of urban travel to non-central rather than to central locations, at off-peak rather than peak time periods, and for non-work rather than work purposes will continue to increase.

The streets of central Hobart will increasingly become conduits for vehicular traffic conveying people to non-central locations to shop, access services, visit friends, check on the needs of elderly relatives, engage in recreational and cultural events, and other purposes.

The idea that improvements to public transport can reduce congestion by substituting for personal automobility is an ideological fantasy not supported by evidence.

For the vast majority of people living in modern societies cars provide the only means to connect spatially dispersed activities with strict time constraints within the few hours available to them during the day. Public transport lacks the time-space flexibility to satisfy modern travel needs.

Suburban centres will flourish as central Hobart becomes strangled.

Welcome to the future!

Bob Cotgrove is an urban geographer and transport economist with special interests in the land use and travel activity patterns of post-industrial societies.


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