Too often in public life we experience something that feels like an episode of Utopia. Matthew Guy’s announcement of the Traffic Light Removal Program was exactly one of those moments.
Bold claims and big numbers: 55 intersections for $5 billion. A glossy brochure with stock photos. The rebranding of an existing agency.
The first nine pages tell us what we already knew: traffic congestion in Melbourne is bad; it’s a drag on productivity; and people hate sitting in traffic. The next nine pages show 4 examples of congested crossings, but without saying what Matt Guy would do with them, or how much that would improve traffic flow.
The last three pages try their best interpretation of a cohesive policy, although there’s no data to back any of it up, and a costing that’s criminally bereft of detail.
And this is the most detailed policy the Liberal-National coalition have come up with since 2014?
The rationale for the initiative is that the recent census found out what we already knew – 75% of Melbournians commute by car. Instead of figuring out ways to reduce that proportion, to take the pressure off our roads, Matt Guy sees it as an immutable number, and the only way to fix it is: build more roads.
75% car commuting is what is causing Melbourne’s liveability to deteriorate. Encouraging further use of cars is not the way to address it. We need to give people alternatives to using the car: more public transport and more cycling and pedestrian infrastructure.
And then there is the scatter-gun approach of the Traffic Light Removal program. The Liberals have identified 30 intersections they don’t like, but haven’t identified how they fit together. Will cars go through one underpass only to hit an intersection with lights a few hundred metres down the road? What happens then?
Grade separation at road intersections simply doesn’t work as a congestion buster. Professor John Stanley, who had previously advised Matthew Guy, has said “Grade separation is only a short-term relief, it won't solve the problem of congestion."
Then there is the urban blight caused by road underpasses and overpasses. They create physical barriers in communities. They sever neighbours from each other, reduce the footfall at local shops, and force people to take the car to travel a relatively short distance. The areas near underpasses and overpasses are not pleasant areas suitable for cafes or pocket parks – instead they are polluted with rubbish and graffiti. If you don’t believe me, go have a peek under CityLink.
The Level Crossing Removals Program is relatively popular in the community. Which is a good thing: if more metropolitan train services are to be provided, level crossings must be removed. They also have benefits for the community in terms of safety, upgraded train stations and, yes, improved traffic flow.
Matthew Guy clearly doesn’t get it. Instead he’s desperately trying to get the motorist to vote with his leadfoot.