An editor, Ms Struthers lives in Tumbi Umbi on the NSW Central Coast and travels to Wynyard in the Sydney CBD for work. Her journey takes a minimum of four hours a day and involves her driving to a train station, a journey of 20-40 minutes, and then sitting on a train for more than an hour. It doesn’t leave her much time to spend with her 15-year-old daughter.
“It’s not ideal, if the trains are late or I’m busy at work, I only get to spend an hour with her,” Ms Struthers told news.com.au.
“It’s a 12 hour day for me, which is a big chunk of time.”
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While spending four hours a day commuting to work might seem extreme to some, there are many more like Ms Struthers, who spend the equivalent of half their working day sitting in cars, trains and buses on top of sitting in front of a computer for another eight hours.
And it’s not just family life that is impacted by this lengthy journey to work. Medical experts are now lobbying for action as the effects of a sedentary lifestyle and its links to obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease become clearer.
Prof Peek said people in areas like western Sydney bore the brunt of the obesity epidemic, routinely spending “an hour or three” sitting in a car, bus or train.
“If you spend a lot of time in a car for example, that’s less time you’ve got to be active because it’s very sedentary,” Prof Peek told news.com.au.
“There is data that shows the more sedentary you are, the more at risk of developing obesity and obesity-related medical problems.”
The campaign hopes to bring together schools, businesses and local councils to develop strategies for combating obesity, including whether better urban planning could help.
“This is not simply a medical problem that you can give someone a tablet and fix it, it’s very complex and in the end it’s not just the health professionals who will fix it.
“It also includes architects and town planners ... to make cities more exercise and lifestyle friendly.”
He said that lifestyle factors should be considered, especially when building major new projects like Badgerys Creek airport.
Creating 20-minute cities would also provide the opportunity for significant reductions in carbon emissions.
But one of the greatest barriers to achieving this is community resistance to changes to something that many Australians value — suburban life. So is it time for us to swap suburbia for shorter commutes, healthier lifestyles and a better carbon future?
OUR CAR-CENTRIC CITIES
In Melbourne, if you drive a car it is possible to travel 10 times further than someone taking the train or tram would travel in the same amount of time. At night, the difference becomes even bigger, when road congestion eases and public transport becomes less frequent. It is a situation replicated across Australia.
So no wonder Australians love their cars.
But Professor Kim Dovey, one of the authors of the report Intensifying Melbourne: Transit-Oriented Urban Design for Resilient Urban Futures, said building more freeways was not going to solve the gridlock problem.
“You need to provide opportunities for people to go where they need to go, you need to connect workplaces better and get people out of their cars and onto public transport,” Prof Dovey said.
“At the moment we are a car dependent city — if you don’t have a car, you don’t have huge access to amenities you need.”
One of the starkest examples of the legacy of car-centric planning is that of Australia’s biggest shopping centre. The Chadstone Shopping Centre in southeast Melbourne is located within a kilometre of two train stations and several tramlines but is designed so that is almost impossible to safely walk from any of these stations to the shops.
Shoppers are instead encouraged to hop on a bus from the stations to travel that last kilometre, which is a 25-30 minute walk.
“Developers own most of the urban fringe land and comprise a powerful lobby for more low-density suburbs,” the report from Melbourne and Monash University researchers explains. “As new fringe suburbs develop with minimal public transit they stimulate the market for more freeways.
“The freeways in turn consume the vast bulk of transport funding and stimulate demand for more fringe development.”
It is a cycle that is “utterly inconsistent with a low-carbon future” and locks people into long car-centric commutes. The challenge now is to transition to a new model in the face of climate change, increasing oil prices and population growth.
DO YOU WANT TO LIVE IN A 20 MINUTE CITY?
Prof Dovey is an expert in architecture and urban design at the University of Melbourne and said the important thing was to build services closer together, so people could work, shop and access entertainment without depending on cars.
“All Australian cities have conditions similar to Melbourne, they’re all relatively low density with high car dependency,” Prof Dovey said.
It’s one of the reasons that Australia has one of the highest per capita carbon emissions in the world. The emissions are nearly twice the OECD average and more than four times the world average.
Intensifying Melbourne explores the options for how urban design and public transport could be developed, with an eye to making people rethink the idea that high density equals bad outcomes.
It includes a number of design scenarios for key sites in Melbourne including Reservoir, Sunshine, Surrey Hills, Batman, Chadstone, Northland and Lygon St, Brunswick.
The report identifies areas that could be redeveloped, as well as ways to improve public transport, which at the moment in Melbourne is constrained by 170 level crossings where trains block the car, bus, tram and pedestrian networks. It demonstrates that building grade separations along significant stretches of rail line could areas up to “intensification”, including the development of residential and commercial buildings.
In NSW, the introduction of new light rail to the Sydney suburbs of Randwick, Kensington and Kingsford made these areas a good candidate, urban planning lecturer Gethin Davison of the University of NSW said.
“It’s going through serious growth at the moment and would benefit from all the merits of intensification and connected public transportation,” she said.
The potential for development was linked to whether it was possible to integrate the areas into the public transport network and connect it with other centres and sites.
Prof Dovey said Chadstone shopping centre, for example, could be turned into a “real town” with hotels, housing and other uses, instead of just being a mono-functional venue.
The centre would benefit from an increase in the number of shoppers and this would open up the opportunity to convert the many hectares of car parking — the centre accommodates 9000 car spaces — into new public facilities, open space as well as residential and commercial towers.
The areas around rail stations, tram corridors, university campuses and industrial zones could be opened up to the same opportunities if public transport access could be improved.
For example, university campuses often have substantial areas of carpark that could be redeveloped for residential, shops and commercial functions.
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES?
The report notes that there are many engineering and economic challenges to expanding Melbourne’s public transport system.
“While much could be achieved by radically improving bus services, only rail-based transit (trains, and light rail/trams) can achieve the quantum leap in capacity required for the necessary transformation,” the report states.
The challenge was to find new routes for both tram and train lines that could be integrated with new walkable, mixed-use neighbourhoods without damaging the enjoyment of current residents.
This would require expensive underground train stations or elevated rail and it was unknown whether the costs of building these could be recovered through land development.
The report also acknowledges there is a lot of community opposition to ambitious redevelopment plans of this scale but notes that the most significant problem was how politicised urban planning had become.
“The refusal to fund major public transport infrastructure, despite the clear economic and environmental advantages over other investments, is because it rarely produces political capital in the short term.”
However, it noted that with mounting fuel costs and climate change costs applied to transport, priorities would change.
“Patronage on public transport has already dramatically risen and increased crowding on trains and trams will add to political pressure for investment,” it said.
The question is whether changes will ... one on the basis of political priorities or maximising the benefits of intensification.
As for Claire Struthers, the Central Coast mum says she is planning to look for work closer to home and was not tempted to move into the city.
“We have dogs and I prefer to life a bit further out and have a larger place,” she said.
“I think high density has its place, in moderation,” she said.
“I’m not much of a fan of units anyway but younger people don’t mind them because they like the shared amenities such as having a gym, tennis court or pool.”
She thinks the key to getting support for high-density development came down to having nice facilities that were user-friendly.
“I think it makes good sense but I don’t think it will happen. The government won’t build it, they are focused on cars.”
news.com.au 19 Nov 2014
Is this a (deliberate?) failure on behalf of the government to not cater for a growing population?
Once your usefulness (work / tax paying capacity) has been exhausted you can expire?
The corporate government is there to make money from the people, keep them oppressed and submissive.