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We’re messing here with the future of six million people

artist impression of Ingleside. Image by NSW Government
artist impression of Ingleside. Image by NSW Government

We need to consider biodiversity, water and energy in our development, but we’re also calling all brave planners to think about a future without private cars. Clean ones would help.

Having a plan for a place without a plan for how it is to be used is like cooking dry toast and forgetting the butter and honey: it sticks in the throat and is never a sweet experience. 

Integrating the ongoing services – transport, energy and water – into the place plan is essential for getting cities right. However, anticipating what those services might look like in future is a hard ask for planners and their government masters.

For the mist to begin to clear, and the future to look both clearer and brighter, we need to get the message and act on it. This means changing thinking, and changing planning processes and the codes thus produced.

This is the future for six million people we are messing with

Current plan making in Sydney highlights the opportunities available to us with a shift in thinking. And it’s not theoretical –  this is the future for six million people we are messing with.

Plans for a second harbour crossing, a tunnel to the Northern Beaches, and for rezoning land on the far north of the city’s fringes at Ingleside, each provide a sample of what might be about to happen, one way or another.

These examples reach from the highest strategic level planning right down through the planning layers into detailed building design, with lessons that apply across the nation.

Build the road and they will park – always

A second harbour crossing makes perfect sense if it does not just clog up with cars. Sydney’s M5 tunnel is a notorious example of how not to do transport infrastructure: “build a road and they will park on it”, is an oft heard rejoinder to business-as-usual road building.

Sydneysiders are all too familiar with that toxic fume-filled parking lot.

The controversy around WestConnex has erupted more often than we have changed prime minister. The lesson, of course, is that a second tunnel should be principally, if not exclusively, a mass transit route, and integrated into the rest of the transport network. 

A Beaches Tunnel from the harbour under Mosman and The Spit to the new Frenchs Forest Hospital growth centre should likewise be a mass transit route.

But building a tunnel presupposes that an effective mass transit system is not provided or adequate on existing surface roads.

Currently available bus services, though recently expanded and improved, are yet to coax sufficient numbers of the good burghers of the North Shore from their Beemers and Mercs.

While the new B-Line fast and frequent beaches-to-city express has proved immensely popular, it is insufficient at its current scale. However, its popularity should encourage transport planners to do more of this.

Ingleside’s 3500 new residents might appreciate the re-think on their future

Which brings us to the far end of that transport route, at the peri-urban precinct of Ingleside, where 3500 new dwellings have been planned as part of the NSW government’s priority precinct rezoning and urban infill strategy.

It looks like the first and second rounds of draft planning are currently being totally rethought in light of bushfire risk, transport limitations, and biodiversity constraints. Rethinking is always good –  only fools rush in! 

Creating a master plan that balances the competing needs is not easy. And even that does not guarantee a human-friendly city as Jenny Donovan points out in her excellent book Designing the Compassionate City.

Cars use precious real estate and they’re dangerous

Let’s face it, cars are a problem. They use precious real estate whether moving or parked. They are dirty (at least until more than the current 0.2 per cent of them are electric). They are dangerous to be around, especially for people not inside another car –  but even then. 

We, therefore, need to design places and systems that provide non-car movement options. This is not news, and I am far from the first person to make the point, yet it needs to be made again (and again) to build the momentum of changed thinking at all levels of government, industry, and society at large.

Encouragingly, this happens to be where the mist is beginning to lift, as a non-car-based future emerges. It is a future with many parts, including the usual solutions such as regular mass transit services, but also involving provision of “transport as a service” (TaaS) where electric autonomous vehicles – including Beemers and Mercs – will pick us up on demand and drop us at any destination, no matter how obscure.

Car manufacturers and service providers are well advanced in commercialising this technology. And of course we will rediscover our legs – yes, walking is a thing. What need then of car parking spaces? TaaS is probably only five to 10 years away, and will be 90 per cent cheaper than owning and running a car. Private car use as we know it today is an artefact of the late 20th century. It is passing its use-by date.

Designing urban spaces and individual buildings with this future in mind means they will look somewhat different. Large parking areas will be obsolete. And so will double garages. Yet we are largely bound by planning codes that mandate minimum numbers of soon to be dead car spaces, using valuable real estate and costing tens of thousands of dollars each.

Where are the brave planners who will reduce parking spaces?

But will any strategic planner dare to reduce these requirements without strong policy moves from state governments? Melbourne and Sydney city councils have made such moves, but suburban councils have mostly been caught in the “transport as usual” bind. It will be tragic if an artefact of history hobbles our future. A bit like federation really (why do we have state governments?).

Developments like Ingleside provide us with a perfect opportunity to move beyond the late 20th century, and provide urban design – and all the buildings designed within it –  that is meshed into a truly sustainable and flexible transport system, which can itself evolve over time as technology and social patterns change.


The Fifth Estate invites other thinkers to contribute to this topic. Send articles or flag ideas to editorial@thefifthestate.com.au

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Comments

6 Responses to “We’re messing here with the future of six million people”

  • tatum says:

    I’ve lived in Ingleside for forty-five years. They have been promising water for that long. We are used to looking after ourselves up here and I cried deep tears when the redevelopment was put up as a done deal. They planned 80 something houses on my little parcel of heaven. Don’t worry, all the shonks who were trying to get me to sell to them, we’ll even throw in a house for you to live in as well as the pots of money. I told them to shove it. I don’t want to hear my neighbors copulating. It would be the death of us “old timers”. As to the bushfire issues. I can remember many years when we have had to take a stand to protect the zillioaires down at Bayview. If Ingleside goes, the whole southern side of Pittwater would go too. So, no water, no sewer, bushfire issues, residents who live here for the environment, no roads, no public transport, no other infrastructure. GO SOMEWHERE ELSE. Leave us alone.

  • Gianni N says:

    Hi Dick, I don’t disagree with your vision, just that it won’t happen as soon as we like, and the vision the ‘powers to be’ have is nowhere near as enlightened, doesn’t mean we have to stop trying

  • Dick Clarke says:

    Gianni N – agreed there will always be a need for unique destination trips, but TaaS means they can be made without a dedicated car for each person. Imagine going to netball and not worrying about finding a parking spot? Then time to leave for soccer and here’s the car you ordered 10 mins ago, ready to roll. Subtract 40sqm of double garage floor space from the average house or unit block per dwelling – or maybe retain one car space for people who go bush regularly (it’s a matter of choice), and consider the savings in materials and cost.

  • Gianni N says:

    laudable objectives – draw the map of where the 6 million work, then travel to work, then dare to travel for social/recreational purposes on weekends and then go shopping, then match that with the map of fast efficient and regular public transport and then tell me where you can reduce car parking and when we’ll all no longer need cars.

  • Stu Hilborn says:

    I simply wish every single politician, mayor, council planner and government department director general would just go to Japan for a month and see how mass transit and enabling safe bicycling allows a city to move efficiently.

  • Kevin Cobley says:

    The “beaches tunnel” is the most absurd planning decision that could be made, it’s going to add 3 lanes capable of carrying 3600 cars per hour at a speed of 20kph, capacity drops to around 2400 per hour at 60kph. There are already nine traffic lanes originating from the “beaches” and zero public transit on reserved space. It’s going to cost at a bare minimum $14B and the way costs have risen out of control on the related projects at Rozelle it going to be an awful lot closer to $20B. The population of the northern beaches is 270,000 therefore, taxpayers are spending at a minimum $51,000 per citizen on this road and more likely $70,000+. the whole philosophy of the “beaches tunnel” is to send the cars to the Western Suburbs and to direct cars from the western suburbs to the beach on weekdays. This tunnel will be sold to a Tollway company for 1/3-1/2 of the construction cost. The WestConnex was sold for 9.2 billion dollars and has so far been projected to be completed at 18 billion dollars but could be a lot more as there are nearly 2 years of construction to be completed.

    A metro rail system could be built based on the costing of an already completed Metro Rail 22 kilometres 8 stations, at 8.2 Billion dollars and a projected cost of 13 Billion dollars for Metro South West ( the vast bulk of that money is for the 5 very expensive city stations) the 13k tunnel is quoted at 2.8 billion dollars.

    Cost for a Beaches Metro could be significantly reduced if it were connected to the Sydney West Metro using the Alstom Axonis Metro system and built with 3rd rail power requiring smaller tunnels, the city stations will be already built for the Western Metro.
    It’s likely that for the possible 20 billion dollars needed works that will be demanded to make it functional could be much better spent on Metro to Avalon with a branch from Seaforth to Terry Hills via Frenchs Forest.

    This Metro would have a capacity of 30,000 passengers per hour at 60kph. Cars occupy too much space to be an effective transport solution.

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