It is promising to see that the state government has launched a new transport plan for Perth entitled Perth Transport [email protected].
Positive dialogue initiated by government in regard to transport needs is important given that how people move around is strongly linked to liveability and sustainability within major cities.

It is particularly important for Perth, given a recent report by the independent statutory body Infrastructure Australia has earmarked easing congestion on Perth’s urban roads as a major priority.

The report states that urban congestion in Perth is expected to cost up to $16 billion by 2031 and in particular Perth’s northern corridor is the most congested. The road and rail corridors linking the southern suburbs with the Perth CBD as well as East to West links also include four of the top ten most congested roads in Australia.

Historically, it is large scale forward planning that has provided so well for Perth up until recent times. In 1955, urban planners Hepburn and Stephenson were commissioned to draft the Plan for the Metropolitan Region, Perth and Fremantle, which came into effect in 1963. That plan is still extensively referred to today and provided the blueprint for Perth’s urban growth and important roads such as Roe Highway and Tonkin Highway were borne out of that plan.

The Stephenson Hepburn Plan was followed in later years by the 1970 Corridor Plan and 1990’s Metroplan.

In launching the new document, Minister Nalder said that it was important to integrate transport planning with broader urban planning policy. This is certainly essential so that the plan can accommodate future growth while ensuring that our population can move around in an affordable, sustainable and efficient way.

While the bedrock of any future plan should be public transport, major roads continue to play an important role and walking and cycling networks are also set to be improved in order to ensure accessible, efficient and practical solutions to Perth’s current and future transport needs.

It is critical that planning for Perth’s transport also ties in with future urban and commercial development so that activity centres and increased housing density are supported by access to appropriate transport options.

The goal to densify inner and middle areas of Perth and minimise urban sprawl can only be achieved successfully with more public transport along with the ability to safely walk or cycle to places of employment and other amenities and services. The less dependent on the private vehicle we are in these areas, the more flexibility to create vibrant, active and affordable communities.

There are a range of options covered in the state government’s plan to combat increasing congestion, with a northern rail line to service Morley and East Wanneroo, connecting to the Joondalup line and eventually to Ellenbrook, as well as rapid transit networks (bus or light rail) that connect Ellenbrook to Bassendean, Glendalough to Scarborough Beach and a route between UWA, QEII Medical Centre, the CBD to Curtin University.

The plans for a Stock Road tunnel to provide improved connetion between north and south of the river as well as the new East West City link, potentially comprising two tunnels, makes sense and was not unexpected given the congestion on the narrows bridge and the Stirling Highway/ Fremantle route.

The government is also moving forward with the Perth Freight Link, with funding from the Federal Government confirmed, in order to assist with transport in and out of Fremantle Port.

Moving away from roads, light rail and rapid transit options that provide fast and efficient connectivity, particularly from east to west, is essential to a sustainable transport future. While the government has cancelled the MAX Light Rail plan that was promised back in 2013, rapid transit remains on the table and that is good to see.

When planning for future transport needs I also think it is important to leave options open for new technology that is fast progressing. Electric cars are becoming more popular and there is the imminent emergence of driverless cars. We need to consider how can we incorporate these new technologies into our future planning.

Of course it is not all about the motor vehicle, Perth has recently been dubbed as a potential up-and-coming ‘urban cycling city’ by travel website Smarter Travel. While there is still plenty of work to be done in this area, the website has recognised the increased number of people taking the two wheeled option to either work or other destinations around Perth.

One of the biggest hurdles that the government faces in any planning for future transport is the aspirational goals of the plan rather than the infrastructure itself. The plan needs to be paired with educational and behavioural modification objectives that assist with getting people out of their private vehicle and onto public transport.

A significant aspect of influencing more people to use public transport is urban density and successful activity centres that provide ease of access to fast and efficient public transport. Meaning if people can live near transport and access it effectively, they might just use it.

It can be a bit of a chicken and egg situation with funding public transport, where in order to get financial support, the critical mass to make public transport viable needs to be there, however in order to get that critical mass, it would be better to have the transport provided up front… …It takes brave government to make that commitment.