The road to perdition  

Posted by Big Gav

I was in Melbourne on the weekend and noticed that the place does seem to have had a lot of new freeways constructed in recent years (I haven't ventured south east of town in a very long time). This fact was bemoaned in a fairly prominent article in The Age while I was there, which made a rare (in recent times) mention of peak oil - The road to perdition.

MELBOURNE — a world-class city with a rich cultural diversity, fantastic architecture and a dynamic mosaic of communities — is drowning in traffic because of its love affair with the car. It is a love affair fuelled by over-generous budgets and the space provided for roads and illustrates a nervousness Melbourne has about getting to grips with its public transport system and making sure it is as good as Vienna's, Frankfurt's or Basle's.

This combination of boldness in catering for cars and shyness with public transport, walking and cycling could propel Melbourne down the list of the world's most liveable cities and cancel out its multiple advantages. It will also add to the burdens of poor health, especially through low levels of physical activity, obesity and early onset diabetes. The time is right to make sure that Melbourne's budgets and policy priorities contain a clear map of how the city can celebrate the virtues of walking, cycling and public transport, reduce car trips and reward its residents with cleaner air, less noise, lower greenhouse gas emissions, fewer deaths and injuries and a calmer, more child-friendly and more economically successful city.

Getting people out of cars with their enthusiastic support is not difficult but it requires political boldness, a clear, health-related message and an unwavering commitment to quality public transport, walking and cycling. Reducing car dependency also has huge political and security implications. Given the importance of climate change and the upcoming battle for declining oil supplies, it would be a huge mistake to carry on with a car-based pattern of suburban expansion, road building and poor quality penetration of public transport to distant suburbs.

Reducing oil dependency is the smart thing to do unless Australians want to compete with China for increasingly scarce supplies and be dependent on politically unstable regimes in the Middle East. We should all ask why Sweden has adopted a policy to be oil-free by 2020, and reflect on the logic. It is all about protecting Swedish citizens from future shocks related to climate change, peak oil and price hikes and creating a peaceful and secure society that is truly resilient.

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