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O-Bahn change yields bizarre outcomes

Opinion

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So let’s get this straight – the State Government’s fourth attempt at an O-Bahn extension returns less land to parklands than the previous plan, but it’s still “a victory for the parklands”?

In fact, the new O-Bahn plan returns 1500 square metres to parklands, compared to a whopping 3000 square metres under the previous plan.

This didn’t stop Transport Minister Stephen Mullighan and Lord Mayor Martin Haese declaring the new plan was a better option for Adelaide’s precious green belt. Exactly why this is the case is a little difficult to comprehend.

The previous O-Bahn plan would have turned Rundle Road – all four lanes plus generous parking bays – into a huge recreation and event space.

The new plan provides no new amenity in the parklands – the extra space is created at the edges, by shaving bits off the surrounding roads. In fact, Rymill Park will still be besmirched by a tunnel portal at the south-western end.

The previous O-Bahn plan would have allowed for the mooted EastLink tram line to run adjacent to the busway and realigned Rundle Road running diagonally across Rymill Park.

The new plan has no allowance for the trams.

The previous plan was unashamedly about improving public transport.

The new plan will rob Peter to pay Paul by allocating 50 extra on-street car parking spaces, in a  city which already boasts more car parking spaces per capita than any other Australian capital.

It’s been a long time since we were the City of Churches – we’re now the city of car parks.

Fortunately, the new O-Bahn plan does what it was always designed to do – it provides unhindered passage for buses from the end of the guided track on Hackney Road to Grenfell Street.

READ MORE: New O-Bahn plan – longer tunnel, more parking

The $160 million plan has been much-criticised because it “only” saves seven minutes travelling time for O-Bahn buses. While this is actually a substantial impact on travel times, the knock-on effect on motor vehicles is generally overlooked. By separating buses from other vehicles, it will make life easier for commuters in their cars on the north-east section of the CBD ring route.

It’s interesting to note that while the $160 million spend has been widely criticised, there has been very little flak about the massive $9 billion price tag to create a non-stop road corridor from Gawler to Noarlunga. Given the tenor of Adelaide’s transport debates over the past few years, there can only be one explanation – that we’re very happy to spend money on roads for cars, but get grumpy when cash is splashed on public transport or cycling.

Adelaide, as noted many times previously, is more obsessed with the car than any other Australian city, and it’s difficult to see how this nexus will be broken except when the inevitable happens – our roads become jammed, and our lives a lot less pleasant than they are now.

This obsession means that we fear what might happen if we make any policy decision that will impact on the almighty motor vehicle.

Hence the idea – pushed by East End traders and the city council – that losing car parking on Rundle Road would be a death knell for local business.

This shows a lack of imagination. What about the fact that Adelaide’s most popular piece of public transport infrastructure – soon to be improved – runs past your back door? What about the idea that a massive new events space was to be created on your doorstep? What about the idea that pedestrians and cyclists would find the local roads a lot more attractive without the Rundle Road through traffic?

As planner George Giannakodakis, managing director of InfraPlan, has explained, Adelaide is caught in a kind of policy gridlock, to match the inevitable, looming traffic version.

“The city of Adelaide supports a heavily car dependent metropolitan workforce, in fact one of the most car dependent in the western world,” he said.

“This is largely driven by it having some of the cheapest and most plentiful car parking (70,000) compared to other cities (Adelaide’s is up to 300% cheaper and has 300% more parks per 1000 employees when compared to Sydney). This may explain why it is the most car dependent capital city in Australia and one of the most resilient to change.”

And what of the parklands?

The resistance to the O-Bahn plan was led by local residents who didn’t want the current configuration of Rymill Park to change.

They feared the busway/road being moved closer to the lake than the current Rundle Road would destroy the park.

It would certainly change it. And while there is, of course, some aesthetic debate to be had, the fact is that the now defunct O-Bahn plan would have created a whole new swathe of nearby parklands on which East End residents could enjoy themselves, should they choose to do so. The lake and the kiosk would still be there, albeit with a road corridor closer by.

However, the idea that that Government was wrong to plough a road through a park seems somewhat moot, considering the entire parklands is intersected with roads.

In the end, the fact that the protesters won the day, effectively alienating 1500 square metres of new parklands from the entire community seems a bizarre outcome – but a very Adelaide one.

David Washington is editor of InDaily

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