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This might be the most stupid decision in the city council’s history

Opinion

The Adelaide City Council’s decision last night to declare “driver’s month” is counter-productive, runs against all the evidence, and will damage the city’s reputation, argues David Washington.

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“I cringe to think what the headline will be,” councillor Anne Moran said last night during debate on this idea.

Here you go, Anne!

There’s one sure way to ascertain whether councillor Jessy Khera’s concept for “driver’s month”, supported by the council last night, is a seriously bad idea: imagine the damage if it is successful.

You don’t need to be a traffic engineer to understand that congestion would worsen, making life that little bit more miserable for regular motorists – including those who don’t have a convenient or feasible alternative transport option. New car commuters, encouraged by the council’s on-street banners and marketing push, would ask themselves why they bothered, and head back to their suburban Westfield.

No matter what the council does to make driving more attractive and parking more convenient, they can’t control the key constraining factor – the capacity of CBD and feeder roads.

Adelaide has long had the cheapest and most plentiful car parking of any major Australian city – but it is never enough for some members of the council, some city traders, and a section of the body politic that simply won’t look at the facts about our car-centric transport system.

According to the 2016 census, Adelaide has the highest rate of people who drive to work – accounting for a huge 80 per cent of single-method trips. The national figure was 69 per cent.

Unsurprisingly, South Australia also has the highest proportion of people who are overweight and obese (just under 70 per cent) – well above the national average. The Heart Foundation, tellingly, opposed Khera’s motion.

The CBD is only an occasionally annoying place to get to by car because too many of us avoid public transport (all the more this pandemic year) and more active modes, cluttering the city streets and chewing up our vast expanses of car parking.

In short, Khera is trying to fix a problem by, in all likelihood, exacerbating the key factor that caused the problem in the first place.

The council’s motion, passed with the support of Team Adelaide-aligned members and opposed by the rest, could well make the CBD slightly less attractive for everyone.

His idea, stunningly adopted by the council, is to offer incentives to park and drive in Adelaide during a special month later in the year, all accompanied by a marketing campaign to encourage people to jump in their cars and drive to the CBD.

Khera even wanted to let cars drive in bus lanes – an idea that didn’t make the cut, in a welcome show of majority good sense.

He claims his motion is simply about attracting more people into the city to support struggling businesses, in the pandemic-induced economic downturn, and won’t be “anti-bike” or “anti-bus”, but the obvious reality is that more private vehicles in the CBD will make all other modes of transport less attractive. Buses will be slower; cyclists will feel less safe; pedestrians will have to wait longer to navigate the streets.

The other obvious reality is that any increase in the number of private vehicles on the road will make that mode of transport less attractive as well.

In a time of economic struggle, why wouldn’t the council spend the budget for “driver’s month” on a broader campaign to attract people into the city? One that, preferably, isn’t counter-productive and silly.

If the council wants to support the many struggling businesses in the city, as it clearly should, why waste its time, energy and political capital on something so obviously divisive and open to ridicule as this concept? Why not reduce costs to businesses instead of paying for banners promoting car travel, when car-centric Adelaide clearly doesn’t need the reminder?

[The overall proposal is uncosted, with banners or even corflutes likely to cost tens of thousands.]

You don’t have to be a greenie to know that this move is wrong-headed. Indeed, the distinctly conservative councillor Anne Moran opposed the motion, simply because, she said, it’s quite clearly a “dumb idea”.

“The red carpet is already rolled out to the car in Adelaide,” she told the council debate last night.

The world’s most attractive cities got that way, at least in part, by offering alternatives to driving, by actively encouraging many forms of transport, by making walking around the city streets more appealing, by taming traffic, by giving public transport options a higher priority than private vehicles.

The council’s motion, passed with the support of Team Adelaide-aligned members and opposed by the rest, could well make the CBD slightly less attractive for everyone.

It’s far from a sure thing, but imagine if the council actually manages to make “driver’s month” a runaway success?

Will the queues at Britannia Corner stretch to Portrush Road? Could they pull off the impossible and make peak traffic in North Terrace and King William Street even more ponderous? Will “driver’s month” match Adelaide 500 week for sheer annoyance on the roads?

If Khera and Team Adelaide want to make the city more appealing for drivers – and everyone else – they should use their numbers in Town Hall to get on with building long-stalled CBD cycling infrastructure and fight for better public transport to and from the city – as a start.

Adelaide’s car-focused approach doesn’t suit an environment in which we need to compete to attract dynamic, forward-thinking and creative people to live and work here. Driver’s month will literally advertise how old-fashioned and out-of-touch we are.

In the list of strange ideas adopted by the council over the years, this is surely among the most embarrassing.

David Washington is editor of InDaily.

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