Opinion

We shouldn't be stuck on the highway to hell

John Hanscombe
December 4 2023 - 12:00pm

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They'll be singing in their cars, he said all those years ago. "Every day motorists will be rejoicing."

Well, eight years later, they're not singing, they're cursing. And their cars are not moving, as the then short-lived Prime Minister promised. They're standing still in the worst traffic jams seen in a decade.

The occasion in 2015 was the turning of the sod on Sydney's vast WestConnex project. Taking a cue from the shirt-fronting Oxford Blue, Tony Abbott, was NSW's truculent Roads Minister Duncan Gay. "This is day one of thousands of people cheering in their cars, giving us the high five, saying 'good on you, you're finally into it, you're finally doing something'," he said. "It's not lefty trendies in the inner suburbs saying 'no, we don't want something that will actually help them'."

Dunc, I have news for you. There's no cheering and no high fives from motorists trying to get through the underground spaghetti junction called the Rozelle Interchange, supposedly the hub of the WestConnex system. Only middle fingers raised in fury and thumbs down in frustration. Even Rebel Wilson has poured scorn on it after being caught in the bottleneck.

Those lefty trendies, who remember Gay for wanting to rip up segregated bike lanes, are smugly saying to themselves, "we told you it wouldn't work."

And they're not the only ones. One transport expert makes the point that trying to shoehorn a motorway into the middle of a city was never going to work. He told the previous NSW government this but it didn't want to listen. Even the NRMA aired concerns about the design of the interchange, which were ignored.

It gets worse.

When the interchange faced its first weekday morning peak and the roads leading to it ground to a halt, motorists were criticised by the transport bureaucrats for being confused by utterly confusing signs - including one on the roadway which read "Buses expected", when it should have been "Buses excepted".

Then it emerged three lanes were designed to merge into one to get on to the Anzac Bridge into the city.

Chief operations officer of Transport for NSW Howard Collins is urging people who live near the disaster zone to take different routes into the city. Say what? Billions have been paid for this mess and you're telling locals to avoid it? To return to those roads they've learned to avoid because they, too, are hopelessly congested?

The world is full of armchair road engineers and, watching from afar the Rozelle Interchange debacle, I'm now struggling not to become one of them. But common sense tells me that the more you try to bend cities to accommodate cars, the more unliveable they become. Take cars out of the picture and the quality of life improves immeasurably. You only walk up George Street in the heart of the city to see that.

Once a smoky thoroughfare full of cars and angry buses choking pedestrians with their exhaust fumes, it's now a pleasant walkway served by light rail. But it could be even better.

The bloke who recommended handing over Sydney's busiest street to people, Danish architect Jan Gehl, wants to see cars banned from crossing George Street, so pedestrians don't have to wait at traffic lights. In fact, he'd prefer all cars except ride-share vehicles kept out of the centre of the city.

Abbott and Gay are now distant political memories but their enthusiasm for an expensive infrastructure project and their dismissal of those who questioned it look a little silly now. Unless, of course, you're caught in the gridlock. Then they look idiotic.

Peter Broelman's editorial cartoon for Monday, December 4, 2023.
Peter Broelman's editorial cartoon for Monday, December 4, 2023.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Should less be spent on urban motorways and more on public transport? Cars or people - which should come first when planning our cities? Do you avoid cities altogether because of their traffic congestion? Email us: echidna@theechidna.com.au

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THEY SAID IT: "Australia has an economic interest in ensuring our cities have 21st century urban rail transport to reduce traffic congestion." - Anthony Albanese

YOU SAID IT: After the elite Newington College announced its plans to go co-ed, it faced a backlash from parents and old boys, prompting Garry to ask why we persist in throwing taxpayers' money at private schools.

"For many years I lived less than a block away from Newington," writes Joanna. "In the crowded suburbs of Stanmore/Enmore, the multiple luxuriant ovals of Newington provide the only extended slab of green. After it realised that plebs walking past could see the lads playing at their tennis courts the school planted dense cypress trees to block the view. When Newington's heated swimming pool opened, their boys were told they could access it in school holidays and invite their non-Newington friends to join them. My twins were invited by a friend they had known since preschool. As they were getting into the pool my daughter was approached by an outraged teacher and ordered out - the school had not imagined that their primary school boys may have friends who were girls. Her friend was reprimanded for his audacity."

Maggie writes: "Having spent the first half of my high school years in a co-ed school and then experiencing the benefit of a girls-only school, I formed the opinion that all girls should go to girls' schools and all boys should go to co-ed schools."

"At the very most, private school students should receive the same government support as state school students, " writes Geoff. "It was either at the time this rort was introduced or when the possibility of losing the funding was being contemplated, that the private schools, particularly the Catholic schools, threatened to close, making it impossible for the state to accommodate the resulting influx. And this specious threat worked! Either that or there was a majority of private school educated members of Parliament."

"My daughter spent five years at a private girls' high school, with her fees paid by two hard-working middle class parents," writes Brian. "Why? Because when in her final year of primary school she was selected to participate in a high achievers program at the nearby co-ed state high school. On her first and second day there she was confronted by boys telling her they wanted to f--- her. Sorry, Garry, but I'm with Tom Hanks on this one."

Paul writes: "Quite a rant from Garry! My own secondary education was equally split between an all boys grammar school and a co-ed public high school. They were quite different but I enjoyed both. Well, as much as anyone actually enjoys school. If we support personal freedom and a free market, why don't we just get to choose where our children go? Our choice. Public or private? Same sex, or co-ed? As to the costs. If private schools were totally abolished, what extra financial burden would be placed on us? As long as they are not subsidised at a higher per capita rate than public."

"Please don't forget that boarding school is not only a home away from home for elitists," writes Wendy. "It's also the only viable option for many remote, rural and regional kids to get a secondary education that also lets them take part in sports, musical and social endeavours. In our isolated community where social gatherings happen every couple of months at best, our youngster was often the only one under 40. He's now at a secondary co-ed boarding school. He has also been at least part of the reason for a letter from school reminding all of the haircut policy. No detention yet! Our girls went to a same-sex boarding school (along with some of the Yalari scholarship recipients), not because it was same-sex, but because we felt it was the best option at the time."

Graham writes: "I am continually incensed by the largesse squandered by federal governments on the Great Private Snob schools at the expense of public education, while the Smith Family is continually advertising for sponsors to provide underprivileged kids with their basic schooling needs. The GPS's fee structures are centred around the educational snobbery of the boatered little horrors' parents, nothing else, and are aimed at excluding the 'riff-raff' from being a corrupting influence. Rarely if ever is the money spent on real educational needs, it just gets lavished on extra non-curricular activities such as sports or auditoria, unlike the parochials who spend the money wisely. It's way past time to stop the corruption, because that's what it is!"

"No argument here, Garry," writes Bruce. "After decades of teaching in both the public and private schools in and around the ACT, private schools are a waste of money; even given they're better resourced. I don't believe they should be given any public money; if parents want something other than what's on offer, they pay for it all. This idea of being gifted money for what would have been spent on the child in the public system is ridiculous; the way it is calculated is corrupt. And don't believe that Newington is going, and Boys Grammar in Canberra has gone, coed for educational benefits; it's all about money and survival. After spending time teaching in a private school I'm always confident that right wing conservative political support is alive and well. And in my experience, it's been a while since a private school has enforced the hair policy, especially if the child is from a high profile family; the hypocrisy is mind-numbing."

John Hanscombe

John Hanscombe

National reporter, Australian Community Media

Four decades in the media, working in print and television. Formerly editor of the South Coast Register and Milton Ulladulla Times. Based on the South Coast of NSW.

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