One of the first things a visitor to Canberra notices is the city's amazing road network; it puts every other Australian capital to shame and contributes to the fact our so-called peak hours rarely last more than 30 minutes.
Sydneysiders and Melburnians are usually astounded to learn that at all but the very busiest times of the day it is possible to travel from one side of the city to the other in half an hour.
Even the National Roads and Motorists Association concedes that, with some exceptions, roads in the ACT are well looked after.
The association's ACT and Southern Region director Alan Evans said the major issues facing ACT motorists were on roads such as the Barton and the Kings highways leading into the territory, not so much the roads within our borders.
''Parts of Canberra have good roads; other parts of Canberra don't,'' he said.
Our billion-dollar transport infrastructure comes with its own pluses and minuses. The biggest plus is that in addition to saving you time and money, Canberra's parkways, highways, roundabouts and overpasses can actually save your life.
The downside is we seem to becoming more and more like Los Angeles. While you can drive everywhere and anywhere, it is getting harder and harder to find a park.
While we are still some way away from Los Angeles's parking robots that can issue you with a $90 infringement notice, the fact the debate over paid parking in the Parliamentary Triangle went ballistic almost as soon as the subject came up, indicates we may not be that far off.
When your roads minister's preferred mode of transport is a Dutch-style bicycle, who knows what the future will bring? Greens MP Shane Rattenbury is responsible for Territory and Municipal Services (TAMS). He wants to reduce our carbon footprint by making cycling and public transport more attractive and to ramp up social equity by eliminating the need for that second car that can cost a family $11,000 a year.
He has no issues with charging for parking in the triangle, saying the Greens have always seen this as a question of fairness. ''The rest of Canberra pays for parking and it's reasonable to have a cost in the Parliamentary Triangle as well,'' he said. ''Parking does need to be priced; parking and car use hide enormous costs for the city and affects the way it develops.''
Mr Rattenbury said there was a limit to what could be done in the short term because of past planning decisions and the love affair Canberrans have had with the horseless carriage since the 1920s but said projects such as the planned light rail network were essential alternatives that would pay for themselves over time.
''Northbourne Avenue is already congested,'' he said. ''Its peak hour speed is 20km/h and you can't make it any wider without knocking a lot of buildings down. The traditional benefit-cost ratio used for light rail is 2.34; for every dollar you spend you get $2.34 back. That's good value in anybody's language.''
Although he is the ultimate ''go-to guy'' for the $288 million Majura Parkway development, Canberra's most ambitious piece of road building in years, Mr Rattenbury said more and bigger roads were not a truly long-term answer to Canberra's future transport needs when scenarios such as peak oil are considered. Peak oil is based on the premise that oil is a finite resource and there will come a day when annual production begins to fall.
Ambulance drivers and paramedics, meanwhile, love the territory's well developed and generally uncongested roads. These give Canberrans the best emergency response times in the nation (according to the 2013 Report on Government Services).
''In 2011-2012 the ACT Ambulance Service responded to 50 per cent of emergency incidents in 9.3 minutes and 90 per cent within 14.8 minutes,'' an ambulance service spokesman said. ''For critically ill patients the response time and the time to hospital is one of the [most] important factors in maximising survival and/or recovery.''
The medical experts agree. ''There is no doubt our ambulance response times for crashes in the ACT are good compared to Sydney,'' Canberra Hospital emergency department staff specialist Professor Drew Richardson said.
''The ACT does have an excellent road system for its population size and, because of our geography, has few rural roads per head.''
Professor Richardson said when accidents did occur they were likely to be less life threatening than in other cities where there are fewer divided roads. ''Statistically road trauma occurring inside the ACT is significantly less severe than in other capital cities,'' he said. ''Clinically in the emergency department we do not see much difference because of our large catchment area which includes more than just the locals.''
The other safety benefit of the ACT's excellent road system is that the territory has had the lowest number of road deaths per capita of any Australian state or territory for many years. In 2010, 15 fatal accidents caused 18 road deaths in the ACT, resulting in 5.02 deaths per 100,000 people. The Northern Territory, despite having only 211,945 people compared to the ACT's 357,222, recorded 46 fatal accidents in which 49 people died.
This statistic appears even more disproportionate given that annual car mileage per capita here was 8325 compared to 5596 in the Northern Territory.
Road quality, population density and the quality of the vehicle fleet are all likely to contribute to the difference between the two territories. Canberrans, with an average weekly household income of $2325 in 2009-10 compared to the Australian average of $1832, have more disposable income to invest in a set of classy wheels. This is reflected in a high level of car ownership. The ACT has 1.7 people per car compared to 2.5 people per car in the Northern Territory.
Canberra cars are also significantly newer than those in many other parts of the country with an average age of nine to 10 years. This compares to an average of 12 years in Tasmania and 11 years in South Australia.
Where Canberrans lose out is in the cost of keeping cars registered and insured. A territory resident pays $166.50 per annum more to register and take out compulsory third-party insurance on a large car such as a Falcon, Commodore, Camry or Mazda 6 than a Queanbeyan resident would pay for the same vehicle. The difference is even greater for a medium-sized car such as a Toyota Corolla or Mazda 3 which costs $169.75 more for registration and CTP here than across the border.
While the actual registration cost is slightly lower in the ACT, the cost of compulsory third-party insurance is significantly higher even though territory roads are demonstrably safer.
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