Opinion: Imagine a Ballarat CBD without cars

Imagine a Ballarat CBD without cars

The first autonomous vehicles are already upon us such as this taxi service in Singapore. They are one factor that will change cities as surely as the original cars did.

The first autonomous vehicles are already upon us such as this taxi service in Singapore. They are one factor that will change cities as surely as the original cars did.

We are constantly hearing the concerns about carparking issues within our CBD.  Yet our members envision a CBD with far less cars.  I have been giving thought to the fertile discussions regarding the vision for a “car free” Ballarat CBD.

Many of the world’s finest and most vibrant heritage city centres are “car free” with a thriving mix of tourism, recreation, commercial and civic activity attracting throngs of locals and visitors alike.  

For many in our community, however, the vision of a “car free” Ballarat CBD is a truly challenging concept given the strong reaction to the suggestion of even minor changes to existing traffic and parking conditions in and around the heart of our city.

Being able to drive your car to get to and from work, go shopping, and undertake recreation and other activities in the CBD is a firmly entrenched practice for many people in Ballarat. With that current mentality, I sense that people who work in, have businesses in, or own property in the CBD feel they have much to lose when there is talk of closing streets to cars or reducing the amount of car parking in the CBD.

I think that a vision needs to be developed for moving towards a car free CBD in a such way that it allays people’s concerns and actually paints a picture for all key stakeholders of a CBD that is better without cars.

For people to feel comfortable about such a transition, it would be prudent for the move towards the CBD becoming free of cars to be undertaken in stages.

Maybe the first phase on that journey is to become car “less” rather than car “free”; that is, how can we reduce our car dependency as a community? Some ideas and strategies that have worked for other cities that have successfully moved towards becoming car free are as follows:

Smart parking – making better use of the parking capacity that already exists as opposed to creating more. Maybe the CBD could manage with less but better utilised parking.

 Market price – we are all familiar with the price-elasticity-of-demand curve. Progressively increasing the cost of public street parking will reduce demand and motorists will seek other alternatives.

Enforcement – stringently enforcing parking restrictions via technology would also increase efficiency in the use of existing capacity and grant control to authorities to decisively shape parking-use patterns.

Off-street parking – it is still parking, but it’s better to have cars off rather than on the street and their absence could free up the street space for the creation of gentler streetscapes. A commercial approach to parking could create a genuine market for car parking, which would clearly become a luxury given the premium prices that would be charged.

One-way streets –reducing the capacity of some streets to have only one lane for cars would free up space that could be used for dedicated bike lanes and public transport, and/or more pedestrian and recreational open space and alfresco dining.

Labyrinthine streets – streets could be configured like labyrinths so that traffic could be steered, re-directed, or even discouraged from entering certain areas, which is a common practice in many capital cities. Perhaps the “all directions at all times” layout of our CBD streets could be progressively reconfigured as a means of reducing the free-and-easy car culture that pervades our city. Technology would still naturally be used to enable police, emergency services and commercial deliveries to easily navigate a redesigned street layout.

Reduced speed limits – motorists would naturally avoid using streets with low speed limits unnecessarily.

Divert heavy trucks away from the CBD – regulations should be introduced which prohibit heavy truck traffic from using the CBD as a thoroughfare through Ballarat.

Public transport – maybe there should be genuine park-and-ride solutions for the CBD.                         

We need to get cars not only off the city streets but also out of clogged residential streets that are close to the city fringes. There are large tracts of public land in all the major directions around the CBD that could be converted for this purpose. Mass-parking lots are not attractive, of course, but they might help with the transition while we still have large populations living in the suburbs who are primarily car dependent.·        

 Streetscape upgrades – like in Main Road, Bakery Hill, many streets could have a reduced car presence and progressively gain public favour – the “Occupy Sturt Street Movement”!

 Driverless cars (including taxis) and public shuttles – the impact of these is yet to be felt but it is a real future that is coming and is likely to reduce the need for cars to “park” in the CBD as such. These will also be safer and more environmentally friendly (fewer car accidents and less air pollution).

  Driverless drones – air space could be the “streets” of the future, anyway. Where will they “land”? Maybe roof space will become available at a premium price for this purpose?

More people living in the CBD – the more attractive the CBD environment becomes, the greater the number of people who will want to live there as a lifestyle choice, which will gradually become self-perpetuating (think of Melbourne 3000). The better the environment, the more people will pay to live there, which would make new CBD residential projects become commercially viable for the first time.

Many Ballarat people would no doubt consider visions of driverless shuttles and drones operating in our CBD as science fiction based on the current reality. However, to have a fully revitalised CBD that is the vibrant heart of the city, we eventually need to have a car-free city centre, and to move towards achieving that goal, we should immediately introduce transitionary measures that start to reduce the number of vehicles entering the Ballarat CBD to move our city towards a “car less” city.

Melanie Robertson is CEO of the Committee for Ballarat