Don't be intimidated by the Ballarat Integrated Transport Plan - it's actually pretty interesting reading.
While public consultation on the draft document has closed, the survey and interactive map is open until July 5 for residents to have their say on how we'll be getting around the city into the future.
The City of Ballarat's draft plan is far-reaching, touching on everything from footpaths to air freight, from parking on your street to advocating for the entire region.
There's flashy ideas like trackless trams, and park-and-ride zones, but the focus is on understanding how we get around now, why we do it, and what can be improved.
Think about the bus network - do you know where your closest bus stop is? What bus stops there - where is it going?
In 2016, data indicated just 451 people said they regularly take a public bus in Ballarat to work, less than 1 per cent of the population.
Council isn't in charge of the buses - that's Public Transport Victoria's job - but we know there'll be a full review of the network once the new bus interchange is built at the train station.
Council's big transport plan instead focuses on the things it does have control over, and as mayor Ben Taylor said, how it can improve the whole system.
There's been a number of plans in the past, including for pedestrians, the Ballarat Cycling Action Plan, and a number of studies of the passenger and freight rail networks.
The integrated plan aims to bring them all together, and make sure the policies become part of everyday planning decisions council makes.
An interesting idea in the draft document is opportunity areas for activity hubs - in English, basically it's places where people want to go and do stuff.
Think the Delacombe Town Centre for shopping, Mars Stadium for big events, and one day, the Ballarat West Employment Zone for workers.
The data is showing people want more options to get to these places, which leads to the opportunity part, where more infrastructure could be built to make that happen, from direct bus routes, shuttles, or perhaps new stations in the far future.
When you're thinking through these ideas, you have to keep a bunch of plates spinning - in a perfect world, you'd have flat footpaths, with shade and benches; fully separated bike paths protecting riders from cars; bus routes that get you to where you want to go instead of meandering through suburbs on the way to the station; and probably more parking on a lot of streets.
In reality, translating that for Ballarat has issues - it's cold and people likely prefer driving sometimes, suburbs are expanding rapidly outwards from the CBD, and our beautiful bluestone gutters make safer footpaths and more parking hard to install in some parts of the city.
Our growth is a challenge in itself - the document states "low population densities make rapid transit challenging to justify - current population densities in residential areas is between 3 and 13 people per hectare. Densities around activity centres need to be closer to 35 people and jobs per hectare, or about 10,000 residents and jobs within a 10-minute walking catchment to achieve maximum benefit".
The document focuses on six key points - overhauling the bus network, advocating for connection upgrades, fast rail to Melbourne, creating accessible and safe walking and cycling routes, piloting new opportunities, and supporting regional advocacy.
A number of experts have contributed their views on the draft document, helping council to shape its policy moving forward.
The Public Transport Users Association's Ballarat convenor, Ben Lever, said those six priorities are a good place to start.
"Cars will always play a large role in how people get around Ballarat, but by shifting the emphasis away from cars a bit and towards public and active transport, we can make for a much more pleasant and sustainable transport network for everyone," he said in a statement.
"We want to see a transport network in Ballarat where people have more choice in how to travel, rather than being effectively forced to drive as many are now."
He predicted buses will play a much more important role in the future.
"I constantly get feedback from people in the community that they'd like to use the buses for at least some trips, but they can't because the network just doesn't meet their needs at the moment," he said.
"If we can start moving towards a network that's direct, fast, and frequent, it will become a lot more useful to a lot more people. It's likely that the completion of the bus interchange at Ballarat Station, and the introduction of more frequent train services, will both happen later this year - so it's an ideal time to conduct this kind of review."
Independent transport advocate Nick Beale agreed - he said the plan should go further, and push for bus lanes for high-frequency express routes, such as between the CBD and Buninyong via Federation University.
Rail infrastructure should be focused on Ballarat's growing west he said, instead of a proposed third station at Warrenheip near the Geelong line juncture.
"Warrenheip simply does not add up, you can see there's absolutely no growth in Warrenheip - I would prefer to see a further station well beyond Wendouree station to cater for the new suburbs, whether that's in the north, west, or even south to some degree," he said.
The consultation period for the draft plan was also far too short, he added.
Reading submissions from experts, agencies, advocates, and the public, it's clear there are several common ideas.
Safer cycling infrastructure is highly desirable, as the recent BikeSpot study revealed.
Mr Lever said the coronavirus crisis showed people wanted to get on their bikes for recreation.
"The Integrated Transport Plan includes a pretty comprehensive cycling network, so the legwork is done - it's very much "shovel-ready", and can be built much more quickly and cheaply than big infrastructure projects like railway lines. It's exactly the kind of stimulus we need as we emerge from COVID-19," he said.
"We've seen a lot of other cities around Australia and the world use "pop-up" bike paths and walking space, often with something as simple as hay bales as a temporary barrier. Council should consider doing something like this ASAP, and then progressively working to replace the pop-up lanes with something more permanent over the next few years."
Several other groups, including the Committee for Ballarat and the Ballarat Bicycle Users Group, have also advocated for this active transport infrastructure recently.
Key intersections identified on the interactive map as troublespots include the Creswick Road roundabout at Doveton and Webster streets, the Main Road and York Street roundabout, and the Warrenheip entrance to the city.
The state government committed $61 million to make a set of intersections across town safer and reduce congestion - work is already underway at some, including in Sebastopol and at the Delacombe Town Centre.
The Department of Transport's western Victoria regional director Michael Bailey said in a statement the state government will continue to invest in the city.
"Ballarat is one of the fastest-growing cities in Victoria, and we need to make sure that our transport network is keeping pace with that growth - that's why we're delivering important projects such as the $60.8 million Keeping Ballarat Moving package, the Ballarat Safer Cycling Connections program and the Ballarat Line Upgrade," he said.
"We'll continue to work in partnership with the City of Ballarat to keep the local community connected, whether they're driving, riding a bike, walking or catching public transport."
It's understood more peak hour trains will service Ballarat when the Ballarat Line Upgrade is fully operational, in a new timetable connected to the bus network review.
Cr Taylor said council's job will be to continue its advocacy and make sure the plan gets it right - not only for the bus network, but for badly-needed road upgrades like the Ballarat Link Road project in the city's west.
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"We're still car-dependent, we have to be realistic - but we need to realise as we're growing some intersections will become more of a pressure point, so we need to look at the road network, and what intersections need to be updated," he said.
"Cars are like water, they go the shortest possible route to get to where they want to go."
The integrated plan should be a document council consults regularly when it is approved before the end of the year, he added.
There are still a number of challenges.
"It's our role to advocate and make sure we have a good network - a lot of people are saying the bus network is not working in relation to how it connects to the city and other areas," he said.
"Buses don't work in the city to connect to the railway station, they should service our community to move around the city, and we need to advocate strongly for that.
"20 years from now, we might need to look at four railway stations, and in 30 we might need five - we need to at least have them on the agenda so we can start having those conversation with government as we're changing as a city.
"What's within our responsibility is making sure we have a really good set of connections with our road network, and cycling network."
The draft document is available on the City of Ballarat's MySay website, as well as the survey and interactive map.
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