Trains and Trees not Cars and Roads

An open letter to the City of Melville, and the Governments of Western Australia and Australia in response to plans to build a freeway through the Beeliar wetlands.

I moved to Perth from Toronto, Canada — a city with a great public transport system. When I lived in Toronto, I didn’t need a car because I could take public transit everywhere. To do my bit to fight climate change and environmental destruction, I have lived car-free in Perth for 7 years, instead choosing to carpool, take public transport or bike.

I agree there is a serious congestion problem in Melville and the surrounding suburbs. It does effect me negatively and I want something done about it. However, this does not mean I support a new highway through an extremely environmentally sensitive, irreplaceable and critically important wetland. Unfortunately, the City of Melville survey on the issue, and indeed federal and state governments’ arguments for the plan to build a new highway which the survey appears to support, suggest that the only solution to the congestion problem is more roads.

However, researchers have already proven that building more roads actually increases traffic. (Build more roads, people drive more cars, congestion increases… repeat.)  Thus, the real solution here is not more roads, but better mass transit.

I take the 99 bus along South street, one of the streets the new highway will supposedly ease congestion on. The bus never comes on time, or comes so early that I miss it. Sometimes the bus is stuck in traffic. I lectured for 5 years at Curtin University in Bentley. It took me nearly 2 hours to get to work sometimes, partially because of traffic, but largely because of an inefficient bus service combined with no train option between where I live and where I work. I would often be late for work or meetings because of the bus. But now, after 7 years of struggling to be car free, I have made the unhappy decision buy a hybrid car simply to avoid being the constant embarrassment and unprofessionalism that comes with showing up late to everything. I’ll soon be in another single-occupant car to that will increase congestion.

Owning a car isn’t what I want, but its the choice that Perth’s infrastructure has forced me to make. Just like me, other people will make this decision. Why take the bus when, quite frankly, the bus sucks? It’s much easier and more appealing to drive down a beautiful new freeway. Until everyone starts doing the same thing… then its time to build another freeway. You want  a real, sustainable solution to congestion? Build more public transport.

So, instead of building this freeway, why not build a light rail system down the middle of a major road. Or, extend the train line? Or increase bus service?

If we want Perth to be a world class city, we need to start acting like one. World class cities  don’t destroy wetlands to build roads. They build mass transit and preserve parks and nature reserves.


Kate Raynes-Goldie, PhD

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