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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

MyWay or the highway?

To celebrate Canberra’s new light rail, Canberra Weekly journalists Libby Kimber and Denholm Samaras “raced” between Civic Library and Gungahlin Library at evening and morning peak hours to see whether car or tram reigned supreme.

With Libby taking her car, Denholm taking the tram, and photographer Kerrie Brewer going along for the ride, competitive spirits were high when the CW team assembled at Civic Square.

In the car

I had a feeling the car wouldn’t stand a chance against the tram. After all, we’ve heard a lot about the congestion issues facing northsiders.

Surprisingly, the trip up Northbourne in the afternoon traffic was relatively painless. With all lanes now open, traffic was flowing freely, even with the light rail taking priority at intersections.

Before I knew it I was turning onto Barton Highway and exiting onto Gungahlin Drive. At this point I had become separated from the light rail route, with no idea if I was ahead or behind. 

After a patch of heavy traffic turning onto The Valley Avenue in Gungahlin, I parked at Gungahlin College and made my way towards the library. When I saw Kerrie waiting alone, I knew it was a win for the automotive industry. Denholm joined us shortly afterwards, where we took a series of embarrassing pictures documenting the experiment.

Back at it again, this time in the morning (and in reverse), we set off for the city.

It appears that completion of the light rail has significantly improved the great Gungahlin commute; I encountered very little traffic. I did however nearly get hit by another car reversing into an intersection, and the usual merging of Clunies Ross Street into Parkes Way dented my travel time.

Dreading finding a park, (in the ‘Mooseheads carpark’, as it’s affectionately known) I was surprisingly greeted by a sea of vacant spots. I paid for parking (eyes watering at $15.80 for four hours), and made my way towards the library, where I was victorious once more.

While waiting I was nearly swooped by a crow, and caught mid-selfie by an MLA; karma for not using more sustainable transport.

To conclude, this experiment definitively proves that the car is faster than light rail* in peak hour, not factoring in parking, or having to drive yourself.

*NB: The only thing “definitively proved” is that two Canberra Weekly journalists had enough time to race each other across the nation’s capital, twice.

Chariot: 2003 Ford Fiesta

Route: PM: from Civic to Gungahlin via Northbourne Avenue, Barton Highway and Gungahlin Drive (13.5km). AM: from Gungahlin to Civic via Gungahlin Drive and Parkes Way (19.1km).

Travel time: PM: 30 mins 45 secs. AM: 32 mins 16 secs.

On the tram

I felt quietly optimistic as we counted down the minutes to knock-off time.

Maybe it was the longstanding impression I have of Northbourne Avenue resembling a carpark, or maybe it was the promise of a 24-minute end-to-end trip that did the trick.

Regardless, the second the clock hit 5pm we shook hands and went on our merry ways.

I approached the Alinga Street station without breaking my stride to find an LRV (light rail vehicle) awaiting me. I’m not the most spiritual man, but at this point I thought the heavens were aligning for a public transport victory.

In under a minute we’re off and rolling. My headphones are in and I’m staring out the pristine windows, enjoying an occasional glimpse at the sublime autumn sunset unfolding before me.

Despite the niceties, I’m suddenly thudded back to reality. Passing Havelock House toward the Elouera Street station, I recognise Libby’s car in traffic.

We slowed down for the stop as Libby accelerated for the green light, and in that moment I realised, with a dozen stops ahead of me and no more roadworks before her, the race was already won.

I departed the LRV and approached Gungahlin Library to see Libby and Kerrie awaiting my arrival.

But this result left us with more questions than answers. Is Denholm a slow coach? Was Libby speeding? But the one that really stuck with us was what about the morning commute into Civic?

We couldn’t rest until we knew. Departing Gungahlin Library at 8.35am, I found my way to Civic Library to once again be met by Libby. Seeing as I got on the tram 3 minutes before departure this time, I’m not too surprised.

Weighing up the smooth, albeit slightly slower ride in exchange for the cost of parking and hassle of driving, I’d say it’s a few minutes well spent.

Chariot: CAF Urbos 3 LRV

Route: Northbourne Avenue and Flemington Road.

Travel time: PM: 34 mins 50 secs. AM: 37 mins 45 secs.

Libby Kimber & Denholm Samaras

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