Planning expert hits out at car obsession

Brent Toderian. Picture: Sharon Smith/The West Australian

Perth is feeding its addiction to cars by spending more on roads, according to international planning consultant Brent Toderian.

On his first visit to Perth this week, Mr Toderian said the city was at the crossroads and needed to choose between a future of continued car dependence or a change towards a greater emphasis on walking, cycling and public transport.

"It's not too late to change but the longer you wait, the further down the wrong path you go, the harder it will be for you," said Mr Toderian, who was Vancouver's chief planner for six years.

"The future isn't inevitable, it's a choice."

Mr Toderian said Perth's car addiction was like a wealthy addict who was rich enough to hide the implications of his addiction.

"But the consequences - like congestion and the lack of transport options - can't be hidden for ever and are already showing through," he said.

"The good news is that Perth has the economic ability to build the alternatives - you just need to reprioritise your money.

"If you put much more of that money into walking, cycling and public transport, you can break your addiction, be more successful in addressing congestion and move more people with less money and less space.

"That's what smart cities have shown around the world and Perth can learn from that."

In a series of articles earlier this year, _The West Australian _compared the transport systems of Perth and Vancouver, two similarly aged cities with a similar population.

It found Vancouver had not built a new freeway in more than 50 years and, instead, had developed a public transport system that was the envy of the world.

And while WA continues to commit billions of dollars to new road projects, Vancouver's 30-year transport vision does not include a single kilometre of new asphalt.

"Saying no to the freeways in the late 1960s and early 1970s was very likely the most important decision earlier generations of Vancouver leaders ever made," Mr Toderian said at the time.

"Since then we've built a huge amount of housing downtown, mixed-use and more compact communities and a much more walkable, public transport-friendly and increasingly livable city.

"It made us green, healthy and economically successful."

During his six-day visit to Perth, _The Weekend West _ took Mr Toderian to key Perth suburbs to give him a first-hand insight into the city's approach to transport and urban design.

After being shown work on the $2 billion WA Gateway project in Belmont, Mr Toderian said he was staggered by the amount of land and money being set aside to accommodate Perth's addiction to car travel.

"You could justify the expense and the space if these projects worked - but the overwhelming evidence is that these projects never work," he said.

"The more roads you build, the more people drive."

Mr Toderian, who walks, takes public transport and rides his bike and does not drive a car in Vancouver, said he would like to ride his bike around Perth but he was not encouraged by the lack of safe cycling infrastructure.

He described Great Eastern Highway in Midland as a "car sewer" that made no provision for other ways of getting around.

Mr Toderian said the coloured paint on Beaufort Street was "an interesting experiment in slowing down car traffic" and that more density was needed in suburbs such as Joondalup to create "body heat and vitality" to justify the public transport infrastructure.