Paving Over Perth

As expected there has been a diverse range of responses to the West Australian’s coverage of my calculations that Perth if it continued with its current approach would be spending huge sums of money on providing new parking spaces for our cars. Here is what the West published:

Kent Acott also followed up with this interesting short piece:

Some have tried to dismiss this as merely an anti-car argument but that is not what it is. Cars have their place but as we plan for a more liveable and sustainable future for Perth we need to make sure that we invest more in public transport, pedestrian amenity,  cycling lanes and other non-car options that we currently do. Cars will always play a big role in Perth they don’t need to dominate. And as I show they aren’t cheap either!

Below is the original article I sent into the West. I’d appreciate your feedback on all these ideas.

Paving Over Perth

If you were told Perth invests more money on new spaces to simply park our cars than we do investing in public transport would you believes it? It is true. New parking infrastructure alone could cost West Australians over a $100 billion over the next 25 years.

There is no doubt Perth is going through a period of extraordinary growth. The Australian Bureau of Statistics middle range projections for Perth’s population is that we will double in size from almost 2 million people now to be a city of around 4 million people within 25 years. In reality this might take a few years longer or even happen more quickly but either way Perth is growing up fast.

Perth is rapidly transitioning from a quiet town, that needed “State of Excitement” number plates to make us feel grown up, to a large international city. It is the infrastructure choices we make over the next few years that are going to define whether Perth remains ones of the most liveable cities in the world or not.

What is abundantly clear is that the car-focused transport choices of the last 50 years are going to result in not only a less liveable city but one that is going to be extremely expensive and economically inefficient.

Perth currently has one of the highest car ownership rates in the world and the highest level of car ownership in Australia with around 650 vehicles for every 1,000 people.

This means an extra 2 million people over next 25 years is going to bring with it an extra 1.3 million cars on Perth roads if current development patterns continue.

To put this number of cars in perspective, if we were to imagine these 1.3 million cars driving in single file at an average 200 cars per km per lane this would see 6,500km of cars –a continuous line of cars stretching from Perth to Cairns and beyond.

That is a lot of extra cars and they will need a lot of new, bigger roads to drive on.

But let’s leave the cost of building these new roads and the costs of the cars themselves to one side for the moment and look at an often hidden cost in our car-focused infrastructure choices – parking.

It would be conservative to assume that in Perth for every extra car we will also require three extra parking spaces – one at home, one at work and one other at places like shopping centres. This is the low figure. Professor Newman has written Perth currently has closer to five parking spaces per car.

So over the next 25 years if we do nothing different to today we will not only add 1.3 million new vehicles but also add at least 3.9 million extra parking spaces.

This is the equivalent to over 100sq km of space set aside solely for new parking. To put this in perspective this is the equivalent of paving over the entire suburbs of Mosman Park, Peppermint Grove, Claremont, Cottesloe, Nedlands, Subiaco, West Perth and Perth with new car parking bays- twice over!

So not only would this required parking likely result in a rather unpleasant, sprawled city but perhaps the most confronting part of it is the extraordinary cost that would be associated with delivering it.

Parking is not cheap to create. The average new parking space in Perth has land and construction costs of around $30,000 per bay. Underground or multi-story spaces can often cost far more than this. A recently proposed development in inner-city Fremantle estimated its combination of underground and multistorey car parking at $90,000 per bay.

When you multiply this cost of $30,000 per bay for new parking by the estimated 3.9 million extra car bays Perth will require, an astounding bill of $117,000,000,000 ($117 billion!) for new parking over the next 25 years confronts us as a city.

This is over $4 billion every year for the next 25-30 years for extra parking alone. This does not include the costs of cars, the cost of building and maintaining roads or even the cost of maintaining the parking bays themselves. This is just the land and construction cost of the extra parking bays that we will need to build.

This simple maths quickly shows that Perth’s current approach to planning based around an extremely high level of car ownership and associated urban sprawl is at the very least going to be a very expensive investment for West Australians.

It also starts to make the construction of new rail look remarkably affordable. In fact, it would be cheaper to build two MAX light rail line every year for the 25 years than build all this parking.

Business as usual is possible but it is both ridiculously expensive and inefficient.

Instead for a liveable future for Perth we instead need a major shift in investment priorities to focus on infrastructure such as high quality public transport linked with transit-orientated, mixed-use developments.   Rail transit can carry 10 to 20 times the people that a single lane of traffic can carry. And by building densely around stations people need 50% less cars, often not needing one at all. This is how other cities are managing to prevent their cities from being paved over for parking.

The inherent costs of the business as usual approach demonstrate not only the false economy of the Abbott Government’s “we only fund roads” approach to city building but also the potential merits of the Barnett Government’s proposed car tax/levy – as long as it was used primarily to fund new public transport investment. Smart, early investments in light rail and new train lines will actually save all West Australians money in the longer run.

The decisions we make on infrastructure investment today will have a massive impact on the kind of city we live in tomorrow. As The West’s series on Vancouver demonstrated a less liveable, largely car-dominated city does not have to be Perth’s inevitable future. We don’t have to pave over our future.

About Mayor of Fremantle Brad Pettitt's blog
City of Fremantle Mayor

One Response to Paving Over Perth

  1. Gary Clark says:

    The business as usual approach is quite scary. You make a great case for well planned public transport and high density residential development around transport hubs.
    I wonder if improved regional development would help distribute our population growth to other centres in the state and reduce the population pressure on the Perth metropolitan area. I doubt that this would solve the transport problem but it has the potential to slow the onset.
    Successive state governments have failed to develop major regional cities. Until Royalties for Regions came along there was only ad hoc investment to secure marginal seats.
    Our population distribution needs to look more like Queensland so that people have a choice of where they live rather than having to accept a second class standard of government service level if they live in the regions.

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