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Talking Point: Derwent harbours ideal solution to traffic woes - Hobart Mercury

No one denies Hobart’s traffic problems are getting worse.

Every week I have conversations with constituents frustrated by how difficult it is getting to work or taking kids to school in the morning and home at night.

But the fact is our great city will continue to grow. So we need to think about the Hobart we all want to live in.

Liveable cities have thought put into them about how they connect and layer transport networks over each other, and about the impact those networks have on the city.

Hobart’s transport network must put people first. This was one of the key points that renowned urban designer and architect Jan Gehl made when he delivered his report into Hobart’s public spaces way back in 2010.

He reiterated this to me in 2015 when I visited him in Copenhagen to discuss his acclaimed book on liveable cities.

Gehl has made people the focus of his liveable cities philosophy and Copenhagen, which he has helped transform with its cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, is a testament to his common sense.

About 45 per cent of the city’s population cycle or walk to work and it consistently ranks in the top one to three of the world’s most liveable cities.

Hobart City Council has made a good start building cycling infrastructure across our city and other councils such as Clarence have made similar decisions. Providing a safe environment for cyclists is a necessary precondition for encouraging its use. I hope more cycleways continue to be built because building the infrastructure creates the demand. As our city becomes more cycle-friendly, more people will ride into the city, just like building more roads will encourage more cars.

It is not only more bicycles that would make Hobart more liveable. The existing Metro bus network should be expanded with investment from government. Likewise, the Northern Suburbs Light Rail shows a lot of potential.

But it is our own unique geography as a city with the beautiful River Derwent at our doorstep that creates an incredible chance. The Derwent River Ferry Service championed by Incat’s Bob Clifford is an idea that will ease Hobart’s congestion as well as create jobs.

We are so fortunate in Hobart to have one of the world’s best ferry builders based here and willing to help.

Clifford has proposed that Incat build ferries and lease them to operators, with the number of routes and ferries expanding over time. Initially there might be a Howrah to city route, while Northern Suburbs and Blackmans Bay routes would expand the network.

Because Incat has indicated it would provide the ferries, the initial infrastructure costs for the project are relatively minimal — limited to ferry terminals at Constitution Dock and Bellerive where much of the infrastructure is already in place.

The cost should be comparable to a single upgrade project on the Brooker Highway.

As the ferry network expands, an express service running up and down the river every day could cut travel time down to as little as 10 minutes, without the hassle or cost of city parking, as well as entirely foreseeable delays from roadworks, school going back, or bad weather.

The people of Hobart will have more time to spend with family, to enjoy the city, or to soak up the views as they travel along the river.

A ferry service would lessen pressure on the Tasman Bridge by providing another connection between the Eastern Shore and the city.

The alternative to this bold idea is to continue with the same old expansion of road networks, prioritising cars in front of people.

That is a road to nowhere. It will condemn us to depend on continual, expensive road upgrades and widenings, for minimal gains and maximum pollution. More roads into the city will put more pressure on car parks, while upgrading major roads will mean increased pressure on smaller roads.

The easier we try to make it for cars to access our city, which has finite space and is already chock-a-block, the more cars will come, until we run out of roads, or the space and money to build them.

Hobart needs a strategy with solutions that put people, and our city, first. A ferry service on the Derwent would be an iconic way to start.

Lisa Singh is a Labor senator for Tasmania who lives in Hobart.