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Traffic congestion - fouling our nest

By Tristan Peach - posted Wednesday, 31 August 2005

When speaking of Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen's reign as premier, Brisbane Lord Mayor Campbell Newman lamented that although Joh had built infrastructure to make Brisbane a modern city, it came at a cost, as many of Brisbane's heritage buildings were demolished in the process.

But if Newman proceeds with the North-South Bypass Tunnel (NSBT) project, then in 20 years we will lament the fact that although he built a big tunnel he sacrificed something fundamental to our survival - fresh air.

By encouraging trends of increasing car use, Brisbane's air will be poisoned and our city will became one of the most polluted in the world.


These are not fantastical predictions.

In 2001, 259,000 (or 61 per cent of Brisbane city residents) drove to work each day, and the NSBT is designed to accommodate, not change, this car dependence. Yet there is a huge body of evidence to suggest that car-dependent cities suffer from poor air quality. Each car on the road emits chemicals, gases and particles which contribute to the greenhouse effect, increased photochemical smog, more respiratory diseases and reduced air quality.

In southeast Queensland, the region which includes Brisbane and surrounding cities, car dependence already has huge impacts on air quality. Queensland Government statistics show that in 2000, motor vehicles (of which cars are the majority) emitted 7,391 tonnes (or 45 per cent of the total) benzene, toluene and xylene emissions, while industry was responsible for only 22 per cent. These chemicals are also found in paints, pesticides and cigarettes, and have serious health effects, even at low concentrations.

Cars also emitted 2,250 tonnes (or 9 per cent of total) of fine particle emissions. The particles in car exhaust fumes are like those present in smoke from bushfires and industry and can cause cardiopulmonary disease and lung cancer. Cars were also responsible for 62 per cent (60,000 tonnes) of nitrogen oxide and 22 per cent (83,167 tonnes) of volatile organic compound emissions.

These chemicals react with sunlight to cause ozone, which can reduce lung function, aggravate pre-existing diseases such as asthma and contribute to premature mortality. A national study by the Australian Bureau of Transport and Regional Economics quantifies the impact motor vehicle pollution can have on our health. The study estimates that in 2000, motor vehicle pollution accounted for between 900 and 4,500 cases of cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and bronchitis; and between 900 and 2,000 early deaths in Australia. The combined costs of this death and sickness were estimated to be $2.7 billion for 2000 alone.

Despite these damning statistics, our Lord Mayor is determined to build the $1.2 billion NSBT with the help of the state government.


Why would politicians continue to invest the majority of transport funding in roads, when it is clear they compromise air quality? They argue that air pollution is caused by traffic congestion (not car dependence), and that building new or wider roads will fix these problems. But international studies have shown that cities where significant proportions of the population walk, cycle or use public transport produce far less pollution than car-dependent cities like Brisbane.

Other studies show that building new roads increased overall travel by more than 30 per cent as additional road space is quickly consumed by people undertaking more and or longer car trips in response to shorter travel times.

For example, only four years after its opening, the final section of the South-Eastern Freeway in Melbourne was christened the "South-Eastern Car Park" as it had become even more congested than before. New roads mean more car use, and therefore more traffic congestion and more pollution.

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First published in The Courier-Mail on August 12, 2005.

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About the Author

Tristan Peach and works as a part-time lecturer and tutor in urban and regional planning at the Queensland University of Technology. He is a member of Brisbane Group, Communities Against the Tunnels. He does not own a car and walks, cycles and uses public transport for most trips.

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