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Route 23 Belconnen to Gungahlin

Date: 16 May 2023

Route: 23 Belconnen to Gungahlin

Sights: None

Weather: 5-19 C sunny, no wind, very still

Time taken: 5.5 hours including GP appointment

Most bus trips I make I give a day to. I make sure I have nothing else on and then set off. This means I do not have to rush, and if the bus is late, it does not matter. No stress. This week I changed that and decided to combine an appointment at the GPs with my bus trip. The GPs is located at Crace, part of the Gungahlin area. I know there are many buses from the centre of Gungahlin so knew I would find one that travelled through Crace. Route 23 travels from Belconnen to Gungahlin every half an hour. How hard could it be to get to the GPs at 1:30?

I could have done this journey a couple of other ways: tram to Gungahlin then the 23, or R9 to Belconnen then the 23. I decided I was not in a rush so could travel to Belconnen first, then to Gungahlin, by 23, tick another chore off my list by visiting Spotlight to look at fabric, and then get the 23 back to Crace, catch another 23 to resume journey after the appointment and then back from Belconnen to Dickson. Easy? Right?

I set out on a cool but very sunny morning. Canberra is having the best run of Autumn days. Cool to cold (-2 or -3) first thing but turning into warm sunny days. The cool wind sometimes takes the edge off but this day was still. The trees have not had their remaining colourful leaves whipped away by wind and rain so the reds, browns and yellows of ash, maples, pinoaks and oaks still daub colour across the landscape.

I decide to get the first bus going to Belconnen. R9, 30 and 31 all get me there with the R9 being the most direct route. Next There tells me they are both due at the same time. The 30 arrives just in front of R9 so I travel around the houses to get to Belconnen; through North Lyneham, Kaleen, Giralang and Lawson before Belconnen. This gives me views of the city in the higher spots and close views of gardens in the suburbs in the lower spots. One house has a flag pole with a flag I do not recognise. Attached to the top of the flagpole is a fishing line with a kite shaped like a bird, bobbing around in the breeze. The garage has four (4!) close circuit cameras pointing towards the garbage bins, the garden, the kite and the roof. They clearly expect the worse.

Many of the gardens are looking beautiful: the first leaves of spring flowers like daffodils, narcissus and tulips poking through the ground. Hedges of camellia and azaleas in flower with reds, mauves and white. Trees; both native and exotic showing leaves of colour. Many of the eucalypts put on new growth at this time of year; blue grey leaves. The wattle (acacia) are all getting ready to bloom.

Some of the gardens do not have much attention spent on them. I see a few front gardens turned over to car parks for family members with the already tough dirt compacted further.

Gardening in Canberra is tough. The layer of dirt that sits as topsoil is not very deep. The clay beneath does not yield easily and below that it gets even more compacted. Any serious gardener has to build up their soil with compost and top soil from other places and then mulch the ground to keep the harsh summer sun from damaging shallow roots. The winters can also be harsh; many frosts, and low day time temperatures making growing many plants impossible. Many gardens have a variety of plants that can be seen in the UK: helibores, daisies, agapanthus, hostas, dahlias, roses, pigface, all hardy plants that withstand hot and cold and do not need too much attention. This kind of planting also fits into the Garden City look of Canberra. A northern hemisphere idea translating well to the south. This would not work in all parts of Australia.

Westfield Belconnen stumped me as usual. I know there are only two bus stops, I know I have been there before and should be able to work it out which one my bus will be at, but I always get it wrong. By the time I had looked up at the bus indicators (hard to see in the sun), checked Next There, and dithered about which stop, the 23 had pulled up across the road. I crossed, waiting for green man as many buses pass through this spot, and ran to the waiting bus, for it to pull away as I reached its rear end. I am sure the bus driver saw me in the mirror. I now have to wait 30 minutes for the next 23.

The bus stop is in the shade of the shopping centre. Most waiting passengers are spread out along the corridor of sun light. Two more buses pull up. One of them electric; doing the doorbell sound to alert people of its presence. The young women next to me with with a baby in a pram is listening to the noise. She looks at me, what’s that? I tell her about the sound. The woman dressed in 50’s style; flowery dress pinched at the waist, fitted top half, shoes with a heel and a t-bar, all with red as a theme, wiggles the toy bear at her baby and tells me her friend told her about the noise the buses make but she had not heard it before. She tells me her father has a bell like that on his front door. She tells the baby not to be so impatient and she will let him out when they are on the bus. She tells me she is waiting for a bus to Dickson so they can go on the tram, for an adventure. She tells me she loves the idea of electric vehicles, and why is Australia so far behind Europe. She answers her own question; We know why - governments who like coal. She tells me things are changing and even if the government changes we have gone too far. I hope she is right. EVs are the way to go. More people on public transport would be even better,

In an assessment of the patronage of the lightrail (tram) it has been found that it has 20% of all boardings in the three months from October to December 2022. This stuff is not rocket science; if a public transport route is build where people want to go, priced at a level people will pay, and a frequency that meets their needs, it will be used.

Lightrail, in Canberra, only has one line; City to Gungahlin. It operates from about 5:30 in the morning until gone midnight each day. In peak hours there is one every 5 minutes which extends to every 15 minutes during the day, at weekends and on holidays. A friend of mine, who does not drive, and never has, told me that for the first time in her life she is not bound by bus timetables. She can use her bike to get to the tram stop, hop on the tram and be in the city in less than half an hour.

The lightrail is going to be extended south; from the city to Woden. There are plans to extend it further out to Fyshwick. This is what a modern city looks like; many ways to get around. The ACT government has committed to the Active Travel Plan, encouraging people to leave their cars at home and a combination of walking, cycling and using PT to get where they want to. This strategy ticks many boxes; environmental, health and well-being and can be cheaper than running a car. The ACT government have done a great job of publicising their plan: good websites, maps both online and hardcopy of bicycle routes, walking trails and buses, funding Canberra E-bike library to encourage people to try cycling, but they are yet to fund and commit to improved public transport. The tram, by its success, has shown that people will use PT if it fits their needs; more buses, more routes, more frequently to more places (The National Arboretum, for example) would see more people using the network.

Route 23 arrives and I make it to Gungahlin. I walk to Spotlight, I walk back to get the 12.50 back to Belconnen, having checked a pdf file on the website and Next There to make sure of the time it will arrive. I will be early for my appointment but it is better to be early and wait than be late.

As I walk the streets to the GPs I notice how quiet Crace is. The roads are narrow, by Canberra standards with parking on each side. Few cars driving around. This suburb, finished in 2015, was well planned: GPs, walking tracks, supermarket, agedcare facility, childcare, outdoor exercise equipment. Everything you could need, plus great views to countryside, and a bus that takes you to larger conurbations.

I have enough time, after the GPs to shop at Supabarn, my favourite supermarket, getting to the busstop as the next 23 slid into the stop. Well timed, if only it always worked like this.

Crace, as lovely and neat as it looks, with all amenities and provided, does lack one thing; I have not spotted a Canberra Bus Stop.

Canberra bus stops come in four main forms: The oldest; wooden shelters with pitched roofs and solid sides, a couple of these remain in Ainslie. More modern shelters made of glass with metal seats, seen at the interchanges, universities and more popular bus stops. The cheap version; a pole, sometimes with a garden seat. The last type is the iconic

Canberra Bus Stop. Designed in 1974 by Clem Cummings for the National Capital Development Commission, they are considered to be ‘brutalist’ design. Made of concrete, curved with a seat there are about 450 across the territory. They are always painted the same colour; cream and orange and most of them no longer have window panes, just the space. The design has been added to lately with solar panels on the top to create light at night time, making them feel safer.

This design is seen as classic Canberra, it has been celebrated in art work and tattoos. Trevor Dickinson has drawn the many different bus stops. Some just as they are; covered in graffiti, grown over by plants, on their side where they fell and adorned by other artists. A bus shelter locally houses the food-bank, another is painted with Aboriginal designs that tell the story of that place.

Dickinson is credited with changing the attitude of people in Canberra towards the bus shelters, and raising the status to iconic. His exhibition and book in 2018 had photos and drawings of all the shelters. I purchased some fridge magnets with some of these designs. I could have bought earrings, postcards, prints or a jigsaw puzzle. All so Canberra. Of course I would not go as far as a tattoo but at a meeting of the Public Transport CBR I spoke to Aalto Bowers. They have a tattoo of a bus shelter on their arm. It marks the 10 years they has lived in Canberra.

My journey this day was uneventful; taking four buses to and from my destination could have been more difficult but it did take time. I know I had to do other things and I slotted chores into the time, but if I did paid work, or had kids to pick up from school or an older person to care for, taking this long for my journey to the GPs would have been inconvenient and I would, probably, resorted to my car. More buses, more frequently on more routes improves passenger journeys but also car journeys. For every person taking a bus trip it is one less car on the road.


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