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Routes 901 Bruce Loop, 45 Belconnen to Kippax, 903 Strathnairn Loop


Image: Riotact


Date: 1 August 2023

Route: 901 Bruce Loop, 45 Belconnen to Kippax, 903 Strathnairn Loop, 45 Kippax to Belconnen

Sights: Large tower-blocks, NSW

Weather: -4 to 17 C

Time taken: 6.5 hours round trip including lunch


On days when I set off on a bus ride I am organised. I pack a bag: water, note book, bus map. As well as all the usual things I take when I go out: phone, keys, credit card, tissues etc. I have usually spent some time working out the route too; If I take just one bus or a few, how can I do all the routes to work together, how much time might I spend waiting for the next bus. I am an organized person. This day I did all that. Took out the map, found a route that was doable, found out how

Image: National Archive


often the bus comes. Packed my bag, and set off. I walked to the bus stop and the bus I wanted to get to Belconnen, 31, was just pulling up. One of the old orange buses which are being phased out as they do not stand up to all ability standards. Off I set.


It was not until I was daydreaming as the bus pulled up outside the UC Hospital that I checked my handbag, and: no phone. Now this would not be a problem if my phone was just my phone. I do not make many calls nor do I receive them, but it is also my camera, so no photos, and it holds my debit card to pay for anything I want: coffees, lunch. It is also my clock: I do not wear a watch; and my access to Next There so I can ease my anxiety about a particular bus turning up. It also has any cash I have by way of notes stashed in it. This was the biggest problem. I had a mild panic, and then a think about what I was going to do. I had My Way card, so could board any bus, I could live without photos (boring blog but we will all live, maybe I can find some to add?) but no money might be a problem. I ransacked my handbag and came up with $15 I had squirrelled away for just such an emergency. I would not have to return home to start again!


I got off the bus at the Interchange and not Westfield as I was not sure if the bus would stop at the shopping centre, and I could not check. I found the correct bus platform, more easily than I thought, and waited. This bus station is ugly! Bus stations do not have to be beautiful but the Belconnen Bus Interchange is really ugly. Tall buildings both residential and

Image: Canberra Times


commercial sandwich the concrete walled street. The walls have been painted with murals to brighten the look but the pale blue adds to the gloom. The black-windowed multi-storey residential tower-block looms over the space. There are no bright things like fairy lights on the balconies, few plants and nothing of interest. Luckily I do not to have to contemplate this for long as the bus appears.


The 901 is also known as the Bruce Loop. The route takes in the UC hospital, newly named North Canberra Hospital (previously Calvary), UC and CIT. I thought with this many highly populated spots there would be more people on the bus. I was the only person for some of the trip and I was joined by no more than 5 people the entire route. I justify this to myself by the time: it was about 9.30 not a change of shift or the start of any class timetable; I am sure this bus is more highly used at other times in the day. The bus travelling in the other direction has an ad on the side of it encouraging people to use the bus, “Take the Bus. [And leave the traffic behind].” The image has three women in standard public service workwear chatting to each other. Maybe if more people took the bus there would be less need for so much land to be set aside at the hospitals and the universities for car parking; prime real estate for housing, offices, departments and study areas being used to house cars. There is something seriously wrong here. While the ACT government and lobby groups look for ways to build more housing for people, we house cars.


One of the problems is “Build it and they will come”. If we build roads for cars and car parking that is what people will use. We have all been conditioned into thinking the easiest way is to go by car. If we built areas that encouraged people and made the way to get to them easier that is what we could use. I saw a great photo of a child with a ball standing in a suburban street filled with cars. Under the photo was the caption “Why don’t you just go out and play in the street, like I used to?” Maybe what we need is a carrot and stick approach; cheaper fares coupled with improved service and built environments that do not encourage cars; making it difficult to park and drive around? Lonsdale Street in Braddon is a good example of this. Recently the central street parking has been removed, reducing the number of spaces combined with a widening of the pavements making it easier for people, wheelchairs, prams and cyclists. This was done with blessing of the traders.



 

Greater Canberra is a community lobby group made up from a mix of people; different ages, renters and home owners, different professions and jobs but all with a common belief and vision that Canberra can be improved with better planning rules, and housing policy that will make Canberra a more sustainable, affordable and liveable city.


In a recent research note (20 July 2023) they look at the ‘missing middle’ of Canberra and explain how planning rules encourage dependence on fossil fuels and cars even in suburbs that are easily commutable by PT, walking or cycling. This is the first of a series of investigations into how the response to climate action can be changed and increased.


 


This week saw a public hearing by this committee. The PTCBR group that I belong to, was asked to speak at this hearing. There were a number of messages: better train connections to and from Sydney, federal funding for Canberra’s light rail and better bus services to the national institutions.

Image: Ryan Helmsley Chair PTCBR Canberra Times


The witnesses also argued against a ‘hop-on-hop-off’ bus to visit the national institutions because it would increase the divide between Canberra as the National Capital and as the mid-sized city. It is all one city; locals and tourists should both be able to get around easily.


 

This bus driver is in a hurry; he races at yellow lights and turns around roundabouts going up on the curb. We have turned back towards Belconnen. A sign with “Urban Open Space” on it seems a little useless: a large pond surrounded with wattle trees tells me this. As we pass out of the entrance to the hospital a mob of kangaroos have settled for the day in the urban open space getting the most from the sunny morning.


Image: ACT Government

The sun makes the yellow of the wattle pop against the green of the setting.


We approach the looming darkness of the tower-blocks. I travel up to Westfield that really does not improve with more visits. Now is the time to spend the found $15 for coffee and toast and then back on the mission for the day.


As I head back out to the bus interchange after my break the 45 approaches. No waiting, timed that correctly. The young woman who sits in front of me opens her, from the looks of it, newly purchased, novel on the last page, reads it then flips it over to the first page and starts at the beginning. It reminds me of When Harry Met Sally; a film this young woman may not have heard of. Harry sees this reading the last page first as a failing. I always think it is just mitigating the anxiety of the unknown.


We head up the hill to Bunnings. A group of young people are queuing to enter TimeZone; maybe a school trip? We travel around the suburban streets to Hawker shops. As we approach Hawker College a number of young people get up to leave. The young woman in front of me puts away her book and takes her place in the queue to leave. The bus is just about to get back into gear when this young woman bangs on the now closed doors. The driver takes the bus out of gear, puts on the brakes and opens the door. She runs on, flustered yelling to the driver she has forgotten her phone. She finds it on the seats, sighs and exits again with a big smile. I can feel her relief, but it is nice to know that I am not the only one.


Kinsella Street offers a fantastic view of the hills in the distance. The larger than the bog standard three-bedroom-with-garage houses all face the mountains . One newly painted hacienda style house stands out. The garden has been given attention too; clipped into neatness. All plants in neat rows.


We approach Kippax. The library and playground look well used. People get off the bus and head to both. A few young women with small children head to the library. All the ACT libraries run reading sessions for different ages; maybe one is going to start at Kippax? As I work out where to stand to get the next bus, 903 to Strathnairn, it appears. I wait for the 6 people to get off and move forward to board.

Image: Ginninderry


The driver tells me she is having a 10 minute break but I am welcome to wait on the bus. I opt to wait in the sun until she comes back.


At the bus shelter a young man sits down with a hot pie in hand. One magpie, then a dozen appear. A young one, warbling to its mother, dares to peck the young man’s shoe tip. He reacts and the group take off as one. They surround him again once they realise he is not a real threat. He eats his pie, the magpies wait.


My bus appears. It is a small, new shuttle bus; no more than 17 seats. I board with another man. I try to use my My Way card but the machine tells me it has been turned off. The driver tells me this ride is free for anyone. She takes a bag of bread out and throws some of it, through the open door, to the waiting magpies. They turn their attention from the young man with pie to the bread sitting on the pavement. The driver tells me she does this most days and thinks she knows the magpie family well now.


I tell the driver I will do the loop and will not be getting off until we return to Kippax. She tells me this bus is known as “the Poncho” by the bus drivers. She tells me there is a worker at the Tuggeranong depot who names all the buses. She tells me the developer of Ginninderry (Strathnairn is the first suburb in this development) bought two buses that Transport Canberra manage and run. This is why the ride is free. This encourages people to use the bus. She tells me of the passengers she has had who really appreciate it and one who will not buy a car as the service is so good. She tells me that the PT service in Canberra is great; could be better but as far as Australian capital cities go it is good. She tells me the weekend service could be better and will be when there are more drivers who are being recruited and trained now.


It is a lovely drive. The new houses, many not finished, have fields and wildness around them. Strathnairn is on the north-western edge of the ACT looking over to NSW. It was only gazetted in 2016. I see more kangaroos sitting in the sun. Many of the new suburbs have fantastic playgrounds and this is no exception. An area that looks like a community gathering place with playground, tiered grass area and what looks like water play is situated in the middle of the development with walking paths emanating from it. Nice place to head to with small children, just needs a coffee shop on site and it would be perfect.


The man on the bus points out the one disadvantage. The suburb has been built around a huge electricity sub-station with pylons strung across and through the middle of the development. The driver asks him if he does not mind being so close to the power lines. He tells us that he is far too old to worry about such things. He has lived his life and is going to die of something, probably soon. He lives here because it is beautiful and he can get the free bus. The driver drops him outside his house.


Returning to Kippax the suburb looks more established but shabbier; the area around the shopping centre could do with a facelift. All went well today, despite the forgetting of the phone: got a coffee, buses turned up without too much of a wait, and I got to see parts of the capital I have not been to before. All is good.



 

Housed in the old homestead the Arts hub offers exhibitions, a space to rent and community engagement with arts activities. Sponsored by Ginninderry the development and funded by the ACT government it offers locals and visitors space and a community for artists. This not for profit group holds regular exhibitions for art groups and individuals and challenges the community to get involved; Squares is an exhibition and sale of works of art done on a 300mm X 300mm square, all mediums, all genres, anyone.


 


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