The Magic Roundabout of Alice in Blunderland

Recently installed – at a cost to the ratepayer – traffic islands at the intersection of Undoolya Road and Sturt Terrace will make way for a new roundabout – at a cost to the taxpayer. L’il Antz childcare centre is on the left corner, Casa Nostra pizzeria on the right. 

 

COMMENT by ALEX NELSON

 

A pair of old sports shoes dangle from a powerline directly over the middle of the Undoolya Road – Sturt Terrace intersection, exactly halfway between Lil’ Antz childcare centre on one corner and Casa Nostra Pizza and Spaghetti House on the other.

The shoes were thrown up there one night during the summer of 2010/11. If you haven’t noticed them each time you pass underneath, you’re not alone – neither, it seems, has PowerWater.

I was bemused to observe a PowerWater crew hooking up power to the new units at the rear of Casa Nostra on May 30 but never bother to move their cherry picker the few metres over to remove those old shoes. After some 18 months they’re still up there.

Eventually the laces holding those shoes aloft will fray to a point when they’ll snap and plummet to the ground. The chances are that they will fall harmlessly; but there’s a small chance they may drop onto a pedestrian or vehicle passing underneath, and (in the latter case) may sufficiently startle a motorist to swerve and cause an accident.

However, the solution to this vexed problem is at hand!

Recently we were informed: “Alice Springs is getting a new roundabout at the intersection of Undoolya Road and Sturt Terrace.

“Federal Infrastructure and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese and Member for Lingiari Warren Snowdon announced $300,000 for the project yesterday.

“The roundabout was recommended by a panel of independent road safety experts and construction is scheduled to begin in (sic) after June 30” (Centralian Advocate, May 29, 2012).

On the face of it, if the construction of this new roundabout proceeds as planned, it should be completed before those shoes fall down; and when eventually they do, they’re unlikely to fall on any vehicle.

Initially the announcement of the new roundabout was low key but quickly elicited considerable public attention, judging by the talkback and Facebook responses on ABC Alice Springs radio that same day.

A follow-up story was published on June 5 (“Pollies in traffic spin”), in which a number of local political identities and hopefuls gave their take on this project.

Braitling MLA Adam Giles commented, as one of many, on the notorious intersection of Lovegrove and Larapinta Drives still requiring a roundabout despite the Federal Government’s $200,000 funding for new turning lanes in 2010.

The Member for Greatorex, Matt Conlan, in whose electorate the proposed roundabout will be built, claimed “he had been lobbying since 2010 to have the Sturt Terrace roundabout installed near Lil’ Antz childcare centre”; and that he had “raised this issue on a number of occasions and [has] held deep concerns that another accident on that corner could result in tragedy”.

Equally, “Mayor Damien Ryan said the council has applied for the roundabout at the federal and local government co-owned intersection for the past two years” although he added a caveat that “the council would consult the community before work started, in case the town’s needs had changed since the application was first made”.

However, Mr Ryan also stated on ABC Radio that the roundabout will proceed now that the grant of $300,000 had been obtained – essentially a case of take the money and run.

This reflects a prevailing attitude with which I fundamentally disagree, as it is symptomatic of what is wrong with the governance and administration of Alice Springs and Central Australia. On this basis, the proposed roundabout for the Undoolya Road – Sturt Terrace intersection warrants careful analysis and scrutiny.

I’m a resident in Renner Street, living only four house blocks away from that intersection. I’ve been at that address since February 2006, and reckon I have crossed that corner each way at least once daily in that time, with some short periods of absence. This is my third time in the Old Eastside of Alice Springs;  I’m familiar with this area over a long period of time.

Panel of experts?

Who are the members of the “panel of independent road safety experts” who recommended the roundabout, and upon what basis did they make their decision?

There’s been no formal long term study of traffic flow on Undoolya Road; for example, there’s been no traffic counters on any road in the vicinity either now or in recent years.

Undoolya Road is an important arterial road in Alice Springs; indeed, it is the original link between the East Side and CBD of the town.

From my own long term observations and experience, Undoolya Road is periodically busy during normal work days of the week. Yet traffic flow during these “peak” periods is steady and measured, consequently the road is fairly safe. I’m unaware of any accidents in this vicinity occurring during these times as a result of normal traffic movement.

Otherwise, for most of the time Undoolya Road is comparatively quiet; it’s certainly no trouble to cross in a vehicle or as a cyclist or pedestrian.

The basis of the proposed roundabout lies with a single vehicle accident in 2010, when a drunk driver emerging from the Wills Terrace Causeway onto Undoolya Road lost control of his car and ploughed into the corner of Lil’ Antz childcare centre. This accident occurred during business hours.

I’ve no difficulty appreciating the anguish of parents to this potentially catastrophic event but the fact remains this is a highly unusual event.

This can be gauged from a story published 38 years ago: “Last week’s long holiday weekend was not all fun for at least one Alice Springs resident on the Eastside.

“Mr Glen Thomas, Alice Springs District Officer, had one or two unexpected visitors calling in on him.

“Three cars smashed into a large tree or into his fence on the corner of Sturt Terrace and Undoolya Road all within a few days.

“Mr Thomas said that in the 25 years he had lived in the house only four cars had previously smashed there.

“One of the cars which smashed on Monday morning narrowly missed the tree and completely demolished a couple of gate posts.

“The car ended up on its roof in the next door front garden” (“A smashing weekend”, Centralian Advocate, June 20, 1974).

Glen Thomas’ home is the same premises now occupied by Lil’ Antz.

This is probably the worst sequence of car accidents recorded at that intersection; nevertheless it was reported in a short story on the back page.

Accidents at the site are rare 

There are still rare occasions when speeding drivers crash into fences or power poles along Undoolya Road. All such incidents I’m aware of have occurred at night, and none have affected the premises of Lil’ Antz.

It’s interesting to note, too, that the Ciccone Building (home of Casa Nostra) on the opposite corner, built in the late 1940s and hard up against the footpath, has never suffered a vehicle impact to my knowledge.

In Glen Thomas’ time the area now known as the Old Eastside was all there was of urban Alice Springs east of the Todd River; however, there was rapid suburban expansion from the late 1970s onwards with the construction of the “new” Eastside and Sadadeen subdivisions and the education precinct along Grevillea Drive.

It wasn’t going to stop there – in June 1987 the NT Government formally announced the decision to proceed with the Undoolya subdivision to facilitate the further eastwards expansion of Alice Springs, approving an initial $10.5 million to commence development (“Curtain falls on town planning controversy – $10m approval for Undoolya plan”, Centralian Advocate, June 10, 1987).

This led to surveys and planning to convert Wills Terrace and Undoolya Road into a “four-lane highway” to the Sadadeen Roundabout.

“Transport and Works Department roads engineer Richard Galton said the road was one of several arterial roads being studied for possible development.

“We’re in the advanced planning stage but there (are) people we have to consult before we go ahead with anything’, he said.

“Mr Galton said the early planning work would save time when the road came to be widened” (“Four-Lane Highway”, Centralian Advocate, October 30, 1987).

The “people we have to consult” Mr Galton referred to included owners and residents along Undoolya Road between Sturt Terrace and Lindsay Avenue, who all faced the prospect of partial resumption of their properties to facilitate the road widening.

The severe national economic recession of the early 1990s led to the demise of the Undoolya subdivision plans and its ancillary road-widening projects.

Urban expansion

For over two decades there has been no significant urban expansion of the eastside area serviced by Undoolya Road; and only some limited infill developments in the Old Eastside, mainly on Sturt Terrace.

At no time that I can recall has there been any concern expressed about the Undoolya Road – Sturt Terrace intersection until 2010.

It obviously wasn’t a major concern (if any at all) to the Planning Authority that permitted Lil’ Antz to commence business on that corner in 2004.

The safety of that intersection has actually been improved with the construction of traffic islands by the Alice Springs Town Council a few years ago. This work, paid for by ratepayers, will have to be ripped up to make way for a roundabout.

It was that solitary accident in 2010 of a drunk driver running up onto the footpath next to Lil’ Antz that has apparently prompted the belated realization that this intersection is a “black spot” requiring significant taxpayers’ expenditure for the construction of a roundabout.

Initially this wasn’t the case; for Greatorex MLA Matt Conlan first called for bollards to be installed on the Lil’ Antz corner.

It was also in 2010 that the Alice town council was considering the possibility of replacing the Wills Terrace Causeway with a bridge; this prompted my article  in the Alice News of  July 22, ‘Todd River: A bridge too late‘. Is this proposal still under consideration?

View from the intersection to the Wills Terrace causeway – is bridge across the river at this point still on the cards?

 

If a bridge is built to replace the causeway, a roundabout at the Undoolya Road – Sturt Terrace intersection (having cost taxpayers $300,000 to build) will have to be removed or replaced. Contrast this with the roundabout at the intersection of Leichhardt Terrace at the west end of the Stott Terrace Bridge – the bridge was built in 1978, the roundabout a decade later.

Would a roundabout at the Undoolya Road – Sturt Terrace intersection achieve the objective of improved safety? Evidence suggests strongly that the opposite will occur.

Witness the experiences of residents nearby the Larapinta Drive – Milner Road roundabout 15 years ago: “Neighbours Terri Laucke and Denise Coach have lost count of how many times cars have narrowly missed running into their homes.

“Over the past month an average of one speeding motorist a week has lost control at the roundabout and run a vehicle onto their properties.

“In an accident over the weekend a car smashed through Ms Laucke’s front fence, narrowly missed her house and garage and was only stopped from racing into the Coach backyard by a tree stump.

“Mrs Coach and her husband Michael are so concerned they have moved their young son to the rear of their home and have strategically placed boulders in their front yard to stop wayward cars.

“Braitling MLA Loraine Braham has raised residents’ concerns with the Transport and Works Department and measures including safety rails at the south-western and north-eastern corners of the intersection will be constructed.

“But Mrs Braham said the most important thing was for people to slow down.

“Unfortunately most accidents are due to high speed often combined with alcohol’, she said.

“Drivers race into the roundabout too fast, lose control and often end up over the gutter and into residents’ front gardens.

“It is impossible to prevent individuals driving in a dangerous manner” (“Near misses: lost count”, Centralian Advocate, March 14, 1997).

I’ve experienced this first-hand when I was a front seat passenger in a car that entered that same roundabout too fast, side-swiping the southwest guard rail. Fortunately the worst damage suffered was to my driver’s dented ego.

There’s no reason to suppose the problem of speeding drivers losing control at this (and other) roundabouts won’t be repeated at the Undoolya Road – Sturt Terrace intersection, consequently the danger posed to Lil’ Antz childcare centre will be exacerbated if a roundabout is constructed at that corner.

In turn this will necessitate further expense with the installation of guard rails on the Lil’ Antz corner to mitigate this increased danger.

Matt Conlan’s original proposal for bollards was sensible and would be far cheaper to install – and perhaps a little of the money saved from not building a roundabout could pay the overtime for a PowerWater crew with a cherry picker to remove those shoes dangling from a powerline over the middle of Undoolya Road on a typically nice quiet Sunday morning.

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3 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. Posted June 19, 2012 at 11:10 am

    You’re absolutely correct, Mike; however, I’ve no confidence that common sense will prevail on this matter. The lack of response is telling – silence is golden for those caught out on this issue but equally it’s deafening, too. I would simply point out that a roundabout constructed at this intersection will significantly worsen the potential hazard of vehicle impact into the Lil’ Antz property than is currently the case. No one can claim they weren’t warned if this ill thought out project proceeds as it has been announced. It’s worth noting that even roundabouts in the town centre exhibit evidence of impacts on nearby objects at the corners where vehicles exit; for example, a dented guard rail next to the Leichhardt Building at the intersection of Leichhardt and Gregory Terraces (and opposite the Civic Centre!) and a dented light pole at the intersection of Parsons and Bath Streets, right below a CCTV camera and opposite the Police Station! These are minor impacts but they clearly illustrate the danger of speeding vehicles losing control at these intersections. It’s no accident, incidentally, that all the roundabouts in the town centre have been filled in with concrete, replacing the landscape vegetation that once grew in them, because they were hopeless to maintain with so many vehicles running over them. And it was the Town Council that did that work, too.

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  2. Mike Gillam
    Posted June 17, 2012 at 8:50 am

    Alex, Despite the lack of posts I’m hoping your article inspires some lateral thinking behind the scenes about civic care and public works generally.
    I would add a few more points. I believe the construction of a pedestrian refuge by the Alice Springs Town Council is well placed at this site and has provided significant public benefits at a modest cost. In contrast the proposed roundabout will impact negatively on pedestrians and bicycle riders 24 hours a day, every day and may well deter some patrons (drivers) from visiting the popular restaurant nearby.
    It will however make it easier for drivers entering Undoolya Road from Sturt Terrace, both from the south and more so from the north. This can be difficult at peak times especially just before 8am when the traffic flow from the east into town dominates – solutions therefore need to focus particularly but not solely on a brief 15 minute time slot per day.
    The basic challenge for a traffic management study is to find a way to provide breaks in the east-west traffic flow that will improve ingress from Sturt while remembering that this will cause traffic coming east along Undoolya to back up and potentially gridlock through a further two roundabouts.
    Given that populations in Sadadeen, old and new Eastside will keep rising with urban infill we need longer-term solutions. Much better public transport systems to take workers into and out of the CBD would help greatly. Strategic improvements to the bicycle network are overdue and would undoubtedly encourage many eastsiders to leave their cars at home when they go to work in the nearby CBD. Obviously residents can help themselves by increased car-pooling. My understanding of traffic management is limited but on the face of it this proposal for another roundabout seems flawed.

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  3. Mike Gillam
    Posted June 9, 2012 at 6:14 pm

    Alex, you raise some valid concerns and yes, there is an oft repeated pattern here. Roundabouts are about maintaining the flow, efficiency and safety of vehicular traffic and this often comes at the expense of pedestrians and their ability to cross the street, efficiently and in safety. If we are concerned about the vulnerability of L’il Antz then bollards are needed now and much more so if the roundabout is built. The risks of placing a child-care centre on this problematic intersection would have been considered when the matter went before the Development Consent Authority. Perhaps if the evaluation process included some of your passion and diligence for historical research the outcome may have been different. Hopefully your placement of fresh information before the community will now encourage a review of this black-spot that will benefit drivers and pedestrians alike.

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