Time to focus on cities

(A version of this piece appeared in the Daily Telegraph on Thursday 5 September)

It's heartening to hear both Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott talk about cities.

Two thirds of Australia's population live in our capital cities - around 14 million Australians. We're home to two thirds of Australia's workforce - 7.2 million workers. Together we contribute around 64 per cent of the national GDP.

Australia's economic prosperity depends on the reputation of its capital cities. It's also good to hear that Mr Abbott wants to lift the 'tempo of things' in Sydney. We desperately need the Federal Government to invest in transport infrastructure in our city.

Transport is the backbone of cities - it moves people and freight around. The transport in our capital cities, especially in Sydney, needs urgent intervention.

All up, the avoidable cost of congestion in Australia is expected to exceed $20 billion by 2020.

Anyone who travels around Sydney is all too familiar with congestion. Our motorways are gridlocked and key roads leading in and out of the city centre are excruciatingly slow.

It doesn't need to be like this.

Other cities around the world have realised that the trick to tackling traffic is giving people more options.

Public transport, cycling, walking are just as important as new roads because they take people off the road which means people who do need to drive can do so without the stress of congestion.

National governments in Canada, Europe, the UK and US are all focussing on the future of their capital cities and most importantly investing in all kinds of infrastructure. Australian capital cities deserve that kind of commitment.

In the lead up to 7 September, Australian Capital City Lord Mayors have asked Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott to commit to 11 projects across Australia that would immediately boost our economy.

For each and every year that these projects operate, our economy would be better off by $1.81 billion. After 20 years, these projects would have boosted our economy by much as $25.2 billion - far outweighing the initial cost of construction.

Mr Abbott says he wants Sydney to learn from Melbourne.

I was inspired by Melbourne's small bars and laneway culture and pushed to have laws changed in NSW and now we have around 70 new small bars in Sydney. Our investment in laneways and public art is growing and we're experiencing an exciting buzz around Sydney's creative and digital industries.

But what we don't have, that Melbourne has, is an efficient and extensive light rail and bike network.

Trams are the second most used form of public transport in Melbourne with around 191.6 million passenger trips in 2011/12. The network not only services the city centre, but also the inner southern and inner eastern suburbs.

Melbourne is also unashamedly investing in safe, bike infrastructure. Bikes make up 11% of all traffic entering the city center and there are bike paths all over Melbourne.

If Tony Abbott really wants Sydney to be more like Melbourne then I hope he funds more than just new roads.

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