Wide Open Road: how did Australia plan pedestrians, cyclists and transit out of its cities?

Before the motorcar “owned” the road, cyclists weren’t seen as space-taking nuisance.

The ABC documentary Wide Open Road is a totally fascinating history of the car in Australia.

The characters who pioneered the car in the Australian bush 100 years ago are remarkable. The images of Australian cities as the first cars arrived on the scene are wonderful, with their carts and trams winding through huge flows of pedestrians and cyclists.

The show goes on to describe how Australia embraced the magic of the car to connect us across the vast wide open spaces of our continent. It was indeed a deeply felt need to build those early roads and link us together.

The need remains in our regions, especially in our remote regions where highly inadequate roads are synonymous with poverty in most Indigenous communities.

But it is in our cities that the car has had its biggest impact. The wide open road soon became a very enclosed and congested space. The vast numbers of pedestrians disappeared, cyclists fled, and the trams were run off the streets (apart from in Melbourne).

However today is different. The latest State of Australian Cities shows that we are driving less, using transit and cycling more – indeed we have purchased 2 million more bikes than cars in the past decade. People are calling for light rail to be brought back or extended in all Australian cities and local authorities are being asked to build us bike lanes and make our cities more pedestrian friendly.