“Australian cities would get far more value out of their road space if we switched to smaller vehicles,” says Aussie think tank.

AN AUSTRALIAN RESEARCH group has recommended that Australia reduce the width of lanes on major multilane roads to help ease congestion.

The Grattan Institute, which describes itself as a ‘non-partisan think tank providing independent, rigorous and practical solutions to some of the country’s most pressing problems,’ said that Australian roads and parking spaces should be narrower and smaller.

The ‘skinny lanes’ would be on multilane roads where speed limits can reach up to 100km/h. The current Australian standard lane width is 3.5 meters. According to the report: “Australian engineering guidelines developed by Austroads recommend that traffic lanes on urban arterial roads should be 3.5 metres wide. If the speed limit is low and there are not many trucks, the guidelines permit narrower lanes, of 3.0 to 3.4 metres.”

The obvious problem is that cars are only getting bigger, but the Grattan Institute, while acknowledging that buying trends are towards large utes and SUVs, suggests Australians will begin to buy small cars.

“It is realistic to imagine our car fleet tending towards smaller vehicles than at present,” the report states.

“Australians have increasingly chosen bigger vehicles, as their price has come down and our incomes have gone up. The ‘reference’ car width used by Austroads, 1.9 metres, is wide by international standards. It corresponds to a large car, such as a Holden Commodore, or a medium sports utility vehicle, such as a Jeep Cherokee.”

The recommended antidote is for lanes to be reduced in width by 14 to 30 percent. On a lane measuring 3.5m wide, the new lanes would be 2.5 to 3.0m across.

Ford Ranger

One of Australia’s most popular vehicles, the Ford Ranger, measures up to 2028mm wide. That could leave about 250mm, or 25cm, of room on each side of the vehicle before wandering into the lane or car next door. The other top-selling vehicle on the market is the Toyota Hilux, which is no smaller.

Then there is the increasing appetite for American vehicles such as the Ram and Chevrolet Silverado utes. The latter measuring up to 2388mm wide which leaves just 55mm of space to play with before leaving the lane.

Popular family vehicles on the market include the Mazda CX-5 (1840mm wide), Toyota Rav4 (1855mm), and Toyota Prado (1885mm). There are also plenty of four-wheel drives, some towing caravans.

However, the report says that Australians will buy smaller cars, like in Europe and Japan – which provides inspiration for the recommendations – such as small ‘Kei’ cars in the Japanese market. Those vehicles measure around 1.5m wide but have hardly enough space for more than a couple of passengers. Of the top-selling 20 cars on the market, the Toyota Corolla is narrowest at 1790mm wide.

Japanese Kei car the Mitsubishi eK

The idea is that by narrowing multilane roads, a very narrow lane could be added that is exclusive to Kei-style cars.

“Where roads are altered and remodelled, particularly in inner-city areas, there will sometimes be scope to add at least one narrow lane. Skinny lanes could be dedicated to small traffic: micro and light cars and motorbikes.

A further incentive for Australians to get out of SUVs and large utes and into something small is the recommendation that car parking spaces be reduced in size.

“Australia’s standard car parking space of 13.0 or 13.5 metres squared exceeds the UK and French standards of 11.5 metres squared, and the Hong Kong standard of 12.5 metres squared,” the report states.

“Australia’s current approach to setting parking bay sizes does not discourage drivers from buying larger vehicles. An alternative approach would treat parking space as a scarce and costly resource, and so reduce parking bay sizes. This would encourage people to buy smaller, less-congesting cars.

“If more parking bays were reserved for small vehicles, more cars could be parked in a given space, and more people would be inclined to buy smaller cars.

The recommendations from the Grattan Institute form part of its 58-page report which can be read here.

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Alex Rae

Alex Rae brings almost two decades’ experience, previously working at publications including Wheels, WhichCar, Drive/Fairfax, Carsales.com.au, AMC, Just Cars, and more.

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