The American poet Robert Frost famously wrote about finding and taking the road less travelled. Increasingly the literal interpretation of these lines is becoming more challenging to find in our city.
Travelling on the Kwinana Freeway each morning on my way to my role as Director of UWA's Energy and Minerals Institute I find time to contemplate many things - including the desire to find that elusive road less travelled.
In my own case I have avoided and mitigated the peak traffic through an early start and had the benefit of a good ‘run in' and the views of the magnificent Swan River on my way to work. I more often use the time to consider my other role as President of the RAC.
Just as UWA rightly aspires to be one of the top100 universities in the world, the RAC aspires to be the most valued organisation for Western Australians.
The RAC enjoys one of WA's strongest corporate reputations. To most Western Australians we are best known for our iconic yellow roadside service vehicles or as the State's largest home and car insurer.
But we are also a strong, active and respected voice for the needs and concerns of our 720,000 members and it is this aspect of the RAC's contribution to our State that I want to see revitalised and elevated during my term as president.
The RAC was originally formed in 1905 to advocate on behalf of what was then a minority group - motorists.
While the motor vehicle now dominates our lifestyles, our economy and our transport landscape, with an additional 400,000 registered vehicles expected on our roads over the next decade, the challenge of advocating on behalf of motorists is no less relevant than it was more than 100 years ago.
The RAC now plays a broader role in leading the debate on how Western Australians move around their community, their city and their State.
As our population growth and economic performance continue to outstrip the rest of Australia, we need to ensure that the mobility needs of our people are met in a safe, accessible and sustainable manner.
The poor road safety performance of the West and the growing traffic snarls which choke our major arterial roads and often bring traffic around the city to a complete standstill are warning signs that we don't have the balance right.
We are now paying a price for a lack of investment in our road and public transport networks and an integrated plan to underpin our mobility.
We are left to play catch-up on both road safety and congestion issues.
It is never easy to accurately plan for growth but to simply ignore the obvious symptoms of a system under stress would be foolhardy.
Having said that, I'm not convinced we've learned the lessons. The Northbridge Link and the proposed waterfront development are both long-overdue investments to transform Perth into the international city we want it to be.
But in both cases the need to efficiently move traffic into and across our city has not kept pace with the ‘vision'. The waterfront development will effectively close down Riverside Drive which currently carries 24,000 vehicles a day. This comes at the same time that lanes are being cut from St George's Terrace, and the Northbridge Link project will impact on Wellington Street.
The quick-fix solution is to channel many of those vehicles to use the Graham Farmer tunnel which will be widened by using the emergency lanes. While this will have a significant mitigating impact, these lanes were supposed to be used in future years to cope with expected population growth.
So rather than confronting the problem now in a strategic and integrated manner, we have again taken the soft option of simply pushing off the hard decisions until a future time.
There is an obvious role for institutions like the RAC and UWA in agitating to break this cycle of benign neglect.
We have a city and a State with seemingly unlimited economic and social potential. This potential will only be fully realised if we can keep Western Australians moving safely, efficiently and sustainably.
Published in UWA News, 16 May 2011