I’ve managed to get a bit more info (but not a huge amount of detail) from the budget information sessions titled ‘Transport for Brisbane’ and ‘Infrastructure for Brisbane’. I’ll structure this with a few general comments that are relevant to the city as a whole, followed by some more specifics about local projects within the Gabba Ward. Remember you can see a full list of infrastructure spending allocations for 2017/18 in the Gabba Ward at this link.
As mentioned in other posts, council is spending way too much of its budget on road corridor upgrades that prioritise private vehicles over pedestrians, cyclists and public transport. Some of the intersection redesigns throughout the suburbs include green-painted bike lanes, but none of these seem to have a physical barrier separating cars from bikes, which is what you need to genuinely improve safety and encourage more people to ride.
The Road Maintenance Black Hole
Upwards of $90 million will be spent this year on road resurfacing alone. This is not financially sustainable long-term. Resurfacing is an ongoing maintenance cost that is only likely to rise as traffic volumes increase. Several councillors are telling me that despite the high spend, they are aware of roads in their ward that need resurfacing but weren’t included on this year’s list. This is concerning because if you delay resurfacing a road, potholes and cracks get deeper and the deterioration can accelerate, increasing maintenance and repair costs down the line. So when I say I’m concerned that the large road resurfacing budget is not financially sustainable, I’m not saying that I necessarily think we need to drastically cut the resurfacing budge immediately. I’m saying that council’s broader strategy of prioritising funding for road corridor upgrades which encourage and facilitate higher volumes of private vehicle transport will mean roads deteriorate faster and road maintenance demands and costs will keep rising.
BCC is a much bigger council than other local councils around Australia, so naturally its resurfacing budget will be a lot larger than other councils. However I was surprised to learn that council doesn’t engage in any formal comparison or benchmarking with other councils about what proportion of their budget is spent on road resurfacing. Every city and every road network is different, so direct comparisons can be difficult, but given that BCC is spending such a large chunk of its budget on recurring road maintenance, it needs to be looking at what other councils are spending, and more importantly, what else they are doing to reduce their road maintenance budgets.
An important first step towards reducing the road maintenance budget would be to lower speeds throughout the city. Many other cities around the world are dropping their default speed limit to 30km/h, and I think there’s a strong argument that Brisbane should at least lower its default speed to 40km/h. As well as the many benefits in terms of improving safety and encouraging active transport, this would reduce wear and tear on roads and potentially save council millions of dollars a year.
Improved River Access
Within the Gabba Ward, one of the welcome announcements is funding to improve public pontoons at West End, South Bank and Mowbray Park in East Brisbane. I’ve been pushing for improvements to these facilities, as have many residents who I’m sure will be pleased with the announcement. However my one concern is that rather than reusing and repurposing some of the old pontoons, council will simply chuck them out, which I don’t consider to be an efficient use of resources.
A few astute residents have also asked questions about the Lord Mayor’s announcement that a new facility for non-motorised water recreation activities will be established on the river at Dutton Park. Despite repeated questions about this, I couldn’t get very detailed answers. I don’t think this is because the LNP is deliberately withholding information, but simply that they don’t actually know exactly what they want to do there yet. In the budget, the council has allocated $3.96 million for the coming financial year and $3.98 million for 2018/19 towards ‘River Based Leisure and Tourism Infrastructure’ but hasn’t specified exactly how much of that will be spent at Dutton Park. This project will be administered under Councillor Amanda Cooper, who is the chair of council’s Infrastructure committee, so residents should feel free to email her further questions at email@example.com. All they’re telling us at this stage is that the Dutton Park facility definitely won’t be for motorised water vehicles, that the focus will be on vessels like kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddleboards, and that they will conduct extensive community consultation.
My concern is that council will hand over the facility and try to establish some kind of for-profit tourism business down at Dutton Park under the Green Bridge. Council’s track record on tendering out these sorts of projects is that they tend to go to larger businesses that are more focussed on profit than on delivering services to the local community. This would amount to privatisation of the public realm, and is not an appropriate use for public parkland.
My preference is for the money in the budget to be used to construct a pontoon and canoe launching facility that residents won’t have to pay to use. We could even look at getting a local community group like a canoe club to have a permanent presence at the facility and rent out kayaks (or even organise classes and group tours) on a non-profit basis. I think this would be a much better way to activate the space and improve access to the river than partnering with a private for-profit operator.
As soon as I learn more details about this project and what’s proposed, I’ll make sure I let residents know.
Frustratingly, no money has been allocated for new bike lanes anywhere in the Gabba Ward, but it seems like slightly more money has been allocated to the Woolloongabba Bikeway Project along Stanley St and Annerley Rd, which is apparently still in the design stage. One of the main reasons that the Woolloongabba Bikeway project is taking so long and costing so much is that council is unwilling to make any changes to the road corridor that reduce or slow the flow of cars, so they’re spending a lot of money on complex design solutions. For 60km/h roads, the State Government’s designs require that the barriers on barrier-separated bike lanes must be quite wide, which reduces the amount of road space available. So the council’s reluctance to lower the speed on Annerley Road is driving up the costs of this project unnecessarily, whereas if council supported my request to drop the speed to 40km/h, we could have narrower barriers and the project would be completed a lot faster.
With design work for the Woolloongabba Bikeway project almost completed, my next highest priority for a new separated bike lane is Vulture Street, creating an east-west connection between Davies Park in West End all the way through to the Lady Cilento Hospital in South Brisbane. I was very disappointed that no money for this was included in the budget, and I will continue advocating for this crucial piece of infrastructure.
Also of note is that council is proposing to reduce bike access along the Victoria Bridge as part of the Brisbane Metro project. The LNP councillors claimed that currently only around 900 cyclists use the bridge per day, compared to thousands of pedestrians, and that it’s sufficient to just maintain one shared path between cyclists and pedestrians on one side of the river. I don’t think this is satisfactory, as cyclist and pedestrian numbers in Brisbane will continue to grow and there will be more conflicts between cyclists and tourists on the bridge in the future. I would argue that many more cyclists would be using the bridge currently if the bike lanes were wider and safer. They wouldn’t give me a straight answer as to whether it’s possible to add platforms to the bridge to create wider cycling lanes, so I suspect they haven’t really looked into this.
I would like to see additional funding directed towards ensuring that safe bike access across the river is improved rather than reduced. (If you care about this issue, please come along to the mass community bike action we’re organising for the morning of Saturday, 22 July - https://www.facebook.com/events/1341044809349438)
Happily, council confirmed funding for the installation of traffic lights at the intersection of Vulture St and Montague Rd, West End. BCC did not allocate any funding for traffic lights at the intersection of Victoria St and Montague Rd (the ALDI crossing), but did at least allocate funding for a pedestrian island. In many ways, this is a big win for the community, who have been agitating for upgrades to these two intersections since well before I became a councillor, but a pedestrian island doesn’t necessarily address concerns for some of our most vulnerable residents, including people with impaired vision who cross at this location. Residents have been campaigning for quite a long time for improvements to the Victoria St intersection and it’s nice to see all that hard work pay off, but it’s a bit ridiculous that such an obviously needed improvement has taken so long for council to get around to.
We’ve also seen a bit of funding allocated for local area traffic management around the Hardgrave Road part of West End. This should include funding to repair some of the build-outs and speed bumps, and for a pedestrian crossing island over Montague Road down near Rogers Street, but we’re still waiting on more detail from council about exactly what will be covered by this budget item.
As mentioned in a previous post, $641 000 was allocated to redesign the Stones Corner roundabout at the intersection of Logan Road and O’Keefe St, and I will lobby for the scope of this project to be extended to include safety concerns about the turn from Logan Road to Cleveland St. This is a big project that will probably take council a couple of years. I expect design work won’t be completed until June or July 2018 and I will have to lobby further to ensure that funding to actually build the intersection is allocated for the 2018/19 financial year.
No funding was allocated for any other crossings or pedestrian safety improvements in the Gabba Ward. I’m particularly disappointed that no money was allocated for safer crossings along Gladstone Road in Highgate Hill and Dutton Park, or for Vulture Street East in East Brisbane. This is in a context where council is spending around $1 billion per year on road projects. A big chunk of council’s money is going into widening roads and increasing the capacity of intersections, while comparatively little is spent on projects that improve pedestrian safety and slow down cars.
As Brisbane grows, we need to shift a significant proportion of our population away from reliance on private vehicles and towards walking, cycling and public transport. But far fewer people are going to catch a bus if they can’t safely cross the road to get to the bus stop. If we want to reduce traffic congestion, we are going to need lower speeds, more pedestrian crossings, and of course, a much better public transport.
Another big ticket item in the budget is the Brisbane Metro Project ($49.7 million for the coming financial year, with roughly another $400 million over the next few years). The total cost of the project over several years will be just shy of $1 billion (again, remember that council is spending close to $1 billion every year on roads) but the council hasn’t yet clearly explained where the rest of the project funding will come from.
I’ll be producing some more detailed analysis of the Brisbane Metro project in the near future. While it might not necessarily be the best possible use of money in terms of public transport infrastructure, it’s certainly a lot better than spending the money on road-widening.
During the budget information session, I asked a couple of questions about the project, including sustainability requirements for the high-capacity buses council expected to acquire. It seems that the main reasons council is leaning towards buses rather than some kind of track-based vehicle are lower cost and greater flexibility. I see the logic of this, but one of the main benefits of light rail is that it doesn’t have to run off fossil fuels. In my view, it would be a huge missed opportunity if council spends $1 billion on a Brisbane Metro where the buses still run off diesel or something like that. Putting aside the serious concerns about carbon emissions, light rail or electric buses would also presumably have a much lower impact in terms of noise and air pollution along the bus corridor.
Beyond the Metro, there wasn’t much of interest in the budget in terms of public transport. Council is spending $33 million to acquire new buses to replace old ones, and $12 million on ferry terminal upgrades (largely to meet disability access standards), but no money has been allocated for a new CityCat terminal or other high-capacity transport infrastructure to service the Montague Road side of West End. (I’ve started a petition about transport infrastructure for West End here: http://www.jonathansri.com/montaguepublictransport)
There’s still no direct east-west public transport route between East Brisbane and West End, which means people travelling from Woolloongabba still have to catch one bus all the way into the cultural centre and another one back up Melbourne Street just to get to West End. There are still no high frequency bus routes through Kangaroo Point or East Brisbane. A couple of hard-working volunteers at my office have produced this transport route map, which only shows bus and train routes that come every fifteen minutes or less. This map shows clear gaps in the inner-south side, including through Highgate Hill (where steep roads make it harder for pedestrians to walk long distances to bus stops) and pretty much the entirety of 4169. This helps explain why so many inner-city residents are still driving and clogging up roads.
I could go on, but the core theme is pretty simple. Consistent under-investment in public transport, walking and cycling, and over-investment in road projects that don’t even include transit lanes and which will do precious little to shift residents out of their cars and into more sustainable modes of transport.