Over the past few months, my ward office has undertaken a local consultation process in partnership with Amy MacMahon MP and Michael Berkman MP regarding BCC proposals for new active transport bridges linking West End to Toowong and St Lucia.
This write-up unpacks what we learned from that process, with a particular focus on the results of our online vote. If we’d had more time and resources, we would’ve preferred to facilitate a more robust and accessible community decision-making process based on deliberative democracy principles. Ultimately, we did the best we could with what we had, knowing that if we took too long to decide what the community did or didn’t support, the LNP-dominated Brisbane City Council would probably rush ahead and make decisions without us.
To inform our advocacy as Greens representatives, we wanted to understand:
- Did residents support the general idea for new bridges between West End and Toowong/St Lucia?
- Of the alignment options proposed by Brisbane City Council, which had the greatest public support?
Our main forms of hearing from the public included:
- An online community voting platform
- Doorknocking parts of West End and St Lucia
- A large public forum held in King George Square
- A public forum held in Davies Park, West End with a specific focus on property resumptions
- Attendance at the drop-in project information sessions organised by BCC
- Smaller group meetings and one-on-one meetings with local residents and directly impacted community groups
- Incidental conversations with residents at the various community events we attend
- Reading comments and messages on social media
- Emails and phone calls to our offices
Most of these forms of consultation tend to be heavily dominated by the people who are most engaged on a given issue. People who are not as passionate about local transport and planning decisions, or who are less directly impacted, are less likely to proactively call or email the office of an MP, or show up to a community forum or meeting.
So while we read and seriously consider every piece of correspondence we receive, we’re mindful that the cross-section of people who proactively contact our office or show up to a drop-in session to give feedback may not necessarily be representative of broader community sentiment.
As such, we also give quite a bit of weight to forms of feedback that involve fewer barriers to participation and allow us to hear from a larger number of people, such as online voting and doorknocking. The various meetings and forums were extremely useful for qualitative feedback data on the bridge proposals, while the high number of participants in the online vote provided a healthy sample size in terms of quantitative data.
Common concerns raised
The following non-exhaustive list highlights some of the concerns and questions that came through repeatedly via qualitative feedback channels:
- general frustration at the lack of detailed information provided by council
- general frustration at the short consultation time-frame
- current demand modelling and assumptions might not reflect future needs and changing transport patterns
- possible resumptions of private homes (and the many significant flow-on impacts)
- possible tree removals
- impacts on views of the river
- impacts on amenity due to bridge structures stretching into a neighbourhood (particularly a concern for the St Lucia bridge Boundary St-Keith St alignment)
- loss of useable public green space due to bridge landings
- changes to the qualitative experience of public green spaces due to higher volumes of cyclists moving through the area
- noise impacts on homes near the bridge landings due to higher volumes of cyclists
- increased street parking demand near the bridge landings
- impacts on river navigation, both for recreational rowing and river-based transport (particularly for the Toowong bridge options closer to the Sailing Club and the Kayes Rocks riverbend)
- Lack of sustainable/renewable building materials and the high carbon footprint of bridge construction
(Note that this is not a complete list, but reflects the most common concerns we heard at meetings, doorknocks etc.)
Results of online voting
By far our biggest sample size of local resident feedback was the online voting via this page. We conducted polls on three related questions, but some participants only responded to one or two of the polls.
The results of the online vote appear to indicate reasonably strong support for both bridges to be built, and a preference towards the 'Option A' alignments proposed by BCC for both the Toowong and St Lucia bridges.
The first, general question asked whether people supported both bridges, without asking about specific locations. We noticed that BCC’s ‘official’ survey did not ask such a question, which makes it difficult to decipher whether respondents might be opposed to bridges in general, or just to specific locations.
We used an optional preferential system, which allowed participants to choose the option they liked the most, knowing that they could also allocate 2nd and 3rd preferences etc. This means you could, for example, identify that you ideally wanted both the Toowong and St Lucia bridges to be built, but could still identify which bridge you preferred more strongly if “build both bridges” didn’t turn out to be a very popular choice.
Total responses to this question: 735
Most popular option: “We need both the Toowong and St Lucia Bridges” attracted 470 first preference votes, that is, a 64% primary vote.
Only 56 respondents (8%) chose “We don’t need either bridge” as their first option and only 25 respondents (3%) chose “We only need a bridge between St Lucia and West End” as their first option.
As shown in the accompanying images, after allocating preferences, the option “We need both the Toowong and St Lucia Bridges” ended up at 70% of the vote, beating “We only need a bridge between Toowong and West End” on 30%.
Out of the 735 respondents, 55 votes ‘exhausted’ (meaning they chose not to allocate full preferences).
This result – a 64% primary vote and 70% after preferences – shows quite strong support for both bridges to be built.
First preference votes for Question 1
Question 1 results after preference flows
The results for the second question about the Toowong to West End bridge were even more conclusive. We asked participants to vote for their preferred bridge alignment out of the three proposed options published by BCC. We also included a ‘no bridge’ choice and a ‘find a different location’ choice so we could clearly see distinguish between respondents who were opposed to the Toowong bridge in general.
Total responses to this question: 619
Most popular option: “Option A – 592 Coronation Drive to Riverside Drive” attracted 449 votes, which was 73% of the primary vote.
After preference flows, Option A ended up on 80% against Option B on 20%. The results of these first two polls give us a lot of confidence in concluding that there’s strong support for a pedestrian and cycling bridge between Toowong and West End, and that Option A is the clear preference out of the possible alignments proposed by BCC.
First preference votes for Question 2 (Toowong Bridge)
Question 2 results after preference flows
Responses to the third poll question about the St Lucia to West End bridge were slightly more varied. Again, we asked participants to vote for their preferred bridge alignment out of the three proposed options published by BCC, and also included ‘no bridge’ and ‘find a different location’ options.
Total responses to this question: 664
Most popular option: “Option A – Guyatt Park to Orleigh Park” attracted 347 votes, which was 52% of the primary vote. After allocating preferences, Option A won with 70% against Option C on 30%.
Notably, 20% of respondents chose “No bridge should be built between St Lucia and West End” as their first preference.
The preference flows show that most of the respondents who were opposed to any bridge being built between West End and St Lucia chose Option A as their fall-back option.
While the Option A primary vote of 52% was not as high as the leading responses to the other two poll questions, Option A was still a long way ahead of any of the other choices.
Based on the fact that the overall response to the St Lucia bridge was slightly less enthusiastic than the support for the Toowong bridge, we would still like to see more detailed demand modelling and a business case etc. for the St Lucia bridge. However the project does seem to have majority support among engaged residents who took the time to respond to our consultation.
1st preference votes for Question 3 (St Lucia Bridge)
Question 3 results after preference flows
But who responded to the online vote and how representative is it?
There are almost 20 000 residents living in West End and Highgate Hill and thousands more in suburbs like Toowong, St Lucia etc. 600 to 700 respondents is a reasonably healthy sample size, but we would always like it to be higher.
What’s important to us is that the poll was quite widely promoted, including via public meetings, email newsletters to large mailing lists, social media posts, market stalls, some doorknocking, and a printed newsletter that was delivered to every household in the Gabba Ward electorate. So we feel confident that most local residents at least had an opportunity to read up about the issue and participate if they really wanted to.
The online voting platform did include checks and balances against duplicate voting, so we are confident that the results were not distorted by one or two individuals trying to create multiple accounts.
As part of creating an account to vote online, the system allows participants to self-nominate what suburb they live in. We don’t ask for information on age, street address etc. because we didn’t want to make the account creation process too onerous, or collect more data than is strictly necessary.
Based on the suburbs nominated by residents when they created their voting accounts, approximately 40% of participants lived in West End, 20% lived in Highgate Hill, 10% lived in South Brisbane, 20% of respondents were from the inner-western suburbs such as Taringa, Toowong and St Lucia, and the remaining 10% were from other suburbs around inner-city Brisbane and some of the middle-ring suburbs.
We also noticed a couple of accounts that nominated far-flung suburbs like Sadliers Crossing and Maroochy River. Out of curiosity, we called these individuals using the mobile numbers they provided to understand why they voted, and found that they were people who’d formerly lived in West End and still felt a close connection to the area, or people who regularly travelled into West End for work.
So assuming that the majority of participants were honest about what suburb they lived in, we had fairly strong participation and engagement from the 4101 postcode, and notably less engagement from the inner-western suburbs, which probably reflects how much promo the poll received through different local channels.
Attracting broader engagement with local transport and urban planning decisions is always difficult. A lot of residents feel they don’t know enough to have an informed opinion about such questions, while others simply don’t care. This is particularly the case when such a large proportion of our community are renters on shorter-term leases who know they might not even be living in the same area a few years from now.
The reality is that we never get quite as many people engaging with consultation process like this as we would like. I initially set myself an aspirational target of 1000 responses to the bridge votes, which we fell well short of. But I’m still satisfied that anyone who has been reasonably engaged in conversations about the bridges had a reasonable opportunity to participate if they wanted to.
This is the first time we've held a poll on a larger issue like this where I didn't have as much direct control of the outcome. Whereas with our community voting process for local park upgrades, I have a lot more direct control of the budget allocations, for the bridges projects there is a serious possibility that the LNP would overrule me and ignore my wishes (and the wishes of the residents I represent) if they really wanted to.
I found running this online poll to be a very useful and instructive exercise, as it helped ground-truth and cross-check some of the narratives we'd been hearing through other channels. For example, our office received relatively few emails expressing support for both bridges, and a couple dozen emails saying that "no-one in the local area wanted either bridge." If we'd relied purely on feedback from people who were proactively contacting our office, we would have formed a very different picture of community sentiment towards the bridges. It does seem like while there is quite strong and vocal opposition to the bridges from some residents, the vast majority of residents are generally supportive of both bridge projects proceeding.
We’ll be paying close attention to Brisbane City Council’s survey results (due to be published in a few weeks – we don’t know exactly when) to see whether the results of their 'official' consultation were similar to the results of our online vote.