What do we think of the new footbridges?

Last week we received a briefing from council officers about the three new green bridges proposed for the Gabba Ward. They were able to give us a lot more detail about the Kangaroo Point-to-CBD footbridge, which is much further advanced than the other two in terms of planning.

From the information we were provided, it seems like the proposed footbridges from West End to Toowoong and West End to St Lucia have barely gotten any further than the drawing board.

Here’s what we know so far. I’ll add more detail to this page as more information becomes available and in response to other questions we receive from residents.

The LNP have estimated a total projected budget of $825 million for all five bridges (keeping in mind that the bike bridge over Breakfast Creek will be very cheap, and the Bellbowrie bus bridge will cost a lot more than the other bridges). The LNP have allocated $550 million in council’s own budget forward estimates, which they say will cover approximately 2/3 of the cost of delivering these bridges. They’re hoping to get funding from State and Federal Governments to cover the other 1/3 of the cost.

I’ve listed some of the main details about the Kangaroo Point bridge first, followed by the other two inner-city bridges. There’s a lot more info about the KP bridge (including a report on the key findings from the business case) at this link. I’ve included my own commentary and advice to residents in italics.


Kangaroo Point to CBD Green Bridge

How much will it cost and how long will it take?

Estimated total budget is $190 million. Once detailed designs, consultation, government approvals and contract tenders are all finalised, the actual construction process would be expected to take 18 to 24 months.


Where will it land (and why)?

BCC is proposing to connect the bridge from near the Alice St-Edward St roundabout, to the end of Scott St at Kangaroo Point

The riverbank near the intersection of Alice St and Edward St is quite low, which makes this bridge more challenging because you have to make it high enough for boats to pass underneath safely (they are aiming for a similar height to other bridges like Goodwill and Captain Chook). One of the main reasons Scott St is preferred over Thornton St is that the slope of the bridge would be more gradual, whereas if you go from Alice to Thornton, it will end up a lot steeper. The key findings report has a bit more detail about alignment options.

Apparently a lot of different options and factors have been considered in terms of CBD-side landing points. The Alice-Edward location probably works out a lot cheaper than negotiating with private landowners further to the north along the CBD riverfront. It also delivers a better connection to the Botanic Gardens.

It seems like council is now leaning pretty heavily towards landing the bridge at Scott St, and will only reconsider this location if there’s really really strong opposition for some reason during the consultation and the public calls for it to land at Thornton St instead. I see no reason not to trust the council planners and independent consultants who’ve concluded that on balance, Scott St makes the better landing point.

 

What about the Story Bridge Underpass and Connections to the Bridge?

The current Story Bridge pedestrian underpass between Thornton St and Deakin St is not wheelchair accessible and needs a significant (and expensive) upgrade to remove the steps and make it more useable for wheelchairs, prams and bikes. If the bridge lands at Scott St, BCC will be weighing up the pros and cons of upgrading the Thornton St underpass, or creating a new wheelchair accessible underpass from Main St to Deakin St (north of Darragh St).

An underpass connection is being treated as an essential element of the bridge project itself, but feedback from residents about how best to do it will probably have some influence over council decision-making.

I think it is particularly important for residents to give really strong feedback that at the same time as the footbridge is built and the underpass is improved, council also completes the missing sections of Riverwalk on the eastern side of Kangaroo Point.

A key benefit of this footbridge is connecting active transport commuters from the eastern suburbs through Kangaroo Point and directly into the CBD. Completing the riverwalk so that high volumes of bikes don’t have to mix with cars along Thorn St and Lambert St is a crucial part of this.


What’s happening to the Thornton St Ferry Terminal?

Council officers have said that changes to the ferry network or the Thornton St ferry terminal are out of scope for the bridge project. However it’s possible that the Thornton St terminal might have to close down temporarily during part of the construction period.

When designing the bridge and evaluating design options, the project team has been proceeding on the assumption that a ferry terminal will be retained at Thornton St. It is of course possible that down the track, after the bridge is completed, council’s transport planners might look at ferry usage data and conclude that the stop is no longer needed or should be relocated

 

Will the bridge carry buses too, or just pedestrians and bikes?

It’s a definite no to buses on the Kangaroo Point to CBD green bridge. If you look at a map of where the bridge is proposed and how that might link to existing major road corridors, you’ll probably see why.

 

Will we lose trees and public green space?

Yes, quite possibly. Council will want to minimise the landing footprints of the bridge, and footbridges don’t have to take up anywhere near as much space on land as bus or car bridges. But there will still be some impacts on public parkland.

I think it’s really important for residents to provide strong feedback to council that you don’t want to lose green space as a result of this project. It’s possible for council to allocate a small proportion of the project budget towards buying more land elsewhere in Kangaroo Point to create a new public park that offsets the loss of trees and green space caused by the bridge.

This bridge project represents an amazing opportunity to get a new public park within the Kangaroo Point peninsula, which will help cater for our rapidly growing population, but it’s important for residents to raise this need really strongly as often as possible

 

West End to Toowong and St Lucia Footbridges

How much will they cost and how long will they take?

Council says they haven’t yet conducted detailed costings for these two bridges. They are at such an early stage in planning these bridges, that unless there’s a big shift in political priorities and they allocate more resources to delivering these bridges faster, they probably won’t start construction for at least 5 years, and won’t be finished until 2027 at the earliest.

If you extrapolate from the fact that out of a total $825 million estimate, they’re anticipating:

  • $190 million for the Kangaroo Point bridge, which is a longer and more technically complex project
  • maybe $20-$40 million for the Breakfast Creek bike link
  • and upwards of $280 million for the Bellbowrie to Moggill green bridge

that probably means around $280-$300 million for the two West End bridges (so roughly $150 million each). St Lucia to West End will probably be slightly cheaper than other footbridges as it’s a shorter stretch of river to cross.

 

Where will they land?

Council’s consultation documents show notional landings for the bridges from Archer St, Toowong to near Forbes St, West End, and from Boundary St, West End to Keith St, St Lucia. The officers have said repeatedly that these are just general indicative landing points rather than precise locations. It sounds like BCC hasn’t settled on exact landing points for these bridges yet, so there’s definitely time to advocate for different locations.

A couple of residents have asked whether the Toowong Bridge would be better off landing on the former ABC site rather than going through or over residential properties on Archer St. I’ll be asking more information about this, but from what I’ve learned so far, it sounds like the benefit of landing it slightly to the south of the ABC site is that it can connect more directly to the Toowong train station and shopping centre via the pedestrian link next to 29 Archer St. I will of course continue to advocate for the former ABC site to be brought back into public ownership for use as parkland and community facilities.

There are a lot of issues that have to be worked through in evaluating the exact locations of both proposed footbridges, in terms of avoiding local heritage sites like the Cranbrook Place Aboriginal  Sorry Site at Orleigh Park, minimising the loss of established trees, and ensuring optimal active transport connections to existing bikeways and pedestrian corridors.

As with the Kangaroo Point footbridge, it’s crucial that residents provide strong feedback to council that you don’t want to lose green space as a result of these projects. We should be insisting that council deliver new public parks in West End to offset any green space that’s lost as a result of these bridge landings. I’m asking all residents to email GreenBridges@brisbane.qld.gov.au and demand that if the bridges do go ahead, you want a new public park in West End to compensate for the lost riverside green space.

 


Will the bridges carry buses?

The LNP have not yet firmly and explicitly ruled out the possibility of the bridges carrying buses, but I think this is extremely unlikely, and at this stage I don’t support either bridge carrying buses (although I’m keeping an open mind).

This next map helps show why I don’t think there’s a strong case for a bus bridge from Boundary St to UQ.


Footbridges will likely be around 6 metres wide, whereas a bus bridge that also carries bikes and pedestrians would have to be at least 12 metres wide. Designing the Toowong and St Lucia bridges to carry buses (as well as the necessary road connections) would probably add $50 million to $100 million to the cost of each bridge, so to justify that much additional cost, as well as the ongoing costs of running additional bus services, council needs to be really sure that bus services would be well-utilised.

If a bridge were built that also carries buses, most residents who live in the blue shaded area would probably still find it more convenient (and cheaper) to walk over the bridge to get to UQ, even if there are frequent buses.

Residents who live within the red circle will probably find that existing CityCat services are just as convenient to get to uni as walking a longer distance to get to a connecting bus stop.

And residents who live within the purple circles already have access to high-frequency bus services to uni that are reasonably reliable, via the busway and existing Eleanor Schonell Green Bridge, so while buses running down Boundary St might be slightly more direct, the fact that those services would be running through the low-speed cultural and commercial heart of Boundary St probably makes them a less attractive proposition.

So bus services running between West End and St Lucia are really only going to be useful for residents in the central part of West End, or for students and staff heading from UQ into West End. Anyone living further away in other parts of the city is going to find it quicker to catch a bus that runs along the existing dedicated busway, and most people living closer to the bridge will prefer to walk over for free, rather than catching a bus.

Personally I’m very sceptical that there will be enough demand to justify the high cost of running services and building a bus bridge.

Thinking about the broader public transport network as a whole, the case for buses on both the Toowong and St Lucia bridges is pretty weak, because all of West End’s main road corridors are so heavily congested. Montague Rd, Boundary St, Hardgrave Rd and Vulture St are all quite busy roads, which means bus services running along Coronation Drive and the dedicated busways are always likely to be quicker and more reliable than buses coming through West End.

I know there are quite a few residents living up on Highgate Hill who say they would use an east-west bus route running over the river to Toowong and Auchenflower, but compared to other routes and possible uses of public money, I don’t think this is likely to be a high priority. The feedback I’ve been hearing so far from residents living closer to Forbes St and Riverside Drive is that they definitely don’t want a West End-Toowong bridge to carry buses.

 

Is this consultation genuine?

One of the frustrating things about council consultation processes like this one is that you’re never sure how much weight they are giving to the resident feedback they receive. It sometimes feels like your comments just go into a void and no-one ever reads them.

Apart from the short timeframes, I think there are two fundamental problems with this kind of council consultation:

  1. Residents can’t easily see or hear what other residents and stakeholders are saying. Already, I’ve had a resident tell me that “Everyone they’ve spoken to” is opposed to one of the bridges, while another resident said “All of us down here love this bridge.” It would foster greater understanding within the community if council facilitated open discussions where everyone had an opportunity to easily engage with one another’s feedback if they wished, as opposed to all of us just giving closed feedback. That way, residents who might not personally see value in a particular project proposal might understand how it benefits a different demographic of residents.
  2. Not enough information has been provided to allow us to form an informed view. People can give more meaningful feedback on a project when they have access to more information about current and future commuter demand, traffic volumes, population trends, secondary impacts etc. In the case of the Toowong and St Lucia bridges, council hasn’t done a huge amount of detailed research into design options, but they would still have plenty of traffic data, as well as info about how many students UQ is aiming to accommodate in the future, how many people are expected to move into Toowong and West End etc.

By failing to provide this basic information in an easily accessible format, council fosters distrust (because residents feel like council is hiding something), polarises the electorate, and diminishes the quality of feedback it’s receiving from residents.

Having said that, I think council is genuinely interested in what residents have to say about how important these projects are, and what elements and features should be prioritised. Institutional stakeholders like the University of Queensland are pushing strongly for a bridge directly to the campus, so if residents are expressing alternative views, that can help balance out the conversation.

Unlike private development projects, where the LNP-dominated council doesn’t really care very much at all what residents think, the council is more receptive to input on public projects. The mayor doesn’t want to spend lots of money on projects that are unpopular and will lose votes. So if an element of a project receives a lot of negative feedback at the early stages (before they lock in designs and go out to tender), it’s definitely possible to get council to make changes.

If council receives really strong support for a particular bridge, but can’t secure funding for the project from the state or federal government, BCC is likely to push ahead with the project and fund the whole thing itself. Whereas if public support for a bridge is not quite as strong, and the council can’t get funding from a higher level of government, they might just delay the project and deprioritise it. So providing positive feedback about the elements you do like is just as important as providing criticisms about what needs to change.

 

My current position

I’m supportive of a Kangaroo Point-CBD footbridge. The business case and the broad public benefits of the project seem clear.

I’m also supportive of a West End-Toowong footbridge, but I’d like to see council develop a business case for it (which they’ve said they will do), and I think the entire business case and feasibility study should be released to the public.

I would still need a lot more convincing before supporting a West End-St Lucia bridge, as I’m not yet sure that the benefits justify the costs.

As explained above, at this stage I don’t support any of the inner-city bridges carrying conventional buses. I will of course keep an open mind about emerging technologies and changing transport needs, such as the rise of self-driving demand-responsive minibuses, but until I’m presented with strong evidence to the contrary, I don’t think bus bridges are a good idea.

I think it’s extremely important that any green space losses associated with the bridges are offset by the creation of new public parks in West End and Kangaroo Point, above and beyond the parkland already identified as necessary in council’s existing planning documents.

Importantly, if trees need to be removed, the project team should have to take responsibility for finding appropriate locations and planting replacement trees nearby. It’s not enough to just pay an offset levy into the general tree planting budget without actually finding space for where the replacement trees can go.

Naturally, I think it’s very important that the bridges have roofs to protect pedestrians and cyclists from sun and rain, as well as other sustainable design features such as rainwater capture and solar panels if appropriate. More generally, I think we should explore opportunities to design these bridges as useable public spaces as opposed to just transport thoroughfares.

 

I encourage residents to provide as much feedback as you can during the council’s consultation process. If there are other questions you’d like answered, let me know and I’ll add them to this document.