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:
- 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.
- 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.
In a city like Brisbane, whether we’re talking about improving public transport services, or improving paths and intersections to make walking and riding safer and easier, there are basically two approaches you can take.
Approach 1: You can repurpose existing road space to prioritise active transport and public transport.
Approach 2: You can take land that’s being used for other purposes (e.g. trees, houses) in order to create new bike paths, bus lanes etc.
Right now, this is perhaps the biggest difference between the Greens and the two major parties when it comes to the roll-out of new sustainable transport infrastructure.
Every political party says they want to improve public transport, but we have different ideas of how to do it.
Both the Labor-dominated State Government and the Liberal-dominated Brisbane City Council tend to prefer Approach 2, and will occasionally do a little bit of Approach 1. In contrast, the Greens strongly prefer Approach 1.
Examples of Approach 1 would be converting a lane of general traffic into a dedicated bus lane, or removing a row of street parking to create room for separated bike lanes or shady trees that encourage walking.
Whereas Approach 2 might mean cutting down street trees to make room for bus stops, routing commuter bike paths along creek corridors and parks (thus cannibalising green space), or even acquiring a corridor of private property to build a new bus lane or busway.
Although not perfect, components of the Woolloongabba Bikeway Project (such as the northern end of Annerley Rd between Stephens Rd and Stanley St) fit more closely into the Approach 1 category. To create space for bike lanes, I supported the council removing dozens of street parking bays, and narrowing general traffic lanes.
Whereas for Stage 1A of the Kangaroo Point Bikeway Project, the council (against my advice) chose to remove established trees and push the bike path through the park alongside Lower River Terrace, rather than removing street parking.
Approach 1 is generally a lot quicker and cheaper. Approach 2 is often so expensive and difficult that project proposals don’t get past the drawing board stage.
Residents who are wondering why governments are so slow to improve public and active transport need to understand this distinction.
What’s particularly important to recognise is that not only is Approach 1 cheaper and faster, it’s also a much more effective way to actually shift people out of their cars and into other modes of transport.
If you have a three-lane road corridor that’s badly congested, and you spend a lot of money buying up houses and shops along the road so you have enough room for a bus lane, you’ve successfully made it possible to run a high-frequency bus route along the corridor that won’t get held up by general traffic. But you now have a road corridor that’s upwards of 30 metres wide (which carves up the neighbourhood and is a major barrier to pedestrians) and you haven’t necessarily reduced the number of cars on the road. You’ve also spent millions and millions of taxpayer dollars transforming houses and small businesses into bitumen.
But if you just convert one of the three existing lanes into a bus lane (maybe just a peak-hour bus lane that’s an off-peak T3 transit lane) you are reducing car capacity and creating a much stronger incentive for people to shift to public transport.
The ramifications of this distinction are particularly significant for Brisbane public transport planning. Labor and Liberal politicians are continually squabbling and blaming one another for the lack of progress on various ‘essential’ public transport projects, such as the extension of the northern busway from Kedron to Bracken Ridge, the eastern busway out to Capalaba, or new river crossings to reduce bottlenecks into the CBD.
But Gympie Road north of Kedron is already three lanes in each direction. If we had the political will to convert one of those existing traffic lanes into a bus lane, we wouldn’t need to spend millions of dollars building a whole new busway. The same is true for Coronation Drive and quite a few other key corridors, and perhaps one day even for the Riverside Expressway and the Captain Chook Bridge.
This might seem like a difficult message to sell politically, but at the end of the day, a dedicated bus lane can carry thousands more passengers per hour than a general traffic lane, and will save a lot of money in the long-run. Right now, our problem is that Labor and Liberal politicians are still preoccupied with the flawed notion that they can’t take away space from cars, and within local and state government departments, the traffic engineers still carry more influence than the public transport planners.
Delivering new bus, bike and pedestrian infrastructure doesn’t have to be anywhere near as expensive as the major parties and some public servants think. It can be done quickly and cheaply, with minimal disruption from construction work, tree removals or private land acquisition. You just have to be willing to take space away from cars.
Do you live within the bright red zone within this map? If so, a new Resident Parking Permit Scheme has been proposed for your area. Read below for more details...
In response to concerns about insufficient street parking in West End and Highgate Hill, I’ve asked Brisbane City Council to consult with residents about introducing a ‘Resident Parking Permit Scheme’ throughout the southern end of the 4101 peninsula (the northern and eastern parts of West End and Highgate Hill are already covered by permit schemes).
A Resident Parking Permit Scheme usually means that some parts of a street are designated as unlimited parking for everyone, while in other parts of the street you can only park there for two hours (2P) unless your car has a resident permit or a visitor’s permit (in which case you can park there as long as you want).
Last year, BCC sent letters to residents asking if you are ‘In favour’ or ‘Not in favour’ of having a Resident Parking Permit Scheme in your street. The response rate to this survey letter was quite low, so BCC has sent out the same survey again, asking anyone who didn't reply the first time to complete it and send it back by the end of March 2018.
For BCC to go ahead with the parking changes, they need at least 60% of responding households to be ‘In favour’ of the introduction of a resident parking scheme in their street. If there is not enough support on your street, the likely outcome is that other neighbouring streets will have resident permit schemes introduced, but the current parking rules on your street will remain unchanged.
I’m not convinced that Brisbane City Council’s simple ‘Yes or No’ approach to feedback will gather enough information to create a new parking scheme that adequately balances the parking needs of residents, local businesses and visitors to the suburb. So my office will be undertaking a more thorough consultation process with local residents and businesses, including an online survey and public meetings. (If you live within the small existing permit area around Rogers St and Raven St, you can still fill out the survey as this will be a good opportunity to re-evaluate the current parking rules)
Brisbane City Council’s Transport, Planning and Strategy branch, overseen by the Chair of Infrastructure, Councillor Amanda Cooper, will get the final say on the specific parking rules which are implemented, however my views and recommendations as local councillor will be treated as highly influential. Having a lot of survey data to back up my position will increase my capacity to advocate on your behalf, so please encourage your neighbours to fill the survey out too.
REMINDER. If you support changes to parking rules in your street, make sure to:
1. Check the ‘In favour’ box on the Brisbane City Council form, fill in your details and return it via the instructions on the form. Please do not return it to my office.
2. Log on to www.jonathansri.com/4101parkingsurvey and complete the quick survey if you haven't already done so.
If you are generally supportive of a Resident Parking Permit Scheme, but have specific concerns or requests regarding the rules on your street, I encourage you to mark ‘In favour’ on the council form and express your specific concerns via our survey: www.jonathansri.com/4101parkingsurvey
If you live in the southern half of West End and haven't received any consultation letters from council about this issue, please call my office ASAP on 3403 2165 or email email@example.com.
HOW THE PERMITS WORK
There are two types of permits:
Resident permits, which are permanently attached to the front windscreen of a particular vehicle that’s registered to an address within the permit zone (in the future, council’s plan is that windscreen stickers won’t be necessary and resident permit will be connected to your vehicle registration number via the council database)
Visitor permits, which are made of cardboard and can be placed on the dashboard of any visiting vehicle
Currently, council charges an annual fee of $10 per resident permit per year. It’s possible that this fee might increase or decrease in the future. It’s also possible that resident permit fees may be abolished altogether, but this seems unlikely.
A permit allows you to park as long as you want in the 'Resident Permits excepted' areas on your own street, and usually one or two adjacent streets. It's not a general resident permit for the entire area.
The BCC has told me that each household will be eligible for a single visitor permit even if you don’t have any of your own vehicles registered at your address.
HOW MANY PERMITS PER HOUSEHOLD?
The most difficult question in introducing this Resident Parking Permit Scheme is deciding how many permits each household should be allowed. If every household is allowed to park as many cars on the street as they want, the whole point of the scheme will be defeated. The BCC has stated that each household should be limited to two permits - one resident and one visitor. Households that need to park multiple vehicles on the street will still be able to do so, but would have to park in the areas that remain signed as ‘Unlimited’ parking.
DISCOURAGES COMMUTERS FROM TREATING YOUR STREET AS AN ALL-DAY PARK-AND-RIDE
There are many streets in West End and Highgate Hill where people drive in from other parts of the city, park all day and catch public transport into the CBD. This increases local traffic congestion and competition for parking.
Introducing a default 2P or 4P limit unless the vehicle has a permit will discourage this pattern of parking, and should help encourage more commuters to switch to public transport.
MAKES IT EASIER FOR RESIDENTS AND SHORT-TERM VISITORS TO FIND PARKING
Discouraging commuters from parking all day on residential streets will free up more street parking for residents and short-term visitors. The permit system won’t guarantee a parking spot for residents, but it will increase turnover and reduce competition. Residents will have a greater level of certainty that parking will be available on their street. Each resident permit will be connected to a specific address, and will allow residents to park on their own street or on one or two neighbouring streets.
The introduction of this scheme is also a good time to push for more disability parking bays and loading zones near businesses. Under BCC rules, a vehicle with a disability permit can park as long as they want in any unmetered area, so signing a bay as '1/2P' or '4P' means someone with a disability permit can park there all day.
Some concerns and downsides
Currently, Council charges $10 per permit per year. This means you’re paying for a permit to park on your own street, but there’s still no guarantee you’ll be able to find a parking spot. However, the evidence from other suburbs with such schemes is that they definitely make it easier for residents to find parking spots, so while it might seem strange to have to pay when there’s no guarantee of a space, having a paid permit system certainly makes it easier than the current free-for-all, where residents don’t get priority.
In the context of all the other costs associated with vehicle ownership and rego, $10 a year is pretty negligible.
MISUSE OF VISITOR PERMITS
Some households sell their visitor permits to motorists who live in other parts of the city so they can drive into the inner-city and park all day for free. The council objects to this practice, but has a hard time stopping it. This is one of the reasons the council is reluctant to issue multiple visitor permits per household. This isn’t a huge problem, and it’s not really an argument against introducing a permit scheme, but it’s something to keep in mind.
CONFUSING SIGNAGE AND BLANKET RULES?
In some parts of the city (e.g. Woolloongabba), there are designated ‘Traffic Areas’ which apply blanket default parking rules to the whole area. Traffic Areas are very different to the Resident Parking Permit Area proposed for 4101. A common criticism of the Traffic Areas is that there are only a few big signs at the entrance to the area, rather than detailed signs explaining the parking rules on every street. This means new residents, visitors and people from other parts of the city sometimes get caught out because they don’t realise they’re parking in an area that has a strict time limit.
However, for Resident Parking Permit Areas, every street is individually signed to clearly indicate what the rules are on that particular street. It’s also important to remember that when a new resident parking scheme is introduced, the council parking inspectors usually issue warnings rather than fines for the first few months, while people get used to the new system. I will be putting the pressure on council to ensure that when the scheme is introduced, every single street is clearly and accurately signed so that newcomers and visitors know what the parking rules are and won’t be fined unfairly.
PROVING YOU’RE A RESIDENT CAN SOMETIMES BE TRICKY FOR RENTERS
This isn’t as big a problem as it is for other government services, because the council is reasonably flexible when it comes to proving where you live, and primarily looks at your vehicle’s registration address. For tenants who move a lot, or anyone who is worried they’ll have trouble proving that they’re entitled to a resident parking permit, feel free to get in touch with the Gabba Ward office directly and we’ll help you prove your current address.
NON-RESIDENTS ARE UNJUSTLY EXCLUDED
The most persuasive argument against resident parking permit zones is that they can embody some of the worst aspects of parochialism and self-interested NIMBYism. Increasingly, people on lower incomes are finding it harder to afford to live in the inner-city. This means they often have to commute from the outer suburbs for work and to access community services, while inner-city suburbs like West End are becoming more exclusive and dominated by wealthier residents. So is it right for comparatively privileged inner-city residents to have priority access to free street parking in suburbs like West End while poorer residents from the outer burbs have to pay for it?
Inner-city residents have more public transport and active transport alternatives, and therefore are arguably less entitled to demand access to on-street parking than residents who live further out and have fewer alternatives to driving. Streets are publicly owned land, and technically speaking, local residents have no greater claim over a particular street than people who live in other parts of the city.
In practical terms though, not everyone in the inner-city is wealthy. Not everyone in the inner-city has access to off-street parking (particularly in the old tin and timber character neighbourhoods, where some homes were designed without driveways). Many older residents have limited mobility and rely on their adult children for support (for a range of reasons these visiting carers often need to be able to park as close as possible to the front door). There are several valid reasons for offering local residents some priority parking zones on their own street. The challenge is to strike a balance so that there are still enough parking spots that non-residents can use when they commute into our suburbs.
The State Government is just beginning its next round of ‘consultation’ regarding the Cross River Rail project, with a particular focus on future options for the new station in Woolloongabba, immediately to the west of the Gabba Stadium. If you haven’t heard much about the Cross River Rail project before, you can find more info at this link.
The new Gabba train station and the redevelopment of the government-owned GoPrint site is a massive opportunity to transform the central part of Woolloongabba for the better. As I’ve outlined in previous statements, there’s a strong local need for more public green space, more community facilities and more public housing. Unfortunately, there’s not much sign of that in the initial documentation and concept designs released by the government.
The government’s initial concept design:
Sadly, the State Government is even less consultative than Brisbane City Council when it comes to planning big new development projects. They tend to survey a small proportion of people to get a rough (often unbalanced) idea of what the public wants, but will generally only pay lip service to public opinion and instead defer to the priorities identified by the public service and the private sector. In the case of the Gabba station, the main question the government is interested in hearing from the public about is what should happen above ground. The more input people provide via the government’s various engagement channels (such as consultation stalls at community events, or by emailing in feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org) the better chance residents will have of influencing the final outcome.
Other stakeholders, such as the Gabba Stadium and major commercial interests, will be advancing their own agendas via detailed submissions and private meetings, so it’s important that residents and local businesses also speak up as loudly and as often as possible, not only by engaging with the proscribed consultation channels, but by directly contacting your State MP, Jackie Trad, at South.Brisbane@parliament.qld.gov.au.
We don’t know exactly how much money the government is planning to spend redeveloping the land above the Gabba Station and the surrounding public realm. We think it’ll be around 100 million dollars . This will largely depend on how much political pressure residents apply. We do know that generally speaking, the State Government is pretty cash-strapped, in large part because they waste so much of their money on supporting unethical industries (e.g. coal mining, horse racing) and flawed infrastructure projects (e.g. building expensive new prisons). This means the government will be considering options to sell development rights to private developers, and won’t be able to deliver everything the community needs and wants. So residents will basically have two things to push for:
- As much public funding as possible, to ensure the whole site isn’t just sold off to private developers
- Ensuring that the elements that residents consider priorities are at the top of the list to receive whatever funding IS available
Site Development Options and Constraints
There are some crucial traffic factors influencing how the GoPrint site can be redeveloped. The underground station will make it very difficult to provide much underground carparking. And the busway station along the southern edge of the site will make it almost impossible to have cars exiting directly onto Stanley Street. The land is bounded on all sides by very busy main roads which are heavily congested. This road network simply doesn’t have capacity to handle hundreds of additional car movements that might be associated with a new development. It would be impractical to include much carparking on this site, as this would encourage more people to drive to this location, clogging already-congested roads.
Happily, this location will have some of the public transport coverage in the entire country, with both a train station and busway station. Key destinations like South Bank, Kangaroo Point cliffs, the hospital precinct and even the local primary school are all within easy walking distance, and the Woolloongabba Bikeway project running along Stanley Street will provide great cycling connectivity to major universities and high schools. So this site is the perfect candidate to be redeveloped as a car-free development. With the exception of a small amount of disability accessible parking, carshare parking, loading zones and service vehicle parking, this should be a completely car-free development. People who live or work on the site should be expected to travel by active transport or public transport, rather than driving.
The complicated traffic environment will also tend to increase construction costs and logistical challenges. Even smaller highrise development sites can have dozens of truck movements a day, so to redevelop this whole site in one hit would likely cause huge local traffic disruption, suggesting that construction should instead occur in stages.
A car-free development would suggest that certain kinds of land use options (such as luxury highrise residential) are less likely to be commercially viable for private developers. Mega-rich residents tend to want space for their own cars even when there are good public transport and carshare alternatives available.
On the flipside, building lots of public housing for low-income residents right on top of a train station and busway makes a huge amount of sense. It’s much better to provide affordable housing for low-income residents in the inner-city, close to public transport, than forcing them to the outer suburbs where land is cheaper but they have to spend much more of their income on car ownership and petrol costs.
Structural engineers have also suggested that building extremely tall buildings will be more complicated than normal, as the deep footings needed for skyscrapers might be harder to construct due to the underground station. This doesn’t mean very tall highrises are impossible, but simply that there might be additional challenges and costs.
Public Green Space
Green space is one of the biggest needs in central Woolloongabba. The immediate surrounding neighbourhood is already very under-served by public parks, and is experiencing even more rapid densification with multiple residential and commercial developments under construction. Public green space is especially important for residents in high-density housing who don’t have access to private backyards or large internal entertaining areas. Brisbane City Council’s ‘Desired Standards of Service’ for parks identifies that within an immediate local area, there should ideally be 0.8 hectares of general recreation green space per 1000 residents and 0.6 hectares of more natural vegetated green space. Woolloongabba currently falls a long way short of these targets, so even if no new residential development was included on the Gabba station site, it would still be necessary for the State Government to include a large public park to cater for all the residents in nearby apartments. Adding more residential apartments to the site will necessitate also providing more green space to cater for them.
There’s already almost 8000m2 of green space to the west of the GoPrint site around the Motorway (between Allen St and Leopard St) which would be extremely expensive and difficult to construct buildings on. Spending a bit of money to improve pedestrian access to these green pockets, shield them acoustically from the noisy roads, and vegetate them more heavily as a dense bush reserve with a network of short walking tracks might be one way to provide additional useable natural green space for current and future residents of the precinct. But whether that happens or not, it seems crucial to me that at least one quarter of the GoPrint site (approximately 1 hectare) needs to be redesigned as public parkland for the benefit of residents and workers in the area. (For comparison, the Brisbane City Botanic Gardens, which is quite close to the site of the Albert St Cross River Rail Station, is about 18 hectares) You can’t cram people into highrise apartments and office blocks without also giving them somewhere to stretch their legs or sit under a tree.
With many more residents living in highrise apartments, there’s a growing need in Woolloongabba for a range of community facilities and services – public libraries, tool libraries, bookable meeting spaces, halls and venues for parties and community concerts, crisis support services for vulnerable people, workshop spaces, and rehearsal rooms and studios for artists and musicians. So it will be important for the land above the Gabba station to include a large, general-purpose community centre which can fill many of these roles, acting as an anchor for the neighbourhood and helping the precinct flourish.
Right now, there are lots of empty shopfronts around Woolloongabba, so simply building more ground-level retail and commercial spaces in the hopes of ‘activating’ the precinct might not be the best strategy. Instead of cramming heaps of restaurants and shops onto the GoPrint site, it might make sense to have only a modest amount of ground-level commercial uses, and focus on improving connections through to the businesses on Stanley St and Logan Rd. This would free up more space for the kinds of community uses mentioned above, creating a more diverse precinct that doesn’t just feel like all the other restaurant and café destinations around Brisbane.
In recent media releases, the State Government has floated the concept of a big pedestrian overpass linking the new train station to the Gabba Stadium. I do see the logic of such a proposal. And if the government had a blank cheque for this project and was willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the above-ground embellishments, maybe it would be worthwhile. But before we get all excited about the benefits of a pedestrian overpass at this location, let’s take a step back and consider our priorities.
Councils and governments resort to pedestrian overpasses because they don’t want to slow down cars. It would be cheaper and easier to simply change pedestrian crossing signal times to give greater priority to pedestrians to cross at ground-level, but apparently cars are more important.
A pedestrian overpass of the kind shown in this artist’s impression would likely cost tens of millions of dollars, with added costs associated with the complexities of constructing it over a very busy road corridor. It has to be tall enough to allow large trucks to pass underneath, it has to be strong enough to carry high volumes of pedestrians and to resist extreme weather events, and it will probably require elevators and long ramps in order to meet accessibility standards. It’s also worth noting that the big beautiful trees currently growing next to the stadium in Woolloongabba Place Park would have to be removed to make way for the tiered seating showed in the image.
But apart from major event days, an overpass to the stadium might not get much use. Activating the proposed tiered seating and green space next to the stadium is going to be difficult with the noise and air pollution from Ipswich Rd/Main St. Very few people are going to want to hang out on those steps to watch trucks roar past.
Have a look at the large public space in front of Lang Park stadium at Milton. It too has a pedestrian overpass connecting to the train station, and is much better shielded from passing traffic, but most days of the year, it’s just a big empty lonely patch of concrete, because very few people want to visit the stadium precinct except on game days. The Gabba is a slightly different story to Milton as it has a larger local population and more local businesses, but it’s worth being a bit sceptical of these shiny-looking artist impressions.
The central part of Woolloongabba struggles due to the poor pedestrian connectivity across different sides of the Ipswich Rd-Stanley St intersection. Shops along the southern side of Stanley St struggle to attract customers, and the cul de sac of Logan Rd (the old antiques precinct) also feels a bit dead at times.
When we think about connectivity priorities to the new station on the GoPrint site, on most days of the year, there will be many more people seeking to travel in other directions for work and leisure, but comparatively few heading to/from the stadium.
From the future Gabba station, lots of people will be heading northwest to get to the Kangaroo Point cliffs and apartment blocks, north across Vulture St towards residential and commercial properties, northeast towards residences and businesses, southwest towards the Mater Hospital precinct, south across Stanley St to more high-density apartments and office blocks, and southeast to the Logan Road businesses and apartments. Comparatively few people will be heading east across Main St to and from the stadium on an average work day.
A pedestrian overpass directly to the stadium is not likely to give much of a boost to businesses along Stanley Street or help activate the wider Gabba precinct.
So it’s worth querying whether spending millions of dollars on an overpass to connect to a stadium is the best use of money. An alternative approach would be to create scramble crossings at the Ipswich Rd-Stanley St and Vulture St-Main St intersections to improve pedestrian connectivity to the train station, and on major event days, simply close Main St to through-traffic, diverting vehicles via Wellington Road.
Attendance at major sporting events is dropping consistently, and shows no sign of increasing again in the near future. Even if the Gabba Stadium is used more frequently for other big events like live music concerts, I’m not sure that the very high cost of building an overpass is the best use of money.
I’m open to being convinced otherwise on this, but I think I’d rather see the money spent on more public housing.
Selling off Development Rights to the Private Sector?
My general view is that in inner-city areas, where land values are likely to continue increasing long-term, it is short-sighted to hand government-owned land to the private sector, whether on a 99-year lease, as a permanent sale, or in exchange for a developer paying for other works (e.g. a pedestrian overpass). It’s rare for the State Government to have control over such a large inner-city site (particularly one that’s immediately above a train station), so we should not be too hasty in jumping to conclusions and bringing in private developers to build office towers and residential highrises.
Rather than selling off development rights, the government should retain ownership of all future residential and commercial properties built on the site. Well-located commercial properties on a major train station will likely generate significant rental revenue for the government over the long-term. While some residential homes will be rented out at low rents to the most vulnerable members of society, other apartments could remain under public ownership while being rented out at market rates to key workers. There’s a strong and growing need for more public housing in Brisbane’s inner south side, and it makes sense to co-locate public housing with a commercial hub where those low-income residents will have better access to job opportunities and transport services.
If the government feels it does not have enough money available to completely redevelop the whole site immediately, it would be better to stage the project, leaving some parts of the site undeveloped as open green space for a few years until money is available to build more public housing. Retaining ownership of the land and developing it gradually using public funds is preferable to selling it off to the private sector, particularly if the land can be put to other valuable short-term uses in the interim.
Broadway Hotel and Urban Realm Improvements
The Broadway Hotel site, at the intersection of Logan Rd and Wellington Rd, is the southeast gateway to central Woolloongabba. It’s also a key linkage between the massive South City Square mega-development and the Gabba stadium and future Gabba station.
The fire-damaged State Heritage-listed hotel takes up around 900m2 of the 2300m2 site. As discussed elsewhere on my website, due to the requirement to rebuild and restore the hotel, the local oversupply of commercial spaces and the shaky and uncertain inner-city apartment market, it is extremely unlikely that any profit-driven private developer would consider it commercially viable to redevelop the site anytime soon. The hotel has already been sitting vacant since 2010. If this building remains in private ownership, the most likely outcome is that it will sit empty and abandoned for several years to come. This is a poor outcome for the community and a bad look for the neighbourhood.
However, I believe there’s a strong case that as part of the redevelopment of the GoPrint site, the State Government could take a small proportion of the total budget and spend it on urban realm upgrades along key corridors that link to the station.
The Broadway Hotel site is worth somewhere between $3 to $5 million in its current state, which is a comparatively small figure in the context of the Cross River Rail project’s $5.4 billion total budget. As part of the station development, the State Government should be improving footpaths, planting street trees and making other targeted improvements to the public realm (such as better lighting, seating and public art).
The pedestrian routes that need the greatest attention are Ipswich Rd, Leopard St, Stanley and of course Logan Rd. By acquiring this site on Logan Rd, and combining it with the adjoining 800m2 triangle of council-owned land (currently used as a carpark), BCC and the State Government could create a new community centre next to a small public park, which would serve as a significant landmark and point of interest along this corridor. Developing the Broadway Hotel as a civic space halfway between Gabba Station and South City Square would help activate this whole corridor, supporting this stretch of Logan Rd to transform into a vibrant, cosmopolitan mixed neighbourhood, rather than a series of carparks and underutilised warehouses.
If you would like to see the government allocate resources towards acquiring and restoring the Broadway Hotel, please mention this in any opportunities you have to give feedback on the Cross River Rail project.
A possible short-term use of undeveloped land
If, as mentioned above, the State Government does not have the funds immediately available to develop higher-density residential or commercial buildings on some parts of the site, there are a range of options available to make use of this land in the short-term.
One common challenge of new mega-developments is the fostering of connected communities and organic local character. Too often, mega-developments in Brisbane lack soul, and feel just like all the other big shiny new development projects in cities around the world, without interesting or distinctive features. Ground-level retail tenancies often sit empty for several months, and new businesses struggle to attract tenants until there are enough new residents and workers nearby.
One strategy to create an instant community, bring life to an area, and make productive use of inner-city land until it’s redeveloped would be to temporarily designate a small proportion of the GoPrint site as a caravan park, with the intention of creating a neighbourhood of tiny houses and portable dwellings. Small sites could be leased out to long-term tenants for a fixed period of 5 years, or on a short-term basis to tourists in caravans and campervans who are travelling through the city.
Tiny homes can be designed on trailers as off-grid dwellings, with solar panels, greywater recycling and rainwater harvesting to reduce the need for expensive mains infrastructure. These homes can either have off-grid compost toilets, or share access to a common toilet and laundry block as is common with other caravan parks in Brisbane. This kind of short-term, temporary activation of a site can bring more people into an area, offering the necessary population base to bring life to local community facilities and customers to local small businesses.
Another obvious alternative use of the land would be to leave a significant proportion of the site available as publicly accessible open green space until the State Government has the funds to develop it. In the long-term, both the State Government and BCC are looking at acquiring large industrial sites to provide more green space for residents of the inner-south side, but until that happens, providing a significantly larger temporary public park on the GoPrint site would make a lot of sense.
There are many potential temporary uses for land on the GoPrint site and I think local residents should be given more input into what happens here over the next few years. What’s important though, is that the State Government doesn’t just go for the short-sighted option of selling off development rights to the private sector. It’s better to hold on to land and develop it later for the public benefit, rather than selling it off to the private sector and losing future flexibility.
There’s so much to think about with this project, but what’s crucial is that residents speak up loudly and clearly at every opportunity. The government’s instinct will be to ignore or pay lip service to residents and local businesses, but we mustn’t allow them to do this.
As mentioned above, if you’d like to provide feedback on the redevelopment of the Gabba station and the surrounding neighbourhood, please send an email to South.Brisbane@parliament.qld.gov.au and email@example.com (and CC in my office at firstname.lastname@example.org because I’d like to know what you think too).
The following open letter was sent on 8 November, 2018 to Councillor Schrinner (Chair of Public and Active Transport), Councillor Bourke (Chair of City Planning) and Councillor Cooper (Chair of Infrastructure).
Although Ipswich Road carries high volumes of traffic, we cannot continue to widen this corridor in the future, and must instead focus on encouraging more residents to use active and public transport rather than driving.
Dear Councillors Schrinner, Cooper and Bourke,
I write to share with you my vision for the future of Ipswich Rd, and to ask you to take the necessary steps within each of your portfolios to ensure that no further widening of this corridor occurs. As you know, Ipswich Road is congested during peak periods, but flows relatively freely at other times of the day. Ipswich Road has been widened repeatedly in the past, and car-centric development over the past few decades has turned the corridor into a hostile and inhospitable area for pedestrians. The combined impact of Ipswich Rd and the Pacific Motorway has been to carve up Woolloongabba, fragmenting local neighbourhoods and cutting residents off from easy access to local businesses. This results in more Woolloongabba residents driving for local trips to schools and shops rather than using active transport, thus exacerbating traffic congestion.
Council’s current plans for Ipswich Road are extremely self-contradictory and inconsistent. On the one hand, land use zoning and related neighbourhood planning strategies seek to create a mixed-used neighbourhood along the corridor, with ground-level retail and commercial activation accompanied by high-density residential development where the majority of residents walk, ride or catch public transport as their main ways of getting around. On the other hand, council’s transport network planning team continue to insist on land resumptions to add car lanes and widen the corridor, accompanied by high-speed car-friendly road rules. It is very difficult to created vibrant activated streetscapes when cars and trucks are roaring past at 60km/h.
I would like to see Ipswich Road shift away from being so focussed on private motor vehicle transport, with a clear agreement between residents and council that no further widening of the corridor will occur through Woolloongabba, Annerley or Moorooka.
While I am not challenging the role of Ipswich Road as a major transport corridor, I am suggesting it would be better to transition this corridor to focus more heavily on active transport and public transport, with:
- 40km/h speed limits near sensitive uses such as schools, hospitals, ground-level retail and high-density residential
- intersection timings that give greater priority to pedestrians
- shorter distances between pedestrian crossing points
- pedestrian-priority crossings along side-streets connecting to Ipswich Rd
- broad, shaded leafy footpaths
- safe, separated bike lanes, and
- higher-frequency public transport services support by dedicated bus lanes and/or peak-hour transit lanes.
The council’s recent response to a development application for a Bunnings at 73 Ipswich Road (DA A004789857) has raised concerns that rather than supporting the necessary shift towards public and active transport, council is still requiring individual developers to widen sections of the corridor as part of the DA approval. The plans submitted by the developer (apparently in response to council’s request) suggest that Ipswich Rd would become 8 lanes wide, with a ninth turning lane into the Bunnings site.
This is a deeply flawed approach which is not supported by modern principles of sustainable transport planning. As you know, there is no scope to widen the Main St corridor or the Story Bridge further north in Kangaroo Point. Nor would it be financially or politically viable to widen connecting east-west corridors like Vulture St and Stanley Street. So even if short stretches of Ipswich Rd could have lanes added as part of individual DAs, overall the corridor has reached its limits, and widening short segments will simply exacerbate existing traffic bottlenecks rather than solving congestion.
While Ipswich Road is an important connector into the CBD and the inner-south side, it also carries significant volumes of inter-suburban traffic, with people using it to access shopping precincts, industrial areas, hospitals, schools, green spaces, community facilities and different residential neighbourhoods. The 100 bus route is well used, but turns off this corridor when it reaches the Gabba, meaning there is no high-frequency connection from Annerley and Woolloongabba up to Kangaroo Point and Fortitude Valley. I understand council is currently considering introducing a new high frequency CityGlider service to run north-south from Royal Brisbane Hospital and Fortitude Valley over the Story Bridge and down Ipswich Road to Moorooka train station. I support this proposal and believe it could be made much more efficient by designating one lane of Ipswich Rd as a T3 lane with in-lane bus stops, ensuring a high-frequency reliable public transport service that encourages people to use the bus rather than driving. A BRT (bus rapid transit) service along Ipswich Rd, coupled with lower speed limits, bike lanes, street trees and better pedestrian crossings, would transform Ipswich Rd into an active travel corridor and help catalyse new development to revitalise the area.
I would like a response from each of you to understand whether your administration supports this overall vision, or whether you do intend to widen Ipswich Road further in the future.
More urgently, I would like you to place a halt on any plans to widen Ipswich Road until further community conversations have been held about the future of this corridor. Please act immediately to prevent any development of 73 Ipswich Rd which would encourage more vehicles to drive to this site, and to ensure that no lanes will be added to this stretch of Ipswich Road.
23 October, 2018
Over the last year or so, a lot of people have asked me what my views are on the Brisbane Metro. Generally, my answer has been that I don’t have a strong view because there has been so little detailed information made available to the public. How can you have an opinion on a project when the LNP won’t tell you anything about it?
In the last few weeks though, a little more detail has been released, assuaging some of my concerns and reinforcing others, so I thought I’d outline where I stand at the moment, remaining open to changing my mind as more information becomes available. The following write-up tends to focus more closely on the Metro’s implications for the inner-south side, but a lot of it is relevant to the wider city.
Overall, I’ve come to the view that Brisbane Metro will, on balance, be a positive project for Brisbane, but it probably doesn’t represent the best value for money, and is making some significant compromises that mean it will yield small improvements to the transport network, but won’t be the massive transformative game-changer that the LNP is trying to portray it as.
The total budget for the project according to the LNP is $944 million. Once you take into account ancillary projects that might not have been included in that figure (such as intersection upgrades to accommodate changed traffic flow patterns), I expect this will blow out to $1 billion because of the usual flaws of outsourcing to the private sector.
Unsurprisingly, the breakdown of this budget has changed a bit from time to time. The LNP have said that of that $944 million, a whopping $315 million is going towards the new Cultural Centre station and the associated tunnel extension.
The other major costs are:
- Roughly $142 million expected to be spent on the new Adelaide St tunnel to connect to the King George Square bus station, and on converting Victoria Bridge to a green bridge
- $113 million on upgrading and redesigning other stations
- $189 million towards the 60 new Metro vehicles and building a depot for them
Again, I expect these figures will change a lot over the course of the project. There are many other smaller costs adding up to the $944 million. You can find a lot more detail in the business case and other project documents online.
Questionable consultation and decision-making process
It’s fair to say that the average resident’s response to the Brisbane Metro has been “meh, I guess that looks ok.” This lack of excitement is probably part of the reason that the LNP continues to spend tens of thousands of dollars advertising and promoting it. It also reflects the fact that the vast majority of Brisbanites still don’t have a clear idea of what the Brisbane Metro actually is, which is hardly surprising considering the way it was announced, scaled back substantially, then scaled up again a little bit.
One of the most telling aspects of this whole project is the first part of the project’s ‘Key Milestones’ timeline (you can see it on page 4 of the Draft Design Consultation Outcomes report). The project concept was ‘announced’ as an LNP policy commitment in the March 2016 election, which was followed by a first round of public consultation. But it wasn’t until early 2017 that the council undertook an ‘options analysis’ to see what the best way forward was. I would’ve thought that it would make more sense to first identify all the different options for improving Brisbane’s public transport network, then commit to a specific project. The full list of alternative options that the LNP considered has never been publicly released, so we don’t actually know for sure whether there might have been other better ways to spend $1 billion on improving public transport. This process of firmly committing to a project, and then conducting an options analysis and then releasing a business case seemed very backwards, and gave the public the impression that all the key decisions were being made behind closed doors.
The lack of project detail, combined with the public’s increasing scepticism that council doesn’t really care what ordinary residents think, is apparent in the extremely low level of engagement with the 5-week consultation on the Draft Design report, with only 240 formal submissions and only 300 people attending information sessions. Personally, I didn’t bother making a submission because I believed the project scope was already decided and I didn’t think the LNP would listen. In a city of over 2 million residents, the fact that so few people gave feedback on a major $1 billion transport project is a bit embarrassing for the LNP. I literally get more engagement with local decisions about where to install a basketball half-court.
The concern with such a weak consultation process is that significant flaws or opportunities for improvement might be overlooked, because the council hasn’t done a good enough job of drawing on the valuable insights of the people who will actually use this service. It also tends to give disproportionate weight to well-organised lobby groups and business stakeholders, and less weight to the most marginalised residents. For example, while there has been relatively little meaningful input from ordinary residents, the council is also regularly seeking input from major corporate and government stakeholders, including the commercial operators of for-profit carparks in the area. Naturally, such stakeholders are more likely to resist proposals to reduce car access, even though reducing car access might be the best way to improve convenience and travel times for tens of thousands of public transport users. More on that further down.
Increasing capacity and making embarking and disembarking more efficient
A key advantage of the Metro over Brisbane’s existing bus network is that commuters swipe their GoCards or buy tickets when they get onto the station platform, rather than when they get onto the vehicle itself. This is a no-brainer that will speed up boarding significantly, helping reduce journey times.
Council says the new fleet of 60 Metro vehicles will each have a capacity of up to 150 people. Currently, the largest articulated buses in council’s fleet have a maximum capacity of 116 passengers. Obviously it makes sense to have higher-capacity vehicles running along the busiest busway routes. Council claims there will be a Metro service every three minutes in peak periods, so it’ll be a proper turn-up-and-go service.
Reduced boarding times and increased vehicle capacity are obviously two of the biggest benefits of the Brisbane Metro. The devil is obviously in the detail in terms of understanding whether these improved travel times will justify the $944 million price tag.
I should note that some critics have said the capacity improvements and travel time improvements are not really that significant in the grand scheme of things. If you compare the number of people currently transported via the busway to the number of people that the new Metro vehicles can theoretically move, the Metro doesn’t actually look that flash. But it’s important to remember that the BCC is planning to keep some existing bus services running along the busway too (they just haven’t confirmed which ones yet). So simply comparing the frequency and capacity of existing busway services to the frequency and capacity of the proposed metro vehicles doesn’t paint the full picture.
Greening Victoria Bridge
One of the biggest and most significant impacts of the Metro is of course closing Victoria Bridge to cars to free up more space for buses. This was first proposed by the Greens before the 2016 council election and the other parties jumped on board too. Later, when council announced it would significantly reduce bicycle access over the bridge, there was strong public pushback, and more recently the LNP have reversed their position and confirmed that there will indeed be separated bike lanes on the bridge.
Requiring cars to instead travel via the William Jolly Bridge or otherwise stick to the Motorway and the Captain Cook Bridge is a logical and straightforward step that will greatly reduce the backlog of buses that builds up on the bridge during peak-hour. Some motorists who are accustomed to using this bridge will resent having to make the detour via the William Jolly and North Quay, which adds 2 to 3 minutes to a journey outside of peak periods. My response to such concerns is simply to remind drivers that taking cars off the bridge will allow it to carry literally thousands of additional public transport passengers (either by bus or Metro). Any driver who argues that it’s unfair to make them detour via William Jolly is essentially stating that they would rather slow down and delay literally dozens or even hundreds of people using public transport, rather than drive the long way round, which strikes me as an indefensibly selfish position.
Intersection upgrades around South Brisbane
In order to offset the broader traffic impacts from closing Victoria Bridge to cars, the council is allocating a few million dollars to redesign other nearby intersections, particularly the main intersections along Peel Street and also the intersection of Vulture and Stanley Streets further to the east.
If the goal of these ‘redesigns’ is to increase the capacity of these intersections to carry more cars, that’s not necessarily a good use of money. Reducing car access in the inner-city is an important and necessary step in the transition to a network that revolves around public transport and active transport. So adding lanes or slip lanes to carry more motor vehicles directly conflicts with the core principles of BCC’s own ‘Transport Plan for Brisbane’. However, now that redesigning these intersections is part of the plan, well-applied pressure from local community groups might actually be able to shift the project brief and achieve some design improvements for pedestrians and cyclists.
Fixing up the Melbourne St busway portal
One of the biggest bottlenecks in our whole transport network is on Melbourne St, just south of Grey St, where buses turn in and out of the Southeast busway tunnel opening. This awkward intersection is extremely inefficient, causing long queues inside the tunnel and slowing down the whole network. The current intersection arrangement here is also dangerous for cyclists, and slow and inconvenient for pedestrians.
The Metro project largely fixes all this by extending the underground busway so that both buses and Metro vehicles using the busway don’t pop up to ground-level until just before crossing the Victoria Bridge, on the northern side of Grey Street.
Pros and Cons of Cultural Centre Station Relocation
Many residents don’t realise that the entire Cultural Centre station is being relocated underground, to the south-west corner of the Melbourne St-Grey St intersection. This means the station will be approximately 100 metres further away from the city and 100m closer to West End, right next to the South Brisbane train station.
This should greatly improve the efficiency of transfers between busway and train services, as commuters will be able to jump off a bus on the underground busway and head straight into the above ground train station, whereas currently you have to cross Grey Street. This relocation will also slightly improve access to the busway transport corridor for people living and working along Melbourne Street. Bringing the station further to the south/west should also help bring more life to the public realm along Melbourne Street, and might help draw a little bit more commerce back towards West End.
But the redesign might mean a slight decrease in convenience for people transferring between above-ground bus services running along Melbourne St and underground services that use the busway. Currently, if I’m catching a bus from West End, it’s pretty easy to get off at the Cultural Centre and change to another service, depending on where I want to go. Under the Metro redesign, for the buses running along Melbourne Street (e.g. Blue CityGlider, 199 etc), new street-level stops will be created under the rail bridge to the west of Grey Street. For people riding the CityGlider outbound, it will be relatively easy to get down to the underground Cultural Centre Station. However commuters riding inbound on services like the Blue CityGlider would have to get off at the stop under the rail bridge and cross Melbourne St at the Melbourne-Grey intersection in order to transfer to underground Cultural Centre Station services.
This means that for commuters who catch one bus service from West End into the Cultural Centre Station and transfer to another service that uses the busway, your transfer might be longer and less convenient than it is currently. We still haven’t seen enough detail on this aspect of the project, and I’ll be asking further questions about how we can minimise transfer times for commuters who might be heading in to the Cultural Centre from West End with the intention of heading back out south along the busway.
It will be particularly important that the new Cultural Centre underground station includes an entrance portal that connects directly on to Melbourne St on the south side of the Grey St intersection, pointing back up towards West End. This should help improve access and pedestrian flow between West End and South Brisbane.
The other obvious downside of this change is that the new Cultural Centre Station will be slightly further away from the Museum, Science Centre, QPAC, South Bank and the Victoria Bridge, which brings me to one of the biggest missed opportunities of the whole project.
Missed Opportunities for New Public Space and the Failure to Close Grey Street
For years now, planners and designers have identified that preventing motor vehicles from driving along Grey St through the Melbourne Street intersection could yield massive improvements in public transport efficiency, as well as pedestrian and cyclist safety and convenience. It would also free up thousands of square metres of additional public space, some of which could be used for green space and trees in an area where more greenery is sorely needed.
As shown in the accompanying images, you could create almost 3000m2 of additional public green space by closing Grey St at either side of Melbourne St. A clear path could still be preserved through the middle of this public plaza for emergency vehicle access and for diverting buses if nearby bridges or tunnels ever need to be closed temporarily. The only driveway access that would be directly affected by turning this area into a public plaza would be the staff carpark at QPAC opposite the train station, which only holds about 25 vehicles, and still has an alternative access from the northern side of the building.
Blue shaded areas indicate possible pedestrian plazas
There are many ways such public spaces could be designed and activated. There could be a focus on pop-up markets and commercial activation, or on a quieter vegetated green corridor to counterbalance the hustle and bustle of South Bank Parklands, or even on outdoor performance spaces to leverage off the close proximity to QPAC and the Conservatorium of Music.
But the biggest value of closing off Grey Street would be in improving the efficiency of the Melbourne-Grey intersection, so that hundreds of street-level bus services and thousands of pedestrians and cyclists can freely move through this space from the train station and the new metro station without having to wait for the lights to change.
As mentioned above, one of the big downsides of the relocation of the Cultural Centre station to the south-west side of Grey Street is that thousands of commuters will be further away from South Bank, Victoria Bridge and the CBD. But closing off Grey St mitigates this problem substantially, allowing a free flow of public transport commuters towards QPAC, the Queensland Museum and South Bank Parklands.
Tunnel Openings Diminish the Public Realm
Depending on how they are designed, the entranceways to underground tunnels can have a pretty negative impact on the surrounding streetscape and public realm. The worst examples are the ones that carry multiple lanes of fast-moving traffic, such as the entrance to the Clem7 tunnel on Shaftson Avenue in Kangaroo Point.
These kinds of tunnel openings create an impassable barrier for pedestrians and a noisy, heavily concreted environment that turns a neighbourhood into a through-corridor. It’s very difficult to have activated streetscapes with shops along the footpath in such areas. The opening to the Queen St underground bus station in Reddacliff Place next to the casino has a huge negative impact on the amenity and useability of this public square, carving up the square and inconveniencing pedestrians.
If you’re going to have underground busways, obviously you need tunnel openings somewhere, but generally it’s better to avoid locating the openings right in the middle of the CBD. This is why there was a bit of criticism of the proposal to have a tunnel opening along Adelaide St in the city, immediately to the south of the George St intersection. This will probably necessitate widening Adelaide Street and might make it harder to activate the frontages of the Brisbane Square library building and the Brisbane Quarter complex across the road.
Overall, the Metro project arguably involves a few too many ups and downs. Metros will run in the aboveground busway alongside the Pacific Motorway, dropping below ground level through the inner-south side, popping up again at the Cultural Centre to cross the Victoria Bridge, then going back underground again at Adelaide Street. It probably would have been more efficient (and would have freed up more public space) to run a new tunnel under the river and keep the whole Metro separate from surface traffic from Buranda right through to Roma Street, but I’m told a tunnel under the river would have added at least $1 billion to the cost of the project (currently budgeted at $944 million), which is why the Liberals decided to just repurpose the Victoria Bridge.
Power Source for New Vehicle Fleet
It is deeply concerning that the LNP have not ruled out using fossil fuel-powered vehicles for their new Metro fleet. There are many kinds of trains and buses around the world that run on electricity from the grid rather than diesel or petrol, and overseas we’re now also seeing rapid growth in the use of battery-powered electric buses that recharge their batteries at charging stations or bus depots.
When reducing dependence on fossil fuels should be a top priority for all levels of government, it seems crazy that the LNP wouldn’t go for an electric vehicle option even if it might cost a bit extra in the short-term (but perhaps not surprising when you consider their values and priorities).
Oil prices are likely to rise long-term, so the ongoing running costs of fossil fuel-powered vehicles are likely to increase, whereas the cost of electricity via renewable sources is predicted to continue decreasing.
Are They Just Glorified Buses?
When the Liberals first announced the ‘Brisbane Metro Subway’ project shortly before the 2016 election, a lot of the messaging and media statements gave the impression it would be some kind of underground light rail system. Later, when Graham Quirk clarified that it would be a ‘trackless’ ‘rubber-tired’ system, a lot of people rightly felt a little misled.
Since then, a lot of criticism of the Metro has focussed on the fact that the vehicles are actually just long, expensive buses. This element of the project is out to tender at the moment, so we don’t yet know exactly what kind of vehicles these will be.
Putting aside the LNP’s spin and doublespeak, I do wonder whether it might actually be worth distinguishing between conventional buses, and the modern vehicles which are increasingly being used in BRT (‘bus rapid transit’) systems around the world.
BRT vehicles brake and accelerate more smoothly than older-style buses like the ones we’re accustomed to in Brisbane. They also generally have much better suspension, are easier to get on and off without climbing steps, and are a little more spacious inside. So the experience for commuters is much more like using a train or light rail service than riding a traditional bus.
Professor Peter Newman has written a lot about these kinds of vehicles, which he refers to as ‘trackless trams’ rather than ‘buses’. He used to be a strong advocate of light rail, but has shifted his position and now advocates trackless trams as a more cost-effective and less disruptive way of expanding public transport coverage.
Certainly in Brisbane’s case, the use of trackless Metro vehicles would allow the city more flexibility to expand the network in future. For example, if we had a council administration that was less car-centric, we could extend Metro services along major road corridors (e.g. Gympie Road) by taking away a lane of general traffic and replacing it with a bus-only lane. This is much cheaper and easier to do when you don’t have the massive cost and disruptive construction impacts of laying tracks all the way along the corridor.
The biggest downside of a trackless system is that it further limits the fuel source options for the vehicles. A track-based system could more easily run off electricity from the grid, whereas a trackless system will either be petrol-powered, diesel-powered or battery-powered, and if battery-powered vehicles are more expensive, I worry that the LNP will just go for the cheap and unsustainable option of vehicles that run off fossil fuel-powered combustion engines.
Broader Network Review
One flow-on positive impact of the Metro project is that it will catalyse a proper rethink of the bus network throughout Brisbane. Over the past decade, network reviews have been repeatedly postponed or scaled back in scope, so it’s been years and years since significant changes have been made to the network. Putting 60 new Metro vehicles on the busway will free up existing buses for use on other routes around the city, and will help short-circuit the usual political games between Labor and the Liberals at both council and state government levels.
One volunteer who has spent a lot of time following Brisbane’s public transport policy debates commented that the entire Brisbane Metro project may actually just be a backdoor into forcing the state government to support a broader network review, which might have a grain of truth to it.
My main disappointment on this front is that the LNP seem to want to wait until after all the details of the Metro have been finalised (which probably won’t be until 2021 or 2022) before planning any new services or making major changes. I would rather see essential new bus services (such as the proposed City Glider between Woolloongabba, Kangaroo Point and Fortitude Valley) introduced now, so that they are up and running before the Metro project is completed.
At this stage, there’s still not really enough detail to evaluate how the Metro might positively or negatively impact other suburbs and bus routes (particularly the routes coming in and out of West End at street level) beyond the main busway corridor. Hopefully an overall increase to the number of vehicles in council’s fleet will also mean higher frequencies and later operating hours for the CityGliders, Buz Routes and other services around the city, but it’s hard to know for sure.
Currently, the operating hours of the Metro are still intended to stop at midnight most nights of the week, with all-night services on Fridays and Saturdays. This is a positive step, but long-term it would be good to see later services on weeknights as well.
What else could we spend the money on?
As highlighted above, there has been no public disclosure regarding what alternatives to the Metro were seriously considered by the LNP. This project largely just uses the existing busway infrastructure, and is trying to increase the capacity and efficiency of the public transport network without taking any space away from cars. It does not create major new public transport hubs in under-served parts of the city, or improve inter-suburban connectivity outside the existing busway corridor.
In many respects, Brisbane Metro reinforces rather than challenges the fact that Brissie’s PT network remains heavily focussed on moving commuters in and out of the inner-city. Almost all bus routes from the south side go through the Cultural Centre, creating bottlenecks that are much more severe than they should be considering our city’s current population and the low proportion of people who currently use the public transport network.
But there might have been other, cheaper ways to fix the Victoria Bridge and Melbourne Street bottlenecks without spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a new Cultural Centre station and a short extension to the busway tunnel.
The Victoria Bridge isn’t the only route across the river. The reason council’s bus planners don’t run more routes over the Story Bridge, Captain Cook Bridge and William Jolly Bridge is that the buses get caught up in general traffic, and unfortunately the Liberal councillors are very resistant to turning car lanes into bus-priority lanes.
Currently no high-frequency bus routes run across the William Jolly or Story Bridges, and only one high-frequency route – the 340 – uses the Captain Cook Bridge. Creating dedicated bus lanes or transit lanes on the other major bridges (and the main roads that connect to them) would open up a range of possibilities to rethink the network, addressing the Cultural Centre bottlenecks without having to spend big on tunnel portals. Running more bus routes up Ipswich Rd/Main St and over the Story Bridge would also help reinvigorate parts of Kangaroo Point that currently feel a bit dead.
The broader point here is simply that other cheaper options to address the Cultural Centre bottlenecks don’t seem to have been seriously considered, because the LNP has an irrational ideological objection to taking road space away from cars.
I can’t help but wonder whether instead of sinking two thirds of the project budget into tunnels and station redesigns, the money could have been put into paying for many more new vehicles, and installing bus lanes on all major road corridors to massively expand the coverage of high-frequency bus or Metro services throughout Brisbane.
Creating new transport corridors (largely via tunnels) is much more expensive than simply repurposing existing corridors for more efficient uses. If we are willing to prioritise buses over cars on existing surface roads, massive improvements to the transport network are possible at relatively low cost, which would free up more revenue for subsidising bus fares, and get us a lot closer to that holy grail of free public transport.
You could write all day about a project as big as the Metro. I still have a lot of unanswered questions and will be following the project closely over the next few years. Although $944 million sounds like a lot of money, this compares poorly to the hundreds of millions of dollars that BCC spends every single year on road projects that prioritise and encourage private motor vehicle transport. Sadly, we’re still a long way away from the public transport revolution that so many Brisbanites are craving.
3 July 2018
The general tendency of the current LNP-dominated council administration is to spend too much on mega-projects and too little on smaller value-for-money upgrades that actually improve safety and convenience for local residents, and that trend has continued with the 2018/19 budget.
In terms of spending on transport within the Gabba Ward for the 2018/19 financial year, most of the key infrastructure projects have already been announced and do not need much explanation. These include:
Woolloongabba Bikeway Project - $7.9 million carried over due to delays + $3.2 million for a total of $11.1 million this financial year
Kangaroo Point Bikeway Stage 1 - $2.9 million
Traffic lights at intersection of Vulture St and Montague Rd, West End - $4.3 million
There’s also $600 000 in the budget for significant repairs to the Kangaroo Point Riverwalk (schedule 22.214.171.124), a few hundred thousand for repairs to retaining walls and embankments around the ward, and $80 000 for a Pedestrian crossing island over Vulture St East near Norman St, East Brisbane (schedule 126.96.36.199).
I was initially quite surprised to see $118 000 for a ‘Congestion-busting project’ (schedule 188.8.131.52) on Vulture St between Hampstead Rd and Edmondstone St in South Brisbane, but we’ve since learned that this is simply to paint some right-hand turning arrows in the right lanes. I will be pushing for any changes to the road markings through this stretch to include space for bike lanes. I’m not sure how successful this will be.
River Loop Safety Upgrades for Bikes and Pedestrians
One newish project which I’m very pleased about is the allocation of $1 million towards ‘River Loop Safety Improvements’ (schedule 184.108.40.206) which refers to the popular cycling route around Brisbane’s inner suburbs. I will be pushing for a fair chunk of this budget to be spent on Gladstone Rd and Dornoch Terrace in Dutton Park and Highgate Hill. I have provided the clear advice to council that this money should be used to improve safety pedestrians and not just bikes, and I have highlighted following locations as deserving of particular attention:
The dangerously narrow road shoulders/bike lanes and the informal pedestrian crossing point at Lochaber-Gladstone
The intersection(s) of Gladstone, Pope and Deighton near St Ita’s Primary School
The Gladstone Rd zebra crossing near Park Rd West
The Dornoch-Hampstead intersection
The St James Street stairway (where a footpath along Dornoch ends abruptly and forces users to either cross a busy downhill stretch of Dornoch without kerb ramps, or walk down a very steep flight of steps)
The St Francis Crossing (previously designed as a zebra crossing, but now much less convenient for pedestrians since the zebra crossing was removed)
The Dornoch-Ganges-Hardgrave intersection (one of the busiest and most dangerous unsignalised pedestrian crossings in the inner-south side)
Unfortunately, a budget of $1 million probably won’t be enough to fully address all of the above-listed trouble spots, and I will continue to lobby for more money to be spent on pedestrian and cyclist safety within the Gabba Ward.
As you can see, any new infrastructure project involving a roadway is insanely expensive. Some of the key factors which drive up costs include:
Paying multiple designers and traffic engineers to sign off on the project (even if it’s a simple project like a pedestrian island that shouldn’t need extensive design work)
Paying for traffic management schemes and traffic controllers for the duration of a project (adds a lot to labour costs even for minor projects like drawing new lines)
Relocating underground cables and pipes – this is a particularly expensive element that often requires collaboration with Telstra, Energex etc
Designing road environments to tolerate high speeds – with lower speed limits, you can have narrower lanes and narrower concrete barriers between bike lanes, but as the speed environment increases, so does the cost of infrastructure
Unreasonable requirements to maintain traffic flow volumes – this is a key problem particularly with traffic lights and bike lane projects. Because the designers are told that they can’t reduce the flow of cars, it’s much harder to make more room for pedestrians and bikes and they often have to acquire more land and relocate more underground services – making what would otherwise be a cheap and simple project much more expensive
Brisbane Metro Project
The other massive spending allocation in the annual budget that impacts on the Gabba Ward is the Brisbane Metro project. I’ll post in more detail about this over the coming months. The council has gone out to tender for early works and a few other elements of the project.
The project has been scaled down dramatically from what was originally proposed. It’s basically some bigger, longer buses running along the existing busway, but users will pay/swipe their GoCard when they enter the station rather than when they get onto the bus itself. It also involves a major redesign of the Cultural Centre bus station (which won’t begin for a couple of years) and closing Victoria Bridge to cars and bicycles. Personally I support closing Victoria Bridge to cars, but I think access for bicycles should be maintained.
One of my other main concerns is that BCC is seriously considering fossil fuel-driven vehicles for the new fleet. This seems pretty silly to me for a lot of obvious reasons, and I would hope and expect that they will prioritise electric or at least hybrid options.
For 2018/19, the Lord Mayor has allocated a total of $39.9 million to the Metro, with another $700+ million to come over the next few years. Project costs are dramatically higher than they need to be due to the short-sighted desire to keep Grey Street open to cars through the Melbourne St intersection, and the reluctance to introduce bus-only lanes on key bottlenecks like the Captain Cook Bridge, the Story Bridge, Ipswich Rd and Gympie Rd. It seems the analysis of alternative options within the Metro business case has been quite limited and restricted in its scope. Although I’m willing to accept that the project will have an overall positive impact on the transport network in Brisbane, I’m not convinced that this is the most cost-effective use of almost a billion dollars.
Still No West End CityCat Terminal
There’s still no funding for a new CityCat terminal to service the high-density developments along Montague Rd in West End. This is obviously extremely short-sighted of the LNP, and will probably exacerbate congestion and compound transport planning challenges in future years. I’ve still got a live petition on my website calling for a new CityCat or some other kind of high-capacity public transport solution for the western half of the 4101 peninsula. You can sign it at this link.
Continuing service gaps in the bus network
Public transport coverage in Brisbane’s inner-south side varies widely from one neighbourhood to the next.
This map shows the bus and train routes that run at least every 15 minutes (note that it excludes ferries and CityCats). As you can see, some parts of the Gabba ward – such as along the busway, the train line, and the CityGlider and 199 routes – are reasonably well served, whereas large chunks of Highgate Hill, East Brisbane and Kangaroo Point still lack high-frequency services. There’s also no direct east-west link between West End and East Brisbane/Coorparoo. These gaps need to be filled if we are to accommodate a growing population and shift more residents away from car-dependency. Projects which reduce vehicle access (such as closing the Victoria Bridge) or remove carparking (e.g. to make room for bike lanes) must be accompanied by investment in new high-frequency public transport services to cater for local residents.
Unfortunately, this year council has again failed to put any money into creating new bus routes and services, which is a problem right across the city.
As well as all of the transport projects listed above, council is spending a lot of money on road resurfacing within the Gabba Ward. Here’s a rough list of all the resurfacing projects identified for our area in 2018/19:
Hill End Terrace
Lower Hardgrave Road
Lower River Terrace
All up, this comes to a total of just over $2.8 million. Across the city as a whole, the council is spending $90 million on road resurfacing in 2018/19 (schedule 220.127.116.11), and there are probably many more streets that need resurfacing that aren’t in this year’s budget. The Gabba Ward is one of the most heavily populated wards in Brisbane, but despite carrying a lot of traffic from other parts of the city, it also has significantly less spending on road resurfacing than most other wards, which is largely thanks to the higher density, and the fact that a higher proportion of Gabba Ward residents walk, ride and catch public transport to get around.
It’s a reminder that even once you spend the money building and widening roads, you have to spend a lot more money maintaining them on an ongoing basis. This is not sustainable for the city long-term. Every time council spends hundreds of millions of dollars widening a road corridor (such as Lytton Road or Kingsford Smith Drive) it’s also increasing the road maintenance burden for future council administrations. Putting aside the negative environmental and social impacts of a transport network that revolves around cars, this approach is also economically unsustainable.
Overall, the Gabba Ward has faired a lot better than many parts of the city in terms of the raw quantum of investment in transport infrastructure, but most of that money continues to be wasted on road projects rather than active and public transport. The total budget this year for traffic calming (e.g. speed bumps and build-outs) across the entire city was only $1.9 million, which compares very poorly to the massive outlays on resurfacing and widening roads. With a few notable exceptions (such as the Woolloongabba Bikeway project) Brisbane City Council’s priorities are still quite backwards when it comes to transport infrastructure and planning, and are completely out of step with the direction that most other developed cities are now taking.
If you’re frustrated about the lack of investment in pedestrian safety and public transport, I also encourage you to read this explanation of infrastructure spending shortfalls if you haven’t already seen it.
The recent use of die-ins and other temporary blockades to raise concerns about pedestrian and cycling safety has raised legitimate questions about whether this is a constructive and useful tactic.
There’s no denying that temporary blockades frustrate motorists and potentially polarise the community. But their value must be understood in the context of a broader, multi-faceted campaign for change. Blockades are one important tool in a big diverse toolkit, and they can be valuable and effective alongside other forms of advocacy.
Right now in Brisbane, we have an abundance of community groups and non-profit organisations pushing hard to make our city more walkable and less car-centric. We’ve had dozens of petitions, letter-writing campaigns and submissions, with little to no impact. Advocates have also organised all kinds of community-building activities to legitimise and normalise cycling, and demonstrate that a bike-friendly city is possible and worthwhile. Various groups have hosted a range of workshops and policy forums where we create the space for nuanced, evidence-based conversations (usually, very few people come).
While these various tactics have all played a useful role in shifting mindsets and achieving small wins, the pace of change has been far too slow. The proportion of funding and resources dedicated to pedestrian safety and bike lanes remains tiny compared to the amount of money that is wasted on widening roads. Maintaining a seat at the table through diplomacy and compromise sounds nice, but you might actually be sitting at the kids’ table, arguing over crumbs while the rest of the cake is sliced up elsewhere.
In Amsterdam in the 1970s, residents upended vehicles and permanently blockaded major roads to call for safer streets
When you consider the growing problem of traffic congestion, the health system costs of so many accidents, the billions of dollars which are wasted each year on ineffective road projects, and the desperate urgency to reduce fossil fuel emissions in order to minimise the negative impacts of climate change, it’s clear that we need some radical changes. Not only has tangible change been too slow, but on some indicators we’re actually moving backwards. Active and public transport rates have stagnated in Brisbane, and for some demographics, they’ve decreased significantly.
Over the last ten years, the multi-pronged push for pedestrian and bike safety improvements in Brisbane has been characterised by an absence of civil disobedience. It has also been characterised by a lack of significant and tangible positive outcomes. Brisbane City Council and the Queensland Government have grudgingly funded a few valuable projects, but much of the city remains hostile and unsafe for both pedestrians and bikes.
People are dying on our roads. Thousands more are being hospitalised. If preventable accidents were occurring at this rate in a private workplace, the business would be shut down. But the high rate of casualties on our roads has been accepted and normalised due to the lack of political pressure for change.
I hear a lot of road safety advocates talk about the wonderful infrastructure and pedestrian-friendly road culture in cities like Amsterdam, which are designed to prioritise pedestrians and bikes. Too often, those advocates forget or are unaware of the widespread and controversial civil disobedience actions that Dutch citizens organised throughout the 1970s in order to help make this happen. Civil disobedience wasn’t the only part of the campaign, but it was an essential and crucial element. To challenge the growing car-centric mindset in the Netherlands, residents blockaded roads, held up traffic and pissed off a lot of people. Without this activism, the pressure from car manufacturers, motorist lobby groups, oil companies, road construction companies, mega-mall developers etc would have led to Amsterdam becoming just like every other car-centric capital city. But the Dutch fought back, and it worked.
Controversial tactics like blockades create the space for conversation. They draw a huge amount of attention to an issue, both from the general public, and from key decision-makers. But their true value lies not in the immediate media coverage, but in the subsequent discussions they provoke. Some of these discussions are hostile and antagonistic, but many are constructive and valuable.
Civil disobedience also creates the negotiating space for other ‘moderate’ groups to articulate stronger demands. When politicians are confronted by disruptive, controversial protests, they will publicly dismiss the protestors as vocal fringe extremists, but will then simultaneously seek to appease and build stronger relationships with the very community groups whose petitions they previously ignored.
The fact that residents are so frustrated that they’ve taken to protesting about pedestrian crossings and bike lanes is not a good look for a city council. After the immediate news story is forgotten, the lasting memory in the collective subconscious is that people are unhappy with the council’s approach to road safety and transport planning. The desire to counteract that negative perception helps shift policy priorities and accelerates change.
A few people have suggested to me that rather than blockades, we should instead focus on actions that disrupt meetings in City Hall or Parliament House. While I think protests of that kind do have positive value, they generally get less media coverage and do not make as big an impact on the collective consciousness as protests that actively disrupt roads or commercial precincts. From what I've seen during my time as a city councillor, it's actually pretty easy for politicians to ignore a bunch of protestors who disrupt their meetings. It's much harder for politicians to ignore the broader sense of public discontent that civil disobedience actions on roads or in shopping malls can create.
While other cities around the world are actively embracing walkable neighbourhoods and safe bike infrastructure, Brisbane has fallen behind. The problem is not that our city is uniquely car-dependent, or that the influence of the motorist lobby is particularly strong. It’s that without the pointy-end, antagonistic protests, there’s not enough political pressure for anything more than minor incremental gains. And we can’t afford to wait another twenty or thirty years for the political establishment’s current bias towards cars to die out.
There probably won’t be a direct and immediate political response to the kinds of actions we’re organising. But a year or so from now, when political parties are deciding their policy platform and funding priorities for the next Brisbane City Council election campaign, the memory of these protest actions will subtly but significantly influence those big decisions.
If blockades were the only tactic used in advocating for change, I would agree that the division and hostility they cause might not justify the positive impacts. But as part of a multi-faceted strategy, they are effective and necessary.
The risk-averse advocacy groups who condemn and distance themselves from these kinds of controversial actions would do well to remember that the cities they point to – particularly in Europe and South America – as examples of good urban transport planning have had decades of controversial direct action in order to get to where they are today.
Divisive tactics will inevitably put off some people. But Brisbane cycling and pedestrian safety advocates have spent the last decade asking politely and carefully avoiding any action that might annoy or aggravate motorists, even as more and more of our friends end up in hospital. It hasn’t worked. We need to shake things up. Our lives depend on it.
Council has released further info about what it's referring to as the 'Kangaroo Point Bikeway Project'. I think the title is a bit misleading, because the project actually falls within the suburb of South Brisbane, and focuses on Lower River Terrace, Dock St and Little Dock St, which is the link between the Veloway bikeway (which runs along the Pacific Motorway) and the Goodwill Bridge. I tend to refer to it as the 'Dock St Bike Link'.
You can find the basic details and give feedback via the council website.
I'm pleased to see this project going ahead and have been pushing for it for some time. We were particularly concerned about conflicts between bikes and cars, and also bikes and pedestrians. A lot of people would probably agree that in particular, the current design of the pathways leading up to the Goodwill Bridge is suboptimal.
I'm very supportive of most aspects of the draft concept design. In particular, I'm quite excited about the 'shared street' proposal for Little Dock St, which will clearly signal to cars that they need to share the road and be more conscious of pedestrians and bikes.
However, I think there are two key missed opportunities in this preliminary design that need to be reconsidered.
1. The lack of pedestrian and bicycle priority at the Lower River Terrace crossing coming off the Veloway.
2. The loss of public green space at the intersection of Dock St and Vulture St.
Pedestrians and bikes should take priority over cars
As shown on the right-hand side of the second page of the prelim design (pictured above), the proposed crossing from the Veloway 1 Bikeway over Lower River Terrace still gives priority to cars ahead of bikes. I understand this decision was made because council didn't believe it was possible to design a safe crossing point that gives priority to bikes, but I simply don't buy that. If the concern is that cars turning onto Lower River Terrace wouldn't stop or slow down in time to give way to bikes, it should be possible to narrow the road corridor with chicanes or install additional speed bumps to slow down motor vehicles.
We already have examples in Brisbane where bikes are given priority over cars along key cycling routes. One such example is the crossing at Albion near the intersection of Somerset St and McDonald Rd (see below). Although not 100% perfect in its design, this intersection gives priority to bikes and pedestrians on a 50km/h road in an area where heavy vehicles are common. If a car fails to give way to a pedestrian or bike at this kind of intersection, the driver would be responsible for the accident in the same way as if they had run a red light or hit someone at a zebra crossing.
The Dock St bike link in South Brisbane is one of the most popular commuter cycling routes in the country. Many more bikes pass through this spot than cars, and given that we are trying to encourage more people to ride rather than drive, it makes a lot of sense to give bikes (and pedestrians) priority over cars when crossing Lower River Terrace. As part of this project, council could also look at lowering the speed limit on Lower River Terrace to 20 or 30km/h, with further garden bed build-outs/chicanes. Lower River Terrace is not a key connector road - if we need to slow down motorists in order to make pedestrians and cyclists safer, so be it.
It's important to recognise that based on council's current draft plans, even if motorists technically continue to have right of way at this intersection, many cyclists will not necessarily realise this and will tend to ride as though they do in fact have priority. By designing a crossing with a raised platform that slows cars down and gives cyclists a flat run, but still technically assigning priority to cars, the council may inadvertently be making the crossing more confusing and thus more dangerous.
We should sacrifice road space rather than green space
The intersection of Dock St, Vulture St and Stanley St is a problematic spot for pedestrians and bikes and will be undergoing a major redesign as part of the neighbouring Woolloongabba bikeway project. The northern side of this intersection (Dock St and Vulture) clearly needs an expanded pedestrian island (shown in yellow in the below image) to accommodate the volume of pedestrians and bikes travelling between the Goodwill Bridge and the Mater precinct.
Unfortunately, to create space for this pedestrian island, BCC is proposing to substantially reduce the size of the small park on the corner. Although it doesn't look especially impressive, this little park is used by local workers (particularly from Griffith film school across the road) as a shady spot to eat lunch. The park is also a welcome patch of green at an intersection that otherwise feels very built-up and dominated by concrete and bitumen. This plan would essentially bring the roadway closer to the established trees in the park and reduce the size of this green space.
A better alternative would be for council to remove one of the general traffic lanes heading straight out of Dock St, so that Dock only has 1 left-turn slip lane and 1 lane for vehicles turning right or going straight ahead. Rather than reducing public parkland to make room for pedestrians, council should be reducing the amount of space we allocate to cars. Many of the vehicles travelling straight out of Dock St are commuters rat-running via Lower River Terrace and Ellis St to get to Somerville House or the hospitals. This also increases the time it takes for local residents of Dock St to get through the intersection and out of this precinct. This is not a shortcut that council should be encouraging. Reducing Dock St down to one lane would also reduce the amount of time pedestrians require to cross here, which should also help improve the overall efficiency of the intersection.
In a neighbourhood with such high volumes of pedestrians and cyclists, and which is well-serviced by a range of public transport options, it simply does not make sense to rank the needs of a minority of motorists ahead of the majority of active transport and public transport commuters.
I'm broadly supportive of the Dock St bike link. The shared street approach on Little Dock St is a great step forward, and one of the first of its kind in Brisbane, and the designers should be applauded for thinking outside the box. But the two issues I've outlined here are quite concerning, and need to be reconsidered in the final designs.
I'll be providing these comments to the council. You can also give your feedback by emailing the project team on email@example.com.
The State Government has finally released a bit more info about the proposed new public high school for Brisbane’s inner-south side.
I’ve written previously about overcrowding issues at Brisbane State High School, and late last year I wrote an update raising concerns about the lack of genuine consultation and possible flaws in the government’s process for deciding where the new school should go.
Recent disclosures by the State Government have showed my concerns were not unfounded. While different government sources initially provided somewhat-conflicting information via different forums, here’s some of what we’ve been told…
- the new high school will have a capacity of 1100 to 1400 students
- like Brisbane State High School, the new school may have a merit-based entry component, meaning students from outside the local area will be able to attend it
- the government’s preferred site is at Boggo Road/Dutton Park near the train station
- two other sites – one next to Davies Park, and the other at the northwest end of the Kurilpa Peninsula along Montague Rd – were briefly considered but deemed less viable
- the school is proposed to have exactly the same catchment boundaries as BSHS
- the new high school will have very little green space on site for student sport and recreation, but the government is currently negotiating with UQ for shared access to UQ sports fields on the north side
As a local councillor, it seems to me that the location, the catchment boundaries and the decision to include merit-based selective entry enrolments are all suboptimal, and that the State Government needs to completely reconsider its approach.
When you look at the government's Precinct Selection Report (particularly page 7 and 8) it's obvious that revoking or reducing BSHS's selective entry enrolment was left out of scope for this decision, so it was more-or-less taken for granted that the new school would also include merit-based selective entry. This necessarily influenced how the government evaluated each potential site, particularly in terms of transport and accessibility. It's obvious that the arbitrary deadline of wanting the school to be ready by 2021 also seriously influenced the decision, despite the fact that BSHS could accommodate more local students in the short-term if it tweaked its enrolment policy.