For a Better Brisbane

Light Rail and Density

Video: special, Maurice Rivenbark

Is Brisbane ‘not dense enough’ for Light Rail? Below, the BrisUrbane blog compares Brisbane to other ‘low density’ cities in the US which have light rail.* Figures are in persons/km2:

  • Brisbane (900 persons/km2)
  • St Louis, United States of America (1000 persons/km2)
  • Boston, United States of America (900 persons/km2)
  • Pittsburgh, United States of America (800 persons/km2)
  • Charlotte, United States of America (700 persons/km2)

Charlotte, North Carolina is at the bottom of that density list with a density well below that of Brisbane. The above video gives a taste of what their Lynx Light Rail service is like. People view the Light Rail system as something good to live near, and even in an extremely low density city, the Light Rail line has created opportunities for higher density development and housing around itself.

One reason for upgrading the buses to Light Rail in West End and New Farm is not just  service and capacity, but the permanency that comes with rail and the opportunities that, together with wider conditions such as city growth, can attract urban renewal and development that buses in Brisbane seem to have not been able to match.

It’s no secret that Light Rail takes time to install and can cost more upfront than alternatives to, and is difficult politically to remove once installed. But this might just be the signal the private sector is searching for. Similar to a number of light rail projects in the US,  the residents of Charlotte voted to tax themselves (a sales tax) to help fund the Light Rail service. Charlotte hasn’t forgotten about buses either, with upgrades to the bus services also following.

So is Brisbane ‘not dense enough’ for Light Rail? Probably not. While blunt citywide density figures are probably not the best at capturing the ‘micro level’ factors that lead to high patronage, patronage on Brisbane’s buses is strong and certainly so in the New Farm-City-West End corridor.

And to finally put the density debate to sleep, the latest Connecting SEQ 2031 draft plan even has ideas for a metro in the inner suburbs. With more people moving to South East Queensland, Light Rail might just be the thing to stimulate transit oriented development, urban renewal and make people think twice before moving to the far fringes of the city.

*Figures from Demographia’s Urban World City Densities, which can be found in the Information Interchange.


2 Responses

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  1. The BrisUrbane Blog has reviewed Dr Mees new book and intends to post something about it in the future.

    Unfortunately the development/community building aspects don’t seem to feature in the cost/benefit. The modal characteristics were compared, but the urban land use impacts were not.

    While LRT is likely to be more expensive than buses, what really matters is how it will be paid for. Developers would probably be willing contribute something back to the community, such as having LRT being installed because it is good for everyone and makes the area attractive.

    It seems unlikely that a developer would pay money for a more frequent bus route.

    Other things are
    – bunching of bus services on 199
    – noise complaints from bus engines
    – crowding on 199

    A bigger vehicle will be needed in time. BRT is a good introduction to, but not a substitute for, LRT.


    October 15, 2010 at 5:19 pm

  2. Paul Mees carries a convincing appraisal of the density/PT myth in his latest book
    Sadly recent Brisbane studies on mass transit have faded in rigor. Comparisons have manipulated costs across the life-cycle of modes in comparison, failed to calculate true costs, failed to include subsidises and overstating/undestating benefits.


    October 15, 2010 at 11:55 am

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