For a Better Brisbane

Archive for December 2010

LRT: Why Brisbane missed the tram

Brisbane has experienced the failure of LRT proposals three times over, and since this time two further LRT proposals (former premier Peter Beattie’s Smart Cities proposal and The Greens’ Light Rail plan for Brisbane) have appeared. It seems the issue of LRT will just not go away.

This blog recently came across this paper which explores why Brisbane’s three serious LRT proposals all failed. Written by Peter Turner of the engineering consultancy firm Parsons Brinkerhoff, it surprisingly identifies a range of non-technical issues a reasons why the three LRT proposals for Brisbane failed.

For any LRT proposal to succeed in Brisbane, all the following things must all align:

  • The proposal must be simple, and have “common sense” about it
  • Funding must be secured
  • Community groups and the community must support it
  • Stakeholder groups must have genuine consultation (i.e. Property Council)
  • It must serve demand
  • At least for the initial stages, it should not run on the busway or require busway conversion

A stable and committed partnership between State and Council levels of government, particularly the support of the Lord Mayor of Brisbane is absolutely critical.

This blog therefore believes that the KISS (keep it simple, stupid) principle is a helpful guidance. This means 1 or 2 LRT lines, serving areas that have the best chance of high patronage: The New Farm-CBD-West End corridor. This corridor has proven high patronage: BUZ 199 carried about 3.4 million passengers in 2009 and now runs every 5 minutes in peak hour,  the CityGlider has carried 1 million passengers to date and runs every 5 minutes in peak hour, and the New Farm-CBD-Fairfield 196 bus carried 1 million in 2009 and runs every 15 minutes for most of the off-peak.

The inclusion of West End and New Farm cannot be stressed enough. The later light rail proposals such as BrizTram, were compromised because they had the “profitable high-patronage bits”, such as West End, The University of Queensland and New Farm cut off. West End is ideal because of the large amount of industrial land that can be converted over to sustainable transit-oriented development, particularly along Montague Road.

Further issues such as proposals to run heritage trams (and use non-standard voltage to allow this to happen) and potential tram-train operation over the QR heavy rail network only served to further cloud and complicate the LRT proposals. This blog therefore favours the use of standard equipment, heritage services not be run on it and no interface with the QR heavy rail system. Excessive tunneling and bridge works should probably be avoided too as it will easily price the proposal out of existence.

The argument that “a light rail system is not a council responsibility” is sometimes advanced. The Gold Coast City Council however has set a precedent against this, by contributing $120 million of its own money. By spreading the cost burden over different levels of government it becomes possible to pay for the system. The private sector (developers along the route) may also be another source of funds if LRT is to happen in Brisbane.

Funding breakdown for the Gold Coast Light Rail project, stage 1:

  • Commonwealth Government – $365 million
  • Queensland Government – $464 million
  • Gold Coast City Council – $120 million

The Gold Coast Rapid Transit website is here:


Decoding Density: Can you guess the housing density?

Video: This was part of a presentation by Dan Zack, Downtown Development Coordinator of Redwood City to members of Alliance for a Livable Palo Alto.

Residential density must be the single most plagued and problematic statistic in urban and transit affairs. Low density is a common explanation for  why one particular mode of transport is “better” than another for a particular city, or why motorways to everywhere rather than public transport is the solution to our transportation woes. Like many things there may be truth to these statements- after all it only seems intuitive that if you have a very large empty paddock, no amount of high frequency public transport services to it is going to make such a service full with passengers.

But intuition only goes so far.

So often statements such as “City X is too low density for  public transport mode X or plan X” are often accompanied by no supporting reference whatsoever, let alone details of the method used to calculate it so that someone else may verify it or even a number. To this blog it sometimes seems that “the vibe” about what the density is perceived to be, rather than what the density actually is, is being used to advance such arguments.  And too often these arguments are used against public transport. In particular light rail, heavy rail and metro rail seem to be particularly prone to this line of argument.

The density dilemma isn’t limited to public transport either. If you live in the city, you may have heard about the need for higher density living in the inner suburbs. This blog is generally supportive of increased densities. However, density and building height are two different things.

Why is density so problematic? Perhaps people’s perceptions and expectations of what density looks like are the reasons behind many broad and sweeping statements about density.

How good are you at using “the vibe” to get an idea of the density of a particular development or suburb? Click the video above!

The moral of the story is clear. Density may well be used to advance a particular point, but there had better be some kind of number and reference to back it up. City densities are also rarely uniform within a city too. The BrisUrbane blog links to two sources of information about city-wide densities in the information interchange. And public transport projects should really be looked at in a proper study, rather than relying on “the vibe“.

For those interested, Dr Paul Mees book Transport for suburbia details further problems and complications with the vexed issue of density. A link to “A liveable Palo Alto ” is here

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December 7, 2010 at 11:14 pm

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