For a Better Brisbane

Archive for March 2011

Canada Transit Special: Opening post

Video credit: JCV dude, Youtube “CN Tower and Toronto from Air”

Images of:

  • CN Tower
  • City of Toronto
  • Urban fabric
  • Landing at Toronto Pearson Airport

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March 26, 2011 at 1:33 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Do not confuse propulsion with mode: Electric buses do exist!

One of the things that gets this Blog’s puzzled is the idea that ‘rail is clean’ and that ‘bus is dirty’. One example is on page 47 of the Draft Connecting SEQ 2031 report where it says this:

  • Reduced reliance on oil-based fuels; passenger rail in SEQ is fully electrified there are no equivalent forms of bus power.

(Bold emphasis has been added by the BrisUrbane blog). This confusion between propulsion and mode might be a rather unfortunate misunderstanding. The Lord Mayor’s Mass Transit report 2007 (page 58) also purports to compare greenhouse emissions from ‘Light Rail versus Bus’ and compared an electric LRT vehicle and a diesel bus, concluding that only at higher passenger occupancy does Light Rail outperform the bus. The BrisUrbane blog feels that this is perhaps a bit unfair, as it is quite possible to get Light Rail that operates on diesel. Ottawa, Canada, the same city that Brisbane took the busways concept from, also runs a diesel Light Rail service called O-train. And it is also quite possible to get an electric bus, as the video in this post shows. The cleanliness of any mode depends not on just how much energy the vehicle is using, but also how ‘clean’ or ‘dirty’ the underlying energy source is. Power stations will have to become cleaner so that the transport that runs off them is also clean; until then greenpower or carbon offsets could be used.

Brisbane '1963 TRAM & TROLLEY BUS', copyright by Flickr user Lindsaybridge. Reproduced with permission. Click for URL.

Apart from the fact that any medium to large city requires a family of transport modes to handle the transportation task, Brisbane in 1960’s actually ran electric buses (trolleybuses), here is a photo of a Brisbane electric tram side-by-side with an electric bus, with the Mater Hospital in the background. So electric buses are nothing new, in fact they have been around for donkey’s years. Perhaps it is because a collective fog of amnesia seems to have settled on all cities which have vandalised ripped out their tram and electric bus systems that we now seem surprised that electric trams and electric buses are real options.

Trolleybuses are great because they are virtually silent, no exhaust pollution and have excellent hill climbing abilities. The downsides are the need for wires (although newer technologies like fast charging may eliminate this). Electric buses could be useful around the hilly parts of Brisbane where trams or Light Rail are not justified yet- Mt Co-tha, Bardon, Spring Hill and parts of St Lucia in the future.

Acknowledgement: The BrisUrbane Blog acknowledges Flickr user Lindsaybridge for providing copyright permission to reproduce the tram/trolleybus photograph.

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March 24, 2011 at 10:45 pm

Is density destiny? Transport for Suburbia (book review)

Dr Paul Mees latest book, Transport for Suburbia: Beyond the Automobile age. Image credit: Earthscan.

My central argument is that the public transport problem is easier to solve than people think. We don’t need to demolish our suburbs and rebuild them at many times their current densities; nor do we need a fundamental transformation of human consciousness …

-Preface, Transport for Suburbia, P. Mees

Is density destiny? Dr Paul Mees latest book Transport for Suburbia: Beyond the Automobile age explores this question. It’s a very readable book, written for the ordinary person to understand. It walks the reader through the rise of car dominance ‘autopia’ and the decline of private rail, tram and bus operations. It argues that citywide density figures have been used for arguing against public transport improvements. For those who wonder just how all-pervasive this density-population-transit mode share idea is,  there is a ‘density’ comparison table in the Northern Link EIS documents on page 2-39 (italic emphasis added, link here). To be fair, it was written before the release of Transport for Suburbia.

The convenience and flexibility provided by private motor vehicle travel appears to override other
considerations, such as personal finances, for the majority of suburban residents in Australian capital cities. The demand for this mode of travel can be expected to continue in the future.

Furthermore, the form and density of most Australian cities, including Brisbane and the other major centres in South East Queensland, demand a degree of reliance on private motor vehicle travel, at least to a public transport node.

Table 2-7 illustrates the low density of settlement in the Brisbane urban area compared with other Australian cities and international cities with arguably better public transport systems and a lower reliance on private motor vehicle travel.

– Northern Link Environmental Impact Statement,

Volume 1, Chapter 2 “project rationale” page 2-39, by SKM Connell Wagner.

The table from the NorthernLink EIS shows Brisbane with the lowest density and lowest population out of the cities of London, Paris, San Francisco, Vancouver, Sydney and Melbourne. The BrisUrbane Blog intends to revisit this issue in later posts.

The book has a detailed look at ‘greener cars’ and accompanying claims that electric cars or more fuel efficient cars will make ‘autopia’ sustainable.  Mees argues that the fuel efficiency of the Australian car fleet from 1963-2006 has remained virtually the same over that period and thus fuel efficient cars won’t overall do much and also, depending on how clean the power plants are, electric cars are likely to simply transfer emissions from the exhaust pipe to the power station.

A detailed table of citywide densities are provided on pages 60-61; Los Angeles, the poster child of freeways and sprawl turns out to be one of the most dense and highly populated cities in the list (out of a set of US, Canadian and Australian cities). It also shows that LA has terrible transport mode share of just 4.7%. In contrast, Brisbane with a density far below that of LA and a far lower population has a much better transport mode share of 13.8%.

The thorny issue of private versus public is dealt with in chapter 5, with the book recommending that strategic functions such as network planning and ticketing should rest with a public authority, rather than just be left to individual operators. Chapter six examines the case of public transport in Melbourne and Toronto, and why, despite their similarities, public transport patronage collapsed in Melbourne but held up in Toronto, despite Toronto having far less train infrastructure than Melbourne.

Usefully, it takes all of these examples and proposes a general working model of what a successful public transport system looks like. It proposes a public agency in control of network planning, fares and ticketing, and a focus on network planning rather than huge density increases to improve public transport, so things like getting the different modes connecting with each other through interchanges, simple line structures, pulse timing and decent frequency.

The BrisUrbane blog feels that some parts of the book perhaps overstated some things like the timing of SmartBus at Huntingdale station (if the bus connects multiple railway lines, which train do you time for?), it is all in all a valuable book for transit and community advocates who might want something easier to read than very technical engineering textbooks. This isn’t likely to be the only transit book review for this year- The BrisUrbane blog looks forward to reviewing another transit advocacy book, Human Transit, by Jarrett Walker of the Human Transit Blog when it is released.

Acknowledgment: EarthScan publishers for allowing copyright permission to republish the book’s cover image for the purposes of this blog post. Transport for Suburbia may be purchased here. The BrisUrbane blog is not associated with EarthScan and receives no benefit or inducement for the publication of this book review.

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March 19, 2011 at 7:41 pm

What influences public transport patronage? (1)

Perth skyline as viewed from Mt Eliza. Image credits: chip_2904 (flickr user/CC)

What influences public transport patronage? It’s a simple enough question. The first ideas that spring to mind is ‘Citywide density’ and ‘city population’. The BrisUrbane Blog is currently reviewing Dr Paul Mees’ book Transport for Suburbia, beyond the Automobile age which argues that while density has influence, a whole heap of other things like proper integrated ticketing, free transfers between services and an inter-meshing network is required as well. In other words, to corrupt a popular saying ‘can’t see the wood for the trees’, we should not fall into the trap of ‘can’t see the public transport network for the bus, train or ferry’. This blog hopes to publish a book review next week about Transport for Suburbia, but in the meantime a Google Books preview is available here.

To gain some insight on the question, this blog revisited Peter Martinovich’s slide presentation titled ‘Application of a commuter railway to low density settlement‘. The ‘comparable Australian City’ in the graph (slide 2) is Perth rail patronage versus Adelaide’s. It shows Perth and Adelaide starting at almost identical patronage in 1990/1991 and then shows Perth’s patronage skyrocketing as the Joondalup and Manduah lines are built. This blog found Adelaide’s train patronage statistics from TransAdelaide and the South Australia’s Department for Transport, Energy and Infrastructure’s annual reports here and here.

Perth’s rail patronage (around 56 million/year) is now a full five times the levels of patronage on the Adelaide rail system (~11 million/year).

It can’t be citywide average density as this only changes very slowly, and both cities started out from the same situation in the 1990s. Perth is not five times more dense than Adelaide, nor does it have five times as many people; Demographia puts Adelaide (1400 persons/km2) as slightly more dense than Perth (1200 persons/km2). The populations of Perth (1.3 million) and Adelaide (1 million) are similar, and even more interestingly, the when one looks at bus boarding statistics for both cities in 2007/2008 sourced from The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, Perth had 65.7 million boardings reported on buses, while Adelaide had 52 million boardings. If you ‘scale down’ Perth’s bus boardings to adjust for Perth’s slightly larger population (divide Perth’s 65.7 million boardings by 1.3 million) you get 50 million boardings per 1 million people, a figure almost identical to that of Adelaide. If differences in city density or structure were really the answer, why are the bus boardings almost identical?

This similarity in bus boardings suggests to this blog that it can’t be that ‘car culture’ is stronger in one of the cities over the other, or that Adelaide people somehow intrinsically react differently to public transport than their Perth counterparts do. And it’s not that Adelaide somehow has a smaller rail network with fewer train stations either- Adelaide (83 train stations) has far more train stations than Perth does (70 stations).

Adelaide has a good bus system with their O-Bahn high speed guided busway and ‘GO Zones‘- roads where frequent ’15 minute or better’ bus services are offered. However, the improved bus system does not seem to have been a substitute for an improved rail system. Judging by the similarities in bus patronage between both cities perhaps those millions of potential rail trips are being done in Adelaide cars at the moment. There is a message for Brisbane here too- regardless of how good the Brisbane bus and busway system is (and it is world-class), the train system still really needs to be fixed up!

Adelaide still runs diesel trains on its rail network and 15 minute frequency at only a few train stations. Perth got rid of its diesel trains and its train patronage is now rivaling Brisbane’s 67 million trips (and South East Queensland has 149 train stations, over twice the number of Perth’s and links the three cities of Ipswich, Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast!) time will tell if Perth patronage manages to overtake Brisbane/South East Queensland’s patronage.

The good news is that much of Adelaide’s train network is now a construction site as it works hard to make major improvements to rail facilities, services, electrification and frequencies. There’s no hiding behind density figures for Adelaide now.

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March 13, 2011 at 10:36 pm

Light Rail for Brisbane: Is Jersey City a model for Brisbane’s West End?

Credits: Clarence Eckerson, Jr. StreetFilms,

Transit Oriented Development (TOD) generally refers to higher density mixed use development within walking distance of good public transport. The idea is basically to put the people near the transport and the transport near the people so that benefits flow to the people and the public transport network.  The Perth model of TOD has extended this concept further by adding buses and car integration along walking to rail stations to serve and stimulate development within a broader catchment area than that immediately around train stations. So perhaps in the future as TOD evolves, there may be different types of ‘suburban’ and ‘inner city’ TOD examples.

TOD can happen with quality, frequent bus and rail systems the video above provides inspiration on what might be possible in West End, Brisbane with a good Light Rail service. Of course, as we saw in Perth, simply doing a “cut and paste” job won’t do as concepts need adapting and refinement to local conditions. Having the infrastructure is necessary but is probably not sufficient; supporting policies are also required, such as on car parking within the developments:

Parking ratios in Jersey City are shocking for some of the people in New Jersey;
We don’t require parking. In most of the developments you are looking at there’s a maximum parking ratio for much of this development but there’s no minimum.

Robert Cotter,
Director of City Planning, Jersey City

That’s right! They don’t require parking! This blog has raised this issue before here and here.

The StreetFilm’s video showcases the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail, New Jersey and accompanying TOD developments, which seem to have had a similar impact to an earlier example the BrisUrbane Blog looked at in Charlotte, US. Enjoy!

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