Archive for November, 2013

VIDEO: This is Perth

I’ll be in Perth this week from Thursday to Sunday visiting family. I might get some time to check out the transport infrastructure, though it will probably be limited. I’m currently planning to take the train to Mandurah, but have nothing else planned so far. Suggestions and recommendations are welcome. Where to go, what to see, things to keep in mind, etc. But remember: my free time will be limited, and I’ll be staying in suburban Perth with family.

Gina Rinehart. Premier of Western Australia. (This caption is a poor source of satire.)

Gina Rinehart. Premier of Western Australia. (This caption is a poor attempt at satire.)

VIDEO: Late Night with Jimmy Fallon

Ask a candidate for local council what they stand for and they’ll usually read off the same old script: life long local, supports better amenities for the area, and opposes over-development. Invariably, this opposition to over-development often turns into opposition to almost any sort of development at all – NIMBYism at its purest. And when everyone is a NIMBY (not in my backyard) what you get is BANANA (build absolutely nothing anywhere near anyone).

Building nothing is certainly an option, but it soon results in a housing shortage which pushes housing prices up across the board. This in turn results in housing affordability issues, often for the most vulnerable in society: the poor, the young, the old, the migrants, etc. So building nothing is not really an option, we need to build something. So the question is not should we build, but where should we build? Should development happen where it is most beneficial, or where there is the least political resistance? This brings us back to the NIMBY, because they want development to happen in the latter, rather than the former.

Really we should be pushing for concentrated high density development in and around activity centres with good commercial, job, and transport links. This in turn would allow the remainder of the metropolitan area to remain protected with its low density village environment maintained.

Some good recent examples of each are the leaked proposals to dramatically increase densities around Kingsford (g00d) for when the new light rail line comes through in a few years and to allow “Fonzie flats” in low density suburbs (bad).

The Kingsford plans call for buildings of up to 20 storeys in Kingsford, doubling the suburb’s population through the addition of 30,000 additional dwellings. The area is right next to a major university, has a commercial zone along Anzac Parade with shops/cafes/restaurants/pubs, and will soon have a light rail line connecting it up to Central and Circular Quay. It is the sort of area which has a vibrant atmosphere, walkability, and plenty of jobs. It is exactly the sort of area where you want to pack in as many people as possible, in order to ensure that as many people as possible have access to the sort of good infrastructure, good jobs, and good living environment that exists in this area.

Leaked development plans for Kingsford. Click to enlarge. (Source: Matt Thistlethwaite)

Leaked development plans for Kingsford. Click to enlarge. (Source: Matt Thistlethwaite)

Some locals won’t be happy, and it is this sort of unhappiness that the now local MP tried to tap into at the recent federal election. But if these new dwellings aren’t built here, or somewhere similar, then they will need to be built on the city fringe or as infill development in existing areas that lack the infrastructure that places like Kingsford have.

The option of building on the fringe is slowly drying up, as it isolates residents from jobs and other services, while eating away at the Sydney basin’s limited remaining farming belt. As a result, it is unlikely that this will continue much beyond the current North West Growth Centre and South West Growth Centre.

That leaves infill development in low density suburbs, like The Hills in Sydney’s North West. The “Fonzie flats” proposal, studio apartments built over garages, mentioned above is an example of this. Granny flats are another. But adding population to parts of Sydney that are not suited to large amounts of road traffic will only backfire when all these people take to their cars due to the lack of walkability and good public transport.

These are the very things which places like Kingsford have, and why it is more suited to take on additional population. But if development proposals there are rejected, then it only pushes the development over into less suitable locations. And that is definitely development done wrong.


NOTE: This post was accidentally published for 26 minutes on the morning of Wednesday 20 November, before this next section was written.

The need to have greater densities for infill development does not mean that developers should be given a blank cheque to just do as they like. In fact, governments should (and often do) trade off these higher densities in exchange for something else from developers. This may be additional public space, more units with rent set below the market rate, contributions to building essential infrastructure to support higher density, etc. And there is absolutely a role for community consultation to improve development and ensure it fits in with the surrounding community. It is not, however, something that should be used as a backdoor way of preventing development from going ahead.

When addressing residents of Surry Hills about the light rail down Devonshire Street earlier this year, Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore raised the Eastern Distributor as an example of community consultation being a force for good. While initially opposed by many locals, consultation and community feedback resulted in the revitalisation of streets like Crown St and Bourke St, previously traffic arteries, into quiet and livable places now that major traffic had been moved to the Eastern Distributor. It allowed for the future creation of the Bourke St cycleway, and turned Surry Hills into the village it is today.

The Urban Activation Precinct plan by the state government has the same potential. With constructive community consultation, the increased densities can act as enablers for better transport infrastructure, improved public spaces, and a more active community. What it can’t be, is an avenue for local special interest groups to block the development that Sydney so desperately needs for its younger generation to be able to afford a home of their own.

Coogee and all suburbs South of Maroubra would lose direct bus access to the CBD outside of peak hour if the bus network redesign proposed as part of the CDB and South East Light Rail (CSELR) Environmental Impact Study (EIS) were implemented. The new network would instead operate with feeder buses to light rail interchanges at Kingsford and Randwick where passengers would make a cross platform transfer to a tram in order to continue their journey into the CBD.

Proposed changes to the bus network in SE Sydney once light rail begins operating in 2019. Click to enlarge. (Source: CSELR EIS Technical Paper 1 - Traffic Operations - Part B, p. 130)

Proposed changes to the bus network in SE Sydney once light rail begins operating in 2019. Click to enlarge. (Source: CSELR EIS Technical Paper 1 – Traffic Operations – Part B, p. 130)

Some buses will terminate shortly after these interchanges, but the majority will be re-routed to form cross-city links to destinations like Edgecliff, Sydney University via Redfern/Central, or Sydenham via Mascot. A few bus routes (such as UNSW express buses or the 373) will be elimiated entirely when their proposed routes would overlap entirely with another proposed route, while the M10 and M50 metrobuses will lose the Eastern Suburbs portion of their route.

Peak hour express buses that operate via the Eastern Distributor in the morning and Elizabeth Street in the afternoon will continue as normal, and the bus road along Anzac Parade and Alison Road will be retained to allow them to continue to travel through that portion of their route separated from private car traffic.

How increased frequencies can allow a transport network based on transfers to operate better than one based on direct services. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Queensland Government)

How increased frequencies can allow a transport network based on transfers to operate better than one based on direct services. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Queensland Government)

The new network operates will operate on the basis of connections involving trips on multiple vehicles, rather than direct journeys on a single vehicle, and will be hindered if frequencies are insufficient or if fare penalties remain for transfers for bus to tram or vice versa. However, if these two obstacles are not in place, then it will provide an improvement on the existing network, which provides good connections for anyone travelling to or from the CBD during peak hour, but often falls short for anyone making a cross-city journey or travelling outside of peak hour when frequencies generally drop to half hourly.

Light rail will produce $4bn in benefits, while its estimated travel times have been revised downward according to the project’s Environmental Impact Statement and associated Business Case. In addition, a cut and cover tunnel has been confirmed for Moore Park. But most of the content in these two documents had already been released to the public.

2013-11-14 Travel times tram vs bus

Travel times previously estimated at 24 minutes between either Randwick or Kingsford and Sydney’s Central Station have been revised to 15 minutes from Randwick and 18 minutes from Kingsford. The travel times had been criticised for being longer than existing travel times on buses, particularly considering the additional travel time required for passengers required to make a transfer from bus to tram (or vice versa) as part of the planned bus network redesign. However, the new estimated times mean that travel to Central would now be faster by tram than is currently the case by bus, and also more reliable given that trams will travel the whole way entirely segregated from traffic, while existing bus routes must share some or all of their trip with private vehicles and can thus end up delayed in general traffic. While trips from Randwick to Circular Quay will be faster by tram than bus, trips from Kingsford to Circular Quay may remain faster by bus.

Artist's impression of the Kingsford bus and light rail interchange. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

Artist’s impression of the Kingsford bus and light rail interchange. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

Transport for NSW (TfNSW) has also announced that light rail will cross Moore Park via a cut and cover tunnel. This was the preferred options for both TfNSW and in community consultations, but may result in a slightly longer journey as it requires an at grade crossing on South Dowling Street, whereas the viaduct option was a grade separated crossing over South Dowling St.

Most light rail users will be existing public transport users, but some will shift from car to tram. Click to enlarge. (Source: CSELR Business Case Summary)

Most light rail users will be existing public transport users, but some will shift from car to tram. Click to enlarge. (Source: CSELR Business Case Summary)

The Business Case finds that the light rail line will produce $4bn of benefits and cost $1.6bn to build, providing a Benefit:Cost ratio of 2.5 or $2.50 of benefit for every dollar invested in the project. It will also attract 76% of its patronage from existing or future public transport users, but also attract 17% of its patronage from car users, helping to take cars off the road.

When the Southeast light rail line is completed at the end of this decade there will almost certainly be an increase in patronage along the Anzac Parade to CBD corridor. Whoever is transport minister at the time will point out that the number of bus plus tram passengers in the first few months after opening is higher than the number of bus passenger in the equivalent number of months before opening. They will then say that this is due to trams being faster, more reliable, frequent, and having a higher capacity than buses. The newspaper headlines will declare that this correlation has been caused by trams, and the (wo)man on the street will declare his (or her) support for trams as “much better than buses”. Except it’s not quite true.

Patronage will almost certainly be higher, and it will be caused by better speed/reliability/frequency/capacity. But only the last of those 4 (capacity) is an inherent benefit of light rail. Speed is a function of things like stop spacing, on board vs off board fare payments, and top vehicle speed. Reliability is a function of things like exclusive rights of way and grade separation. Frequency is a function of how many vehicles are available and the demand for transport along that particular corridor. All of these are just as applicable to buses as they are to trams. In other words, you don’t need a $1.6bn upgrade to light rail to achieve them.

Source: Sydneys Light Rail Future, page 10

(Source: Sydneys Light Rail Future, page 10)

Take the dot points on the bottom half of this table which the government uses to sell the benefits of trams:

  1. The first point is frequency. Ironically, frequency is actually hindered by tram’s higher capacity, as one tram is able to carry as many passengers as multiple buses, and so the higher number of buses required to carry the same number of passengers will (all else equal) result in higher frequencies for buses than trams.
  2. The second point is reliability. A reliable service can be provided through the use of bus lanes and grade separation at intersections (i.e. a bridge over the intersection or a tunnel underneath it). Both of these are in place in the Northwest T-Way for buses between Parramatta and Rouse Hill.
  3. The third point is speed. Both buses and trams are capable of the 80kn/hour top speed along this route. So the actual determinant of average speed is things like widely spaced stops and off vehicle fare payment. The former can be achieved by buses through express or limited stop services, while the latter has been achieved at busy bus stops through the purchase or validation of a bus ticket before entering the bus, and will soon be universal once Opal is introduced. All door boarding can also increase speed through reduced dwell times, but can be done on buses as well as trams.
  4. Points four through six could just as easily be implemented on buses
  5. The points on improved amenity on the right are all to do with the fact that the light rail vehicles are new. But new buses also share these features, such as low floors, air conditioning, real time information, etc.

All this leaves capacity, which is a real and tangible benefit of light rail over buses. Trams carry more people per vehicle, and as there is only a certain number of vehicles of any type that can run on a particular corridor before that corridor (road or rail) becomes congested and capacity becomes limited, putting trams on a busy corridor can increase its capacity (just as replacing light rail with heavy rail can increase capacity there). Jarrett Walker at Human Transit spoke of this concept as getting causation the wrong way round: high patronage causes the roll-out of trams, rather than the roll-out of trams causing high patronage.

Despite all this, and to undermine the entire argument made so far, the higher capacity of trams does actually allow the government to focus its attention on that particular corridor and implement many of the things mentioned earlier. For example, the new light rail line will have an exclusive right of way for its entire alignment 24/7, something that would not be possible with just buses as they require multiple corridors to achieve the same capacity. For this reason, the move to convert the Anzac Parade bus corridor into a tram corridor will still provide tangible benefits that could not be achieved with buses alone.

The recent post on how the SWRL might work received a lot of comments, which soon went on a tangent about the North West Rail Link (NWRL) and the now abandoned plans for the North West Metro. The final EIS for the North West Metro is available here (thanks to Ray).

Alignment for the now abandoned North West Metro. Click to enlarge. (Source: North West Metro Preliminary Environmental Assessment, p. 1.5)

Alignment for the now abandoned North West Metro. Click to enlarge. (Source: North West Metro Preliminary Environmental Assessment, p. 1.5)

A few highlights from the comments section of that post:

“[The metro conversion strategy] has been developed by the same Transport planners that worked for the previous Government and the ideas are not new. The Liberals actually came in to Government wanting to expand the Double Decker network but got the same good sell that the previous Labor Government got when they pushed the same kind of single deck plans (the current plans are better though) and so they changed their mind.The conversion of the line to Hurstville was the first of the lines that the planners wanted and that was first touted years ago. They have reviewed a number of lines for conversion to Single Deckers…The Airport line to Revesby makes sense”Rails

“starting with the first iteration of the NW metro via Rozelle, then the CBD metro to Rozelle and now the NWRL, the metro has become a solution in search of a problem. Instead of investigating high-capacity short routes in which a metro might add some value such as Parramatta Road and along the Anzac Road corridor to UNSW, the transport bureaucrats/government are pushing the metro for a long-haul outer-suburban corridor best suited to double-deck trains.”Alex

“The thing is that both the original Anzac Metro, NW Metro and the CBD Metro were much closer to actual “Metro” trains than what we are getting now being not only Single Deck with 3 sets of doors but smaller trains with 4-5 carriages and longitudinal seating. This was in part necessary due to the route via Victoria road and through the CBD but it was what they wanted, a true Metro. The trains we are now getting for as part of the envisaged “Rapid Transit” Network starting with the NWRL are single deck and have 3 sets of doors but differ in only being slightly smaller than the Cityrail stock and 8 carriages with 2 + 2 seating offering much better frequency, faster loading/ unloading and much more standing space. These are really Single Deck Heavy Rail rather than the lighter weight “Metro” trains that the NW were originally going to get.”Rails

“if you were to argue a line that is less suitable for running Single Deckers I actually think it would be the Bankstown line to Cabramatta but for some reason I’ve never heard anyone argue against the conversion of that line.” – Rails

“Although I don’t subscribe to the “metro” conversion strategy, I would have thought that the Inner West Line to Homebush would have been more of a priority than the IIlawarra Local Line to Hurstville, particularly when you consider the ramifications of compromising East Hills Line services from the south west.

The “metro” conversion is ideological, with the ultimate objective to split up the system to more readily make it viable for privatisation. That is totally different to a franchising model such as in Melbourne. I don’t know of many urban transport systems in the world’s major cities which are privatised. But perhaps you can enlighten me.” – Ray

“I was pretty sure that even the NW Metro was 5 carriages with the option of extending to 6 in the future but I am open to correction on that. They were physically smaller than the Cityrail trains and I am pretty sure had longitudinal seating, however that project changed a lot over time so I may be wrong. However, one thing you may not be aware of is that when they actually did the work on the CBD part of the CBD Metro and its extension from Rozelle to Epping and on to the NW, the Barangaroo station due to its location had quite short platforms that I believe limited it to 5 carriage trains. Although near the end of the CBD Metro fiasco they actually removed the NWRL from that plan altogether.”Rails

A few other comments from the recent post on no platform 1 at Wynyard and St Leonards stations relating to a Second Harbour Rail Crossing are also relevant to this discussion, in particular on whether to go over or under the Harbour:

“Why don’t they just commission the private sector to build a new harbour tunnel(allowing the company to charge juicy toll’s) and THEN convert some lanes on the bridge to heavy rail?

Is it because of the Cahill Express-way and its connection to the Eastern Suburbs? Can’t traffic use the cross-city tunnel for the same purpose?”Shiggyshiggy

“Another option suggested by the Fairfax Christie Public Transport Inquiry (disclaimer – I was involved in this) was to sling additional rail lines under the deck of the Harbour Bridge, which apparently is feasible and would be much cheaper than tunnelling.”Alex

“I am pretty sure the cheapest option would be to build the second crossing as Bradfield intended, the eastern lanes of the bridge into Wynyard 1 and 2. However, if you believe the Government that the bridge itself is limited to 26 tph in Single Deck form and 20 tph in Double Deck form then its not going to be able service the potential of the Single Deck NWRL on its own let alone service two lines, you would need three crossings at least and to stop short many services. We are struggling to get a second crossing built so I cant see three being built for a long time so its obviously time to look at either a new line running under the bridge or an under harbour tunnel. A Northern Beaches line would also have much worse grades than the NWRL/ ECRL has, it requires a serious slippery dip to get through the spit area, plus it has a catchment that suits turn up and go services and thus it makes sense to be a Single Deck line.

Now it seems the under harbour tunnel will have no issue running the required tph and should be able to service two lines with one crossing, at least for the foreseeable future. I assume that a new line under the bridge deck would be the same considering the idea of both paths seem to be very similar.The trick for the bridge option would be getting it to meet either of the two reserved rail corridors through the CBD, I think this will not be easy and in particular to connect to the “Metro Pitt” corridor it may require the demolition of a number of skyscrapers, very pricey. I do wonder though if the Single Deck trains make it more viable as you could run a steeper grade to get under these building foundations.”Rails

“Basically all the SMH report does is take MREP between Chatswood and the airport line via the reserved Metro Pitt corridor and instead of using an under harbour tunnel they replaced it with the under bridge deck idea (partly needed because of the issues running Double Deckers under the harbour). You do have to be careful with that proposal as it was a theoretical exercise, even by their own admission. They don’t know if it will work or not and as I mentioned I believe its in no way straight forward connecting to the Metro Pitt corridor at the Wynyard end (partly why MREP was proposed as a tunnel in the first place).”Rails

“Suggest you go to Google Street view (Hickson Road) and look up at the understructure of the bridge (or go there yourself). No way is it possible to hang any rail (or road) tracks under the bridge. You effectively have a dense grid of beams all roughly at the same level, and you have the two gantries which run under the bridge to give access to all of them for maintenance. I am not sure where the rails on which the gantry hangs are located, but I would suggest they are under the long side girder, see (hopefully)”Dudley Horscroft

“the detailed submission the Inquiry received from Australian Infrastructure Solutions Ltd proposing the under-bridge proposal indicated that it would be feasible to install two or even four additional rail lines which would sit within the supporting girder structure with relatively minor modification and that the Bridge with the recent strengthening of the hangars could take the extra weight. In fact I understand an earlier version of this proposal involving road lanes was developed and nearly adopted by the Carr government, but they got cold feet at the last minute, partly because of the incorrect perception that this was going to stretch all the way across the width of the bridge.

I don’t think it would be much more difficult to construct than your earlier suggestion to put road lanes above the current deck – and despite the opposition to the earlier under deck roads proposal it would be a lot less visually intrusive. Either way there is probably an engineering solution, though whether it is financially viable or competitive with other options remains to be seen. That’s why the Inquiry stopped short of endorsing the under-bridge option, instead recommending that the proposal be comprehensively investigated.”Alex

Further comments can be made below.