A Bridge Too Far

The Brisbane City Council made one of those strange decisions today where a majority of people supported something which I can only assume they know is a seriously bad idea.

The Council’s Civic Cabinet, which has a Labor majority, agreed today to support the Liberal Lord Mayor’s plan to build the Hale Street Bridge, which will increase the total number of cars on the road and funnel a whole heap of extra traffic down through an already congested South Brisbane area and straight alongside a major High School. Despite having a majority on Council, Labor has made a pledge not to oppose any of the Lord Mayor’s major projects, which puts them in this in-between position where they are locking Brisbane for decades to come into these excessively expensive, major greenhouse emitting, traffic increasing projects, whilst also trying not be held responsible for them.

They are keeping up this approach despite simultaneously expressing concerns about a potential $100 million Budget black hole due in part to blowouts in the cost of land resumptions for the first cross-river tunnel.

Letting the Bridge go ahead, with a few sops aimed at (no doubt unsuccessfully) placating the local community, seems a particularly bizarre decision given that just last week the Labor members of the Council passed a motion aimed at making Brisbane “the first Australian city to sign up to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change”. I’m not quite sure how spending millions of dollars to create infrastructure that will increase the number of cars on the road, and which will need to maintain high number of cars to pay all the tolls to cover the cost of the Bridge, is consistent with pledging to reduce greenhouse emissions, but I’m sure they can find a consultant who’s willing to be paid to say that it does.

The Hale Street Bridge is one of a number of major car encouraging projects being promoted with evangelical fervour by the Lord Mayor as the magic solution to traffic congestion. The Bridge has generated the strongest opposition – perhaps because it goes past the political active community of West End – but the 3 other tunnels planned are probably worse in their impacts.

Construction has just started on the first one, the North-South Bypass Tunnel, which is already more than 3 times more expensive than was promised at the election just 2 years ago, with the toll also to be much higher than was promised. Even the promise not to close any roads has already been broken, with the closure of the significant thoroughfare of Campbell St (which happens to run past the building where the Courier-Mail newspaper is based) already hampering traffic flows in the vicinity.

The NSBT will have big exhaust stacks spewing out unfiltered, concentrated emissions just beside the Gabba at one end and the Royal Brisbane Hospital at the other end. The next project is called the Airport Link tunnel (or underground toll road in the Council’s parlance), which ever so helpfully doesn’t exit at the Airport at all, but at the already overloaded East-West Arterial leading to the already overloaded Gateway Arterial roundabout, which leads to the Airport. The so-called Airport Link tunnel is also being pushed by the Queensland Labor government, which may also help explain why Labor at Council level are rolling over and letting this one happen too.

The Council’s own forecasts in their latest newsletter they have just sent around to households admits the tunnel would cause a 27% increase in the traffic on the East-West Arterial (and a staggering 51% increase in traffic on Stafford Rd), but then blithely says “forecast increases are within the capacity of these roads” – an extraordinary statement given that the Arterial is regularly at capacity and beyond already. I don’t envy the people who live on or near Stafford Rd either. I wonder how they feel about the promise that this project will “reduce traffic congestion in Brisbane’s northern suburbs” when the Council’s own figures say it will increase average traffic through their area enormously.

I don’t know how many times its been shown that just building more and more roads does not solve traffic congestion, yet politicians seem drawn to making the same (extraordinarily expensive) mistake over and over again. It seems there’s nothing so blind as blind faith. Pity it’s permanently harming my city along the way.

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31 Comments

  1. Yep, this seems to be the way at the mo. Bi-partisan support for crook neo liberal infrastructure that is as useful as a hip-pocket on a singlet.
    It wastes valuable funds on projects which militate against future remedy and which are usually anti-public ( ownership/participation )Iinfrastructures involved include health and education, electricity, water and gas, public transport, public broadcasting, telecommunications etc.
    They always seem to have peculiar faults which empower private financial concerns and increasingly weaken public interests and the referee role of government. The secrecy of FOI and confidential-in-confidence always ensure early detection of faulty financing and contracting provisions hidden in legalese which encourage corruption “opportunities”, are not detected until too late, when the public have the down stream costs imposed on them for the fixing up of whatever stuff-up earlier was created.
    Use value must never be allowed to intrude against the creation of public “bads”, of course, which increase costs and the value of already existing but obsolete forms.
    Whatever regulation is left is not intended to ensure genuine efficiency in the service, but create artificial markets and “competition”, as the recent 4 Corners episode on plastic v cosmetic surgery and its increasing anxieties so amply demonstrated. It mattered not a jot that qualified individuals were not being trained and “butchers” let in the market, so long as “costs” were driven down, along the lines of “theory”.
    The current system is in fact a corrupt skew of genuine theory, driven by globalising US, East Asian and Western Europe interests to the needs of financial institutions, and imposed through free-trade agreements and the like, at the expense of utility and the public or mass- interest.
    And media seems able to localise information so that the wider picture is never quite available for a given locale.

  2. What are our national interests in Iraq?
    Oil!
    What is the oil for?
    Cars!
    (amongst other things)
    There is a direct link between traffic planning and war.

    The Brisbane city council is not alone in its car-centric paradigms. It worships the car and cannot conceive of any other God but the car.

    In Brisbane public transport is designed around the car. The exclusive busways and the new “Green Bridge” in Dutton Park are not designed to maximise public transport or be more convenient to public transport users. This “public transport” infrastructure is designed with the single objective of getting busses out of the way of cars. if the busses are off the road there is more room for more cars.

    The “traffic” planners do not plan traffic, they manage congestion. “Traffic” is a given with no restrictions. No matter how big it gets it is not considered a problem until there is “congestion”. Just keep it moving!
    Congestion management is the single focus of Brisbane transport planning.

    Cambell Soup, as Brisbane identity “Ziggy” calls Brisbane’s Lord Mayor, recently said that the parents of Brisbane State High school wouldn’t be satisfied even if we put a bubble around the school and pumped in pure oxygen so there will be no pleasing them.

    It seems health has no place in transport planning at all either. State High and the Dutton Park primary school who are similarly affected with the busways to the “Green Bridge” have been totally ignored by Cambell Soup and their local state member, the Premier in waiting Captain Bligh.

    Local councillor and avid cyclist for both State High and Dutton Park Primary, Helen Abrahams has been forced to be a lone dissenter to the Hale St. massacre because of local pressure.

    But this ALP councillor, from an ALP dominated council in the most left wing electorate in Australia has been reduced to the powerless and isolated tokenism of an independent on this issue for representing the allmost unanimous view of her constituents.

  3. …just last week the Labor members of the Council passed a motion aimed at making Brisbane “the first Australian city to sign up to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change”…

    I think I’ve missed something here. Given I don’t personally have the depth of knowledge of international or constitutional law to answer this, can someone explain what kinds of entities could become a signatory to the Kyoto protocol (and ratify it)? I thought only sovereign nations or UN member states would be able to, so why would Brisbane become a signatory? If the states or local governments of Australia could sign and ratify Kyoto then WHY HAVEN’T WE ALREADY BEEN PRESSURING THEM to do so???

  4. I for one, am surprised that the Labor councillors didn’t kick up more of a fuss about this. Who is going to vote for them if they don’t oppose foolish ideas like this bridge?

    And I’d have to say I think JT is wrong re busways. By creating dedicated lanes or whole busways, it ensures that the buses move along them much faster. The south-east busway (already at capacity about 5 years after it was built) takes as many passengers in rush hour as would 9 lanes of cars. Of course, all this reinforces the single-centric Brisbane CBD, but to change that requires a massive change in thinking.

  5. Yes Muzz, a change of thinking is necessary, that is the key. All planning is in the wrong direction at present.

    there are many advantages to such things as dedicated busways including fast trips to further away places without having to stop at every stop. But there are other ways of doing it other than building new special roads, such as putting the dedicated bus lanes on the freeway and reducing the number of cars. there should be a dedicated bicycle lane on the freeway too.

    The expensive Green bridge (17 million??) could have been replaced from a passenger point of view by diverting existing bus routes less than a kilometre to put a bus stop at the ferry and put on an extra ferry or two if there was demand. But instead we have not just the bridge but a massive tunnell under highgate hill to feed busses from the busways to St. Lucia. Grand extravagence when a cheap simple solution will do.
    Could have provided free bus and ferry tickets for years to get people used to doing it and still be heaps cheaper than the bridge.

    as you (Muzz) said of the busway, it does not take long for these new systems to fill up and we are are back to the same position.

    Maybe Brisbane’s commitment to Kyoto has something to do with it’s bike lanes in West End (where the Hale St. massacre is occuring) which double as car parking. It is a brilliant ride if there are no parked cars – in the inner city?
    On those occasions when there are cars parked, cyclists have to pass the parked car by veering into traffic on the road. The lanes are designed perfectly to direct a cyclist into an opening car door and passing traffic will be unaffected as long as the cyclist falls to the left. Just as well West End is a left leaning suburb.

    By the way, Brisbane braggs of an increase in public transport use. But the rise in P.T. use is less than the rate of population growth in Brisbane meaning per capita, fewer people are using the inadequate system.

  6. Newmens a jerk,I heard him the other day blame that Bris is going into deficiet because Labour keep “wasting” money on projects like bus and parks! In Lausanne (under green party) Switzerland their spending 700 million ++ on a subway,the city only has 130 thousand people!, now if Bris has nearly 2 million people it would need nearly?? 10 billion $ to = Lausannes effort,could you imagine what would happen if the greens sugested spending 10 billion $ on one public transport project, was’nt one of Newmens election promises was to remove bus lanes?

    Lausanne-700 million++ $ subway/130 thousand people
    Bris- remove busways (2 million people)

  7. Andrew – you opine on how can these things keep on happening when it is blindingly obvious that everyone just wants to ride bikes to work in tropical heat, and rub up against the great unwashed on a train.

    You and your dedicated few are the lucky ones that transcend and sacrficwe themselves for higher values.

    Unfortunatly the pollies who vote for these things and the general populace are selfish and theere actiosn will reflect ther innate biologiackl drivers. They will continue on until destruction arrives. Bit like that old sperm and egg JT – can’t stop biology.

  8. Ken, it does seem that most of the population in disinclined to take public transport; but I’m equally disinclined to breathe the pollution caused by private motor vehicle use, subsidise their use of roads and provide more land for their roads.

    And Julien, a single project to dig tunnel under the river will cost us at least $2bn (and will almost certainly increase), whereas Portland in Oregon installed an entire light train system for $6bn. I know which is more effective.

  9. If I think of myself, the reason I slip back to using my own car (more than occassionally) is because I want some flexibility en route home to do stuff. I am not up with THE PLAN, but would be happy if free carparks were available near a direct transport hub to the city. I often do drive the 10km to Indooroopilly and then catch the bus, but catching a bus from home would require too rigid a lifestyle.

  10. Ken and Rob,

    Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy comfort and convenience at every opportunity. I look around my house right now and the computor, T.V. and kettle are on and I just had a hot shower. I love driving long distances. I have no high moral ground on which to stand.

    but these things including cars appear necessary to us simply because we know no other existence.

    For hundreds of thousands of years (some) humans have enjoyed remarkable levels of comfort and convenience within their own cultural and technological frameworks.

    It’s all relative. The most comfortable available option is always the best.

    As opposed thumb animals we adapt physically to our environment and through the simple principle of Pavlov’s dog our consciousness adapts to our interaction with the physical environment.

    European examples of closing down roads in preference for public transport and Brisbanes recent freeway closure show that we humans do in fact adapt to public transport. Apparently since the freeway has reopened many people have stayed with public transport.

    We are creatures of habit, just like chooks. (who also have opposite thumbs – bipeds to!).

    And sociologically, I don’t think it would be a bad thing for a few bureacrats and businesspeople to rub shoulders with the unwashed masses now and again.

  11. Muzzmonster,I could’nt agree more what I was trying to say was selfish car owners would say it was a “waste of money” to spend 10 Billion + on one pub transport project,and of cause Newmen would use these feelings to his political advantage i mean how often do you here “suffering motorist” on rant back radio?

  12. Rob, For those of us who live in a reasonable public transport catchment, it’s not too hard.

    I haven’t owned a car for over 10 years and have found it not too difficult to get around by bike, public transport (which includes the occasional taxi), and lifts with friends. It might mean thinking ahead about what you want to do and carrying extra stuff with you, but I’ve found the lifestyle acceptable and even energising.

  13. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t necessarily disagree, but a seriously significant event will need to occur to change the behaviour of the vast majority, JT is right – we will adapt when it occurs.

    Right now only a few are consciously adapting because either higher order values, poverty , location or a combination, and as muzz points out having adapted have found out its not so bad.

    This is where the Lausanne argument, the Paris metro and other European arguments fall. I lived in Paris for some3 months in the early 80’s, sans car and hopped on the metro where a train came very 5-6 minutes, clean fast etc. Problem was I lived along with about 8 million others then in an area about the equivalent of Sydney CBD to Ashfield. With a dense population and a good service public transport is fabulous. Sydney has over 2,000 km of rail infrastructure serviced by 302 stations serving a population of 4million. Guess what, infrequent service, high cost, long distances to travel to and from stations etc. Paris has 220 km of rail connecting 380 stations most of which are only about 500 metres apart. You don’t have to be Einstein…..

    It is easier to adapt if you live, work and play within a 10-15 km radius. Unfortunately most Australian cities have not been planned that way.

  14. Slightly off topic, but I just read that there’s a proposal to increase the congestion charge for 4WDs in London to £25 each day. This compares to £8 for regular cars.

    I haven’t been there since 2001 myself, but understand that congestion is down; bus, bike and pedestrian traffic is up. That’s one way of changing behaviour.

    But yes, as Ken indicates, it’s very hard to alter behaviour patterns in our sprawling cities.

  15. One tax law I have always found irriational is that one cannot claim a reasonable expense of getting to work as a deduction. Couldn’t this be used as an incentive ie. public transport to and from work is tax deductable for employees but not travel by car?

  16. It was suggested earlier this year that providing public transport passes for employees could be considered a fringe benefit (the same was that a work car is).

    But Malcolm Turnbull (I’m pretty certain) pooh-poohed the idea, claiming it was ridiculous to claim $2.80 for a bus fare. Of course, annual tickets (which work on all public transport modes in most capital cities) cost in the region of several hundred dollars.

    Until such ideas are challenged and changed, we will continue to live in an auto-centric society.

  17. Any one seeking further a further interesting opinion involving another, slightly different, “infrastructure” situation illustrating what we, as rational citizens, are up against in the current ideological climate may head to the “Canberra Times” on line.
    Here, their science writer Rosslyn Beeby offers a fascinating thumb nail:
    “The battle Australian science simply can’t afrford to lose”,
    15/11, opinion section, Canberra Times (inc.on line).
    Dare to return to this thread and claim the country is being rationally run, rather than being taken over by an insane/innane ninnyocracy!!

  18. 2.80×2 x 22 x 11 = $1355.20 @ a tax break on say median 30% marginal tax = $406.56 per annum. Not too shoddy – it’ll pay for my 2 sport club fees or nearly a car rego (ironically!!)

  19. Yes, I think it will be difficult to divorce people from their “motorised spouses”.

    Muzz is right. I don’t own a car either and I know what he means.

    In this instance, the government needs to put the cart before the horse. Until there are enough buses running to make public transport convenient, people won’t give up their cars. Even then, I think hell will freeze over first.

    It takes my cousin who lives at The Gap two hours to travel home via the bus from Fortitude Valley.

    There are a couple of other considerations no one has mentioned. First of all, we have 100,000 people moving here from interstate every year – probably bringing with them around 50,000 more cars.

    Perhaps we should ask them to leave their cars behind and bring their own water – which brings us to drought.

    To me, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to spend amounts anywhere near 2 billion dollars on tunnels, bridges or overpasses which are likely to crack or collapse either as the drought worsens, or after the drought breaks – to say nothing of the threat to human life and disruption of traffic that might ensue.

    We’ve already had one scare (and traffic chaos) with the Ann Street overpass cracking recently.

  20. In order fro public transport to pay, you need a critcal density of users. This will never happen far from the city (and nor is it needed urgently as that is not where traffic bottlenecks). Direct hubs with feeder buses from smaller hubs and parking (shopping centres make sense as they gain custom in exchange) suit me.

  21. I acknowledge the obvious reality of millions of people in a small area makes for more viable public transport.

    However much public transport thinking is within a narrow framework too – big busses and trains that need a lot of people to at least cover costs. from the commutor’s view point there is still walking to be done to get to the train station or bustop.

    Smaller localised systems like the hail and ride buses (in Bris) are a step in the right direction, but they are still big empty busses servicing limited pasenger numbers. Lots of local mini buses with flexible routes linking to big bus routes and train stations would be better and appropriate to outlying suburbs and regional communities as much as inner city.

    Taxi drivers are possibly the lowest paid workers in Australia, providing a 24 hour door to door public transport system with the best disability access of all public transport. Taxi companies could be subsidised to pay award drivers rates and cheaper fares insted of more roads bridges and tunnels.

    Taxis could be incorporated into the bus/train/ferry/tram system including ticketing, delivering passengers from their front gate to the station or bus stop or a local address.
    This would also mean the unwashed masses wont smell so much because they didn’t have to walk to the train station on a hot day.

  22. JT – I always had this dream as a small child of myriads of mvong footpaths zipping people all over the place with get on get off slipways so old people didnt fall over trying to get off.

  23. I’d go with that JT. Hail and ride shared taxis on fixed wage on fixed suburb routes feeding to increasingly bigger ones the closer one got to the city. Everyone buys an annual card (tax deductable) for the zones/routes one wants covered. This would also help with planning numbers. Good for local employment and would make the current subsidy system for aged etc. redundant. They just get to be mapped as a part of the route but the journey is useful for more people.

  24. although i love brissy
    i came home to perth 12 years ago because of wall to wall ppl in bris which i had lived for more than 20 yrs .
    i usually get back there at least once every two years and although i love it im glad its just on holidays.
    we used to ride horses and play football on queens road everton hills now when we are there we can only turn left from the driveway because the traffic is so heavey neally all day.
    i cant see it getting any better in the future.
    i dont know the solution but one thing that is everdent is that the demise of the corner shop and local schools etc has put a lot more cars on the road.

  25. To a point I disagree with you Ken, Switzerland is one of the most rural society in the Dev world I’ll give you an example in Switzerland I lived 30Km from a city in a rural area with 3000 people their would be a train every +(their was a bus network) 1 hr from 5 am to 2 am the next day,weekend service pretty good as well.When I used to live in Park Ridge (approx 30km from Bris city) their would be only 4 buses a day (2 in 2 out) with no weekend services! Park Ridge also has a much larger pop then 3000.I do agree that urban sprawl in Aus poses some challanges though often I think this is just an excuse to do little or nothing.In any event people who live in areas unsuitable for mass pub transport can still use a combo of car/pub transport and still save money??

  26. Regarding taxis what a disgrace,how much do these guys earn $6-$7 an hr??? why has the government allowed a situation where a cab licience costs up to $300,000? if we did’nt create this scenarios would’nt cabbies then be able to earn a real wage? Does anyone no if the hail and ride Taxi drivers are paid buy the hour or are they still “indpendant contractors”??

  27. When my son was 10, he invented a hoverboard which could be either used to “hover” everywhere, or run on magnetic tracks in the footpaths.

    The Pine Rivers Shire Council runs a community assisted transport service (CATS) for the elderly and disabled. Now it is so booked up that they’re cutting people out of the service.

    We live less than 1 km from the Brisbane city limits, but we have no bus services in the evenings, on weekends or public holidays.

    There is a shortage of bus stops in the best locations because the council invites local residents to veto bus stops outside their homes.

    Elderly people and those who can’t walk to the train station are virtual prisoners in their own homes for 4 or 5 days every Easter.

  28. well i think that there are some good transport solutions out there.
    but as we all are very awere of nothing will be done untill the system collapses completely.
    as long as polys wont look beond the next election .
    as long as the ppl can not look past there next pay.
    we can only wate untill it all collapses so,s that those of real worth will step forward and create a transport system that will stand the test of time.

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