Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Canberra Liberals Northbourne Avenue bus-lane policy arrives with a thud

The proposal by the Canberra Liberals for widening Northbourne Avenue and slicing the median strip in half, to accommodate bus lanes is a very poorly thought out idea. A disappointing policy in many areas. It fails on transport, planning and economic grounds. Not only does it fail to address current road congestion and public transport problems especially those in Gungahlin, it adds to them. Extra road lanes will inevitably be filled with more cars. 

The proposal released today to a resoundingly unenthusiastic thud is Option One from their December 2015 options announcement. See "1995 faxes bus plan to Canberra Liberals" here.

The proposal will fail because buses are already at capacity on the Gungahlin to Civic route, and there is little ability to add more buses. That is one reason that light rail has been chosen. Each bus carries 70 people, each light rail vehicle carries 220 people.

For years the Canberra Liberals have been telling us that light rail wasn't needed because bus rapid transit was cheaper, and could do the same job. They also said that bus rapid transit wasn't simply bus
lanes. Yet that is what today's bus lane announcement is.

The Canberra Liberals have also admitted we will need light rail 'down the track'. By widening Northbournes road surface and slicing the median strip in half - where exactly will light rail go down
Northbourne under this plan?

Will we sacrifice the Northbourne median strip to asphalt and concrete only to rip it up again in 20 or 30 years years? It is a very poor approach to planning. As to the idea that the median strip of Northbourne can simply be eaten away for more roads - It is doubtful the NCA would sign off on that. 

When asked by the Canberra Timesthe NCA responded"Any alternative proposal for transport options for this main avenue ... would be rigorously assessed in accordance with the provisions of the [National Capital] Plan ..
"The NCA supports improvements to Canberra's public transport system and any sustainable initiative that increases accessibility to central Canberra. The NCA considers that a complementary mix of transport modes that supports workers and visitors being able to easily move around the national capital should be the desired goal."

The Canberra Liberals also claim that no trees will be lost. That is simply not realistic. Cutting the median strip in half will lead to tree loss. Trying to appeal to people by deceiving them is a low point in territory politics.

Under this plan we lose the trees, we lose the median strip, we lose the bicycle lanes. We get more roads, and more cars.

None of the alleged bus time savings will be realised as bus services on that corridor are at capacity now. The proposed bus lanes - and not bus rapid transit mind you - are only on Northbourne, not the whole corridor. As traffic on Flemington increases, what happens? They are building in a traffic bottleneck. 

This proposal doesn't solve any transport problems, and will only lead to further traffic congestion and decreased public transport use. It also erodes any TOD benefits and land value capture that will accrue from light rail. 

Any cost savings from tearing up the light rail contract and building bus lanes are illusory. The premise that the light rail consortium will simply build a road instead is deceptive. The penalty for breaking the contract at 300m plus needs to be factored into any of these claims of cost saving. 

This bus lane policy is one of the most poorly thought out policies the Canberra Liberals have produced. If this plan eventuates, then we lose the opportunity to re-engineer our city for the next century. Instead we will continue to be stuck with 20th century road oriented city planning. We deserve better. We deserve light rail.

The Liberal bus lane policy

 The Canberra Times reported on the policy "ACT Liberals plan to widen Northbourne Avenue with two bus lanes plus a bike lane down the middle" here. 

"A Liberal government would build a wide bike lane down the middle of Northbourne Avenue and a bus lane down either side, carving five metres out of the median strip to fit the extra lanes.
"...Alistair Coe said the Northbourne work would cost up to $58 million with a generous contingency.

"He said about 2.5 metres would be taken from each side of the centre strip on the main gateway road. That would reduce the width of the Northbourne median from about 27 metres to about 22 metres."

"The extra road space would create enough room, when combined with the current kerbside bike lane, for four southbound and four northbound lanes of traffic on Northbourne Avenue from Barry Drive to Antill Street. One lane in each direction, adjacent to the kerb, would be a dedicated bus lane, with bus bays where possible."

"Mr Coe said the bus lane was expected to bring travel times for a non-stop bus from the Gungahlin centre to the city at peak hour down to 18 minutes, and 30 minutes from any suburb of Gungahlin.
The central bike path would be three metres wide, and run all the way from the Gungahlin town centre to the city through the middle of the median. The bike lane would have its own lights, which would be phased with the traffic lights, allowing bikes to cross major intersections with the flow of traffic."
"Work would begin early if the Liberals were elected to government, and Mr Coe believed he could re-purpose the light rail consortium to do the Northbourne construction work."

"Mr Coe said he caught the bus from Gungahlin where he lives to the city at the peak morning time on Tuesday. It was not a non-stop service and was scheduled to take 28 minutes from the town centre. It took 31 minutes. Mr Coe believes his bus lane can knock as many as 10 minutes from the scheduled travel time."

"He also believes he can carve as many as 2.5 metres from each side of the median strip without affecting many of the Northbourne Avenue trees. He says there is space in the middle for the bike lane without having to cut down trees."

"Mr Coe said the Liberals would also redevelop the corridor, including the public housing, but not at the rate nor with the urgency of Labor. With no demand for large numbers of new apartments at the moment, the Liberals would be "far more strategic" about the corridor development, he said.
North of Antill Street and into Gungahlin, the Liberals would have just one south-bound bus lane. They would also build an extra traffic lane on each side of Flemington Rd and include lights to give buses priority at intersections."

Media responses

ABC Online reported on it here
Canberra Times reported on it here

WIN TV News Canberra broadcast this on 21 Sep 2016

ABC TV News Canberra broadcast this on 21 Sep 2016

Government responses to the bus lane plan

The response from the ACT Government has been spot on in identifying the flaws. Describing them as "un-costed" and "half-baked". Transport Minister Meegan Fitzharris said.
"The travel times that they are proposing are simply untrue,"
"A 30-minute travel time from Bonner to the city is completely unrealistic, unless the Canberra Liberals have flying buses in mind, because they simply cannot deliver that.
"This is the first the Canberra community has seen of an alternative plan and it doesn't stack up. It's unaffordable and it will only lead to further congestion on Northbourne Avenue."

Greens Minister Shane Rattenbury said he was "staggered" by the decision to widen Canberra's main thoroughfare to eight lanes.
"I don't think many Canberrans would be really excited by the idea to make the road even wider," he said.

Transport Canberra and City Services Minister Meegan Fitzharris MLA issued the following media release: 

Libs will turn Northbourne Ave into concrete traffic jam at cost of hundreds of millions

The Canberra Liberals’ plan to concrete Northbourne Avenue will turn it into an eight-lane gridlocked highway, at a cost of hundreds of millions.

Concreting Northbourne Ave so more people can sit in a traffic jam would take the ACT backwards.

The plan announced today would allow for nothing more than a conga line of buses clogging up the city’s main entry road, which won’t even stop to pick up passengers along the route. It is a bandaid solution that will fix nothing but cost a fortune.

The proposal is poorly thought through, massively underfunded and excludes the $300 million cost to rip up the existing light rail contract. First they want to rip up the light rail contract and now they want to rip up Northbourne Ave to turn it into an eight-lane highway.  

The travel times floated are simply impossible, especially when the extra lane runs out at Flemington Road.

Their plan does nothing for Flemington Rd except add more congestion at its northern end, with their conga line of buses clogging it up. Labor's light rail will free up Flemington Road for all users. 

Today’s announcement also includes the ridiculous notion that an international light rail consortium would agree to lay concrete and build bike paths instead. It is like asking someone who is building your house to build you a car instead.

This morning the Liberals’ transport spokesman even admitted on ABC radio that their costing for concreting Northbourne Avenue was a guess.

The Liberals must immediately provide their ‘costings’ to Treasury to reveal the full cost of their plan, including cancelling the light rail contract.

They must also confirm that they have received NCA approval to concrete Northbourne Ave, with no hope of replanting any of the trees that would have to be removed.

As we celebrate opening our city to the world today through direct international flights, the Liberals are scurrying around trying to gridlock our city.

The Canberra Liberals have again demonstrated that they have no clue how to procure, manage or deliver large infrastructure projects.

ACT Labor's plan for an integrated transport network delivers a dedicated right of way for public transport, frees up the cycle lanes and the road network, reducing congestion  and improving travel times for everyone.

Statement ends 

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