The Failure of Australasian Conservative Governments on Transport

20 09 2013

Excuse me this post. I am an Australian living in New Zealand (yes the opposite of the normal story. I’m part of the backwash.) But it’s worth keeping an eye on what is happening west of the Tasman as what is happening in New Zealand is happening in Australia too.

In what sounds awfully familiar, in most places in Australia public transport ridership is up, especially urban rail, as so too is urban cycling rates. Young people aren’t flocking to get their car licenses straight away and motoring passenger kilometres are down. Smart mayors in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide are building cycle lanes and trying to build more, and the normal suspects; the automobile associations, the mainstream media (and radio shock-morons), and certain politicians are giving them a hard time about it. Sydney and Melbourne are soon to or already have hit peak rail capacity, but instead of adding rail capacity there are plans to spend more on motorways.

The full horror of what a Tony Abbott Prime Ministership means to Australia is finally dawning on them. Within the first two weeks he’s purged a few heads of government departments, made himself the Minister for Women to get back at all the feminists who called him a misogynist, abolished the Department of Climate Change, told the Clean Energy Fund to close down (where he is working his way down the wishlist of his puppetmasters at the IPA), withdrawn federal funding of the Tonsley line duplication in Adelaide, announced the support of the East-West Link freeway in Melbourne (and not the Melbourne Metro project), and announced WestConnex is going ahead in Sydney.  (A very good article on the Conversation is here : Abbott’s transport priorities drive Australia into the past )

Westconnex is to be 33km of freeway widening on the M4 and M5 corridors, and linking them together with road tunnels. Costing more than $10 billion dollars, it will allow many more cars in peak times to hit the CBD, as if Sydney didn’t have enough of them already. The whole project seems to be a sop to the private tollway operators and to the construction industry. It will lock future generations into being motorists instead of having public transport options.

And of course there are better ideas for Sydney.

Sydney Light Rail Orbital with Feeder Routes

Sydney Light Rail Orbital with Feeder Routes

These are interesting videos about WestConnex from a man named Gavin Gatenby from EcoTransit Sydney:

What is the wisdom of building more and more road infrastructure at enormous cost just to handle peak commuting times, especially in a time of falling demand (except for induced demand caused by the new roads themselves)?  Petrol prices are high and going up faster than inflation in the medium and long term. Wages are static, if not falling so less people are going to be able to afford to drive anyway. Where do all the extra cars going into the CBD actually go? How is locking in car dependency in anyway sustainable?

It seems in Sydney the real answers to congestion can be found by listening to active and public transport advocates and not those pushing PPP construction projects, skewing the only policy response to be building motorways. If Sydney has traffic problems caused by congestion on its motorways then hey, yeah, building more is the right answer.

keepdiggingSimilarly in the Wellington region the spending on the National Government’s Roads of National Significance project is going to be spending billions of dollars on road projects and is going to have all the same problems which is going to lock us into further auto-dependency, congestion and pollution. The net result of building all the Wellington Airport to Levin projects in the RoNS is going to be a massively congested and polluted core of Wellington all at a bargain cost of a couple of billions of dollars.


There are other answers. GenZero’s Fast Forward Wellington is a good starting point, as so too is the Greens Transport page.

Do we really need a 6 lane Cobham Drive? (Even with the Mt Vic tunnel duplication 6 lanes seems excessive)
Or Transmission Gully or the Kapiti Expressway? (Why not build a Pukerua Bay bypass, up the frequency on the rail line to 15 minutes or better, extend the train service to Otaki (and eventually Levin), build Raumati and Otaihanga stations and build a local road over the Waikanae river?).
Or the Peka-Peka to Otaki motorway? (why not just build an Otaki bypass?)
Or the Basin Flyover?

It seems that National in New Zealand (and the Liberal and National parties in Australia) are willing to spend billions of dollars locking us into one solution, which is not necessarily a solution that works, for a problem (congestion on the motorways in say 2030) that may not necessarily exist whilst ignoring practical and affordable improvements in active and public transport?  Why in Australasia are the conservatives just so bad at transport policy? Is it purely ideological? Do they equate public transport with bus driver and train driver unions? Do they think that riding in a train carriage and not a ministerial car is some evil form of socialism? Do they think riding a bike to work is some eco-terrorist hippy plot? Is it all about enriching their mates in the roads construction industries? Do they not care about air pollution? Why are they happy to piss billions away in building roads without doing proper economic and environmental studies, but fight tooth and nail for different rules to apply to PT projects? Why do they ignore benefit cost ratios for roads (which for some of the RoNS are even below 1.0), but insist on high BCRs for rail? Why do they ignore the high BCRs for projects like bikes on buses? Why do they act like clueless, middle-aged men who haven’t ridden bicycles or buses for 30 years?

It is time there was a moratorium on the RoNS and for an independent assessment on the cost and usefulness of each part of it. The next government in New Zealand in 2014 (and boy oh boy do I hope for a change of government) should scrap the RoNS as they stand, and only build the parts of the projects that stand up to scrutiny. The next government should also have a balanced transport policy, which should fund footpaths, and bike lanes, buses and light and heavy rail as appropriate, building only the minimum of roads that are actually needed, which in reality are very, very few. New Zealand has a chance of correcting it’s errant path in 2014. Scarily for Australians it has to wait until 2016. I hope that their new Prime Minister doesn’t do too much long term damage to its cities.

Whatever the answer to our future woes, voting for a conservative is always the wrong answer.


Nice frequent transport map of Wellington

19 09 2013

I came across this handsome map by Brett Palmer entitled Wellington City Frequent Transport.

WellyFrequentBusComparing it to the proposed bus network coming soon it looks that the only change needed on this map is a new line to Brooklyn and Kingston.

San Francisco and Bay cities now have bikeshare

29 08 2013

Of interest is that the Bay Area Bike Share scheme has started up this month in San Francisco plus some surrounding cities like Palo Alto and San Jose. They’re using Bixi bikes. Bixi is now known as the Public Bike System Company.

sanfranbikeshareIn Wellington bike share coupled with greenlaning some separated cycle lanes through the CBD (like on Featherston St) will go a long way to helping with the Wellington railway station stopping short of most places in the CBD problem. Wellington needs bikeshare.

The PBSC’s motto is “Changing the World One City as a Time” and bike share is happening in some of the most important and hippest cities. Why isn’t Wellington similarly important and hip?

Alexandra Road as a commuter bicycle route

24 08 2013

The earthquake of Friday before last held some interesting lessons. The first is the sense of calm one feels perched under a desk whilst the pictures on the wall are swinging like drunken pendulums. The second is that when the whole of the city decides it’s time to go home all at once then Wellington is well and truly gridlocked. Like everyone I experienced the gridlock, but I got to see it from a variety of angles.

Friday morning was one where I wasn’t telecommuting, so I had to haul my butt out of bed in time to make the train, but I was running a few minutes late, so I missed the train (luckily it seems with the post-quake cancellation of trains) and with the next train more than half an hour away I thought I’d have to drive into town or be super late for work. The normal place in town where I’d pay to park for the day is now too chokkas for me, with all the refugees from the multilevel carparks that are still closed since the July earthquake, so on the way in, I wondered where I’d park. Down Oriental Parade is too expensive for the day so I had a brainwave. I’ve got my foldable kick scooter in the back, why not park up Mt VIctoria. I could ride the scooter down the hill into town, and then fold it up in the evening and catch the Mt Vic bus to get up the hill. The first part of the plan was definitely fun. Coming down Palliser Road, Hawker Street and Majoribanks Street on a kick-scooter doesn’t take long, and even riding my brakes I was still going faster than the cars. Whoosh!!!!  Then in the afternoon the earthquake struck and after a couple of the aftershocks we were all allowed home. I grabbed my scooter and waited for the Mt VIc bus. Hardly any buses were coming through the gridlock in town, and the ones that did were all going elsewhere and were sardine-tinned up. So with a combination of walking and riding my scooter up the hill I got back up, with somewhat aching thighs (only to join the car based gridlock). It was just a tad more hard work going up the hill than down. On the way up there were a lot of people walking. Some may have been regular walkers, but most were probably stuck because of the lack of buses.

It occurs to me that a lot of Wellington isn’t that far from other places, and the terrain is a bit hilly, so large buses going hell for leather on narrow, hilly roads lined with parked cars isn’t perhaps the only way that public transport should be provisioned. And with all the walkers and good cycling then active transport could be assisted with improving a few key routes, proper signage, and the strategic placement of staircases, footpaths, cycle paths, and aerial gondolas.

Aerial gondola cabins big enough to take a wheelchair or a couple of bikes, which when overflying houses or flats, they can use smartglass to protect privacy.

One such place that I think would be a great place to put an aerial gondola is from the Freyberg Pool on Oriental Parade to near the summit of Mount Victoria. With a tower placed somewhere near the east side of the monastery a two station, one intermediary route could probably be found. The price to ride would be the same as a snapper fare on a bus, and not rip-off tourist prices as this is for transport, not just for tourism.

St Gerard's Monastery

St Gerard’s Monastery

The views would be pretty magnificent on the way up.

City from Mt Victoria

City from Mt Victoria

There are four reasons I can think of to have an Oriental Parade to Mt Vic aerial gondola:

One – for tourists to get to Mount Victoria, but that is probably the most boring reason.

Two – to support Mt Victoria, Roseneath and Hataitai locals getting around by foot, or with foldable kick scooters or by bike. They ride downhill from their homes to town in the morning, and then in the evening they ride in a gondola cabin to the summit, and then ride downhill to their homes.

Three – Mt Victoria has some mad mountain biking. Mountain bikers ride to the top on the gondola and then do their mountain biking back down.

Four – Alexandra Road leading south from the summit along the ridge line  is a very quiet road perfectly safe route for cycling. Heading south it is effortless.

Looking south down Alexandra Road

Looking south down Alexandra Road

Heading north it is a bit of a long grunt uphill.

Looking up Alexandra Road

Looking up Alexandra Road

And the views are pretty spectacular:

View to the airport
For southbound and eastbound bicycle commuters from town to Kilbirnie, Newtown, Lyall Bay, Melrose and the Miramar Peninsula  if there was the aerial gondola up the mountain and then they coast down Alexandra Road  then they’d save a few minutes getting home and be in a safer and more pleasant riding environment.

It also highlights the need to have Constable Street and Crawford Road as safe cycle routes.

Heading northwards most cyclists (apart from the fit ones) would probably take a different route, and then if that’s where you’re heading they’d probably ride the Palliser-Hawker-Majoribanks route rather than getting on the gondola.

Between reasons 1, 2, 3 and 4 it is probably reason enough to build it.

What if Wellington had bike share that matched Brisbane’s in scope?

4 08 2013

It’s 3 years since I rode on the Brisbane bike share scheme. Since then the system has expanded to 150 stations and 2000 bikes. It is now about the 16th biggest system in the world. Geographically the system stretches from the University of Queensland in St Lucia to Teneriffe and New Farm which is about 11 or 12km , with some stations at Dutton Park, New Farm and Toowong.

A successful bike share scheme needs to be dense in some places, but geographically dispersed enough to make many journeys possible. There should be safe routes to ride, and support both functional and recreational trips. In Brisbane it links in with the train, bus and ferry networks, and becomes a great adjunct to the public transport system.

On this map of Central Brisbane the blue dots are bike share stations and the solid red lines are off road cycle paths, and the thicker dotted lines are on road bike routes.

central Brisbane

I think CityCycle in Brisbane is doing a lot of things right. But so far it hasn’t been a greatly successful scheme and since visiting in 2010 Brisbane has dropped the casual day hire rate from $11 to $2 to attract more riders. Still, of the 2000 bikes, they are getting hired at little more than once a day, which is amongst the lowest of any scheme in the world. The apparent failure of the scheme is largely attributable to two things. One is the limited hours of service, from 5am and 10pm. The other is the necessity of wearing helmets to ride a bike, which is a stupid law on a whole lot of levels. Assuming we could change the law and bring some sensible helmet policy in, such as non-mandatory helmets for adults, then we should entertain the idea of having a central city bike share scheme in Wellington. A third possible factor is that riders have to be over 18. I’d reduce this to 14.

The number 1 problem of Wellington is that the railway station is too far from a lot of the city. Problem solved. The Interlslander terminal is not really that walkable from the CBD. Problem solved.

If Wellington had a scheme where there were bikes for hire from Kaiwharawhara in the north (although a Ngaio Gorge cycleway, with a bike station at Crofton Downs would be pretty cool), to Kelburn Village in the west (ride the cablecar to the top and then ride a cycle share to the village) to Oriental Parade in the east  and the hospital and Newtown in the south, with all of the CBD and Te Aro covered, then it would look something like this. Note it is only about 50 stations, so would need about 6 or 7 hundred bikes:

(Red stars are bike stations, green lines are separated bike lanes or routes)

Bikes are funded in large part by advertising. A supportive city council would build all the infrastructure, such as safe cycle lanes which would benefit all cyclists, not just bike share ones. The bikes are pretty functional, and are vandal resistant, have 3 gears and step thru frames. They are comfortable sit up bikes.


One side of Featherston St could have bike lanes like this one in Vancouver, by taking out one side of the parking. There are too many cars in the CBD. Let’s make it a little more human friendly.


It could be contraflowed to the one way of Featherston St too, like this one on George St in Brisbane. There’s a lot of room for separated cycleways on Taranaki Street and on Cambridge and/or Kent Terraces. Bicycles certainly belong on Wellington streets, and will return the city to the people.

I got to try out the smaller system in Salt Lake CIty earlier this year. I just like this photo.

Salt Lake City (15)

There is another vision for the city other than as a carpark at the end of the motorway.

Would you use a bike in a bike share scheme? Sometimes, never? Are there other parts of the city that you’d like to see them? Would you carry around a helmet to ride them? Do you like the idea because there’d have to be safer routes in the city and you’d ride your normal bike in a safer environment? Would you use a similar scheme in the Hutt, Porirua or Kapiti?

Lessons from Salt Lake City

6 05 2013

Update – I’ve found this Streetfilms film about Salt Lake City transit and cycling featuring the bike share.

I had reason to visit Salt Lake City, Utah and the city has a west coast kind of Denver like vibe to it, and is a wholly more likeable place than, say, Las Vegas, Nevada. And whilst Las Vegas is not the kind of place you’d want to ride a bicycle, the centre of Salt Lake City is.

Salt Lake City (14)

They’ve just installed a small network of hire bike stations, called Greenbike. There are only 9 stations so it geographically pretty limited. It does however have a station for commuters arriving on the Frontrunner train which connects cities from Ogden in the north to Provo in the South, as well as stations for the various Trax light rail lines that serve Salt Lake suburbs and closer in cities.

Salt Lake City (22)

As a tourist it was pretty easy to hire bikes for $5 for the day giving an unlimited number of 30 minute rides.

Salt Lake City (15)

There are 3 gears and it was easy enough to ride up the hill towards Temple Square. It was a sturdy, safe ride on the step through frame bike. No helmets are necessary (they’re not compulsory even for motorbike riders in Utah). There’s 2 lessons here for Wellington: hire bike schemes complement the public transport network, especially when the train station is just that little bit outside of the centre of town, and compulsory helmets are a stupid law that treats adult cyclists like little children. I didn’t know Salt Lake had hire bikes until I got there, so on a whim I hired one. Try doing that in Brisbane or Melbourne without the required plastic lid.

Salt Lake City (16)

And it was a nice quiet Sunday for riding around. There are bike lanes on a few streets, and on some streets there are sharrows and signs telling cyclists to take the whole lane:

Salt Lake City (1)

There are routes marked around the city by signs:

Salt Lake City (24)

and signs to remind cars to be courteous:

Salt Lake City (41)

The Trax is a system of modern light rail and bikes can be taken on them. Service seemed pretty frequent especially for a Sunday:

Salt Lake City (36)

And good manners are enforced (a lesson for Wellington train stations if there ever was one):

Salt Lake City (35)

There’s also a lot of bike racks dotted around the city:

Salt Lake City (21)

And a healthy contingent of bike riders were out riding the day I visited. This guy was having a break from riding his fixie. He told me he was waiting for a friend of his that was due through on a ride from northern Idaho to southern Texas to protest the Boy Scouts of America’s ongoing homophobic policies.

Salt Lake City (37)

And last, but not least, and perhaps not a lesson for Wellington, is the red flag scheme. Pedestrians on zebra crossings can take a red flag on one side of the road, wave it on the way across, and leave it on the other side.

I did see one lady use it, and it was most effective. It definitely made her visible to every other road user. I didn’t hear her singing the Internationale on the way across, but it is obviously a communist plot to get good decent Americans to wave the red flag.

Salt Lake City (43)

All up Salt Lake City is a pleasant city where all of the American West Coast bike ideas come together. Slow down the cars, give some riding space to cyclists, either in dedicated lanes outside of door zones, or by using sharrows. Map some coherent routes, have a hire bike scheme, integrate it with public transport, abandon discriminatory helmet policy (yes, the law is discriminatory – they discriminate against cyclists and are a sop to, and a reflection of, the political power of motorists), tell the cyclists to take the whole lane where appropriate, make the weather pleasant, throw in some snow covered mountains, and “This is the Place”.

Tranzmetro, this is what could be achieved

28 02 2013

Tranzmetro‘s new Matangi trains have an internal width of about 2.4 metres, and a bike on average is 1.8m long, so parking on a slight angle will give plenty of room for a bike to be stored on a train.

Copenhagen’s S-tog trains have a carriage in the middle of each train, with a one way system, where you enter with your bike at one end of the carriage, and get off at the other.

The inside of  the carriage looks like this:


Bikes on trains are an important part of integrated transport, and should be encouraged by making it easier than it now is, be for way more than 3 bikes per train, and should be available for all services and not just off-peak. If crowding is an issue increase the frequency of service. It is more cost effective to increase the cycling options between Kapiti and Wellington than to build a billion dollar motorway for 3.25 billion dollars.

Info from the Cycling Embassy of Denmark.