Close the freeway for good?

A few days ago, cracks were discovered in the on-ramps to the Riverside Expressway, Brisbane’s main access route to the city. The decision was made to close the ramps and a large section of the freeway immediately and, not surprisingly, chaos ensued. The debacle was used to make the case that we need more freeways, tunnels, bridges and so on.

But three days later, the ramps are still closed and everything is working as smoothly as you could imagine. I took the ferry to Southbank at 8am yesterday to teach a course. It was full, but not overcrowded, and the traffic was zipping over the bridges as if it was Sunday. There’s been a big shift to public transport and people have been avoiding or rescheduling trips into the city. Obviously, the second of these is, in large part, a temporary adjustment that won’t be sustained indefinitely, but quite a few people have discovered that taking the train or bus into town is actually easier than driving.

Looking at this experience, it seems as if having the freeway closed for a while has done us some good. We should try it again some time.

35 thoughts on “Close the freeway for good?

  1. There were many people on my bus on Wednesday, fewer the next and back to normal by Friday…but the motorway is still quiet as I drive past. I’m not sure how they’re getting in – did anyone discover teleportation.

  2. Here, here! When I first move to Brisbane, I could barely believe in the Riverside Expressway. I’ve been here long enough now to admit its existence, but I’m still having trouble with the idea that the ‘River City’ has also chosen to entirely wall itself off from, er, its River with several rows of third-rate buildings.

    And while I’m ranting, would it be too cheeky of me to suggest some prominent UQ academics might consider lobbying their employer to ditch some of its ludicrous abundance of cheap parking?

  3. Speaking as someone who doesn’t drive a car, and works in several locations – it depends on where you’re going by public transport as to whether it’s been a good thing. I’ve been fine with the 196/199 route from New Farm because the “Buz” route is very frequent and even if the bus is late there’s another one to get. But it hasn’t been so easy to get back from Griffith along the busway from Nathan – unfortunately the coincidence of resurfacing work on the busway and the traffic conniptions has led to the half hourly bus being up to 20 mins late – at which point the people waiting for the next bus hop on too, making it an unpleasantly overcrowded ride.

  4. You lucky Brisbanites. You can shut down a freeway and barely notice it. I shudder to think what the consquences of that happening in Sydney would be.

  5. Living as I do in the leafy western suburbs and with a carpark provided in town, I have ditched the Moggill Road carpark and head south to Graceville, over to Yerongpilly, and then a rat run that avoids Ipswich Road and gets me onto the Expressway heading north again. About twice as long, but takes the same time and I get into 4th gear, so the average petrol consumption has gone down about .3l/100k.

  6. I’m astonished the ‘Labor’ Transport Minister Lucas ordered the T3 bus/motorbike/high occupancy vehicle lanes on Coronation Drive and Kelvin Grove Rd opened to all comers ie single occupant vehicles. The result has been that buses on Tuesday and Wednesday nights were stuck with their full passenger loads in carpark conditions, whereas if Lucas had kept the T3 lanes the buses would have whisked their passengers home in reasonable time. A golden opportunity to win converts to public transport was squandered.

    You’d also have thought a bit of leadership from our political leaders wouldn’t have gone astray. Did any of them make a point of going to work by public transport, as they were urging the hoi polloi to do? Of course not.

  7. “You lucky Brisbanites. You can shut down a freeway and barely notice it. I shudder to think what the consquences of that happening in Sydney would be.”

    You might be surprised. University College London studied 60 major road closures around the world and found that an average of 20% (and up to 60%) of the traffic simply ‘goes away’ and isn’t just redirected to other roads. Planning models always assume that every single driver chooses a different route to drive but in fact many drivers move to alternative transport and don’t come back. For instance, in 1994 the tower bridge was unexpectedly closed (rather like the riverside expressway) and three years later the traffic had not retrned to pre-closure levels.


  8. “Close the freeway for good?”

    I’m told that in the thirties and forties there was musing in Melbourne about knocking down all the bridges crossing the Yarra. The idea was to separate Catholics from Protestants. (The history of sectarianism in Victoria is fascinating).

    I can understand that “carpet baggers” such as yourself, recent immigrants to Brisbane, are happy to propose closing “the freeway for good” without considering the social and historical context of the proposal.

    Nevertheless, I “aks” you if we close the freeway for good, then how will senior administrators at UQ living in Dutton Park drive their Toyota Land Cruisers to uni every morning?

  9. As someone about to move from the university for the real world (for it but lately feeling like its not in it!!) to the stately, upriver establishment, I’m excited about the prospect of cycling (or bussing) to the ferry stop and then enjoying the Citicat ride. There are alternatives to driving a car.

  10. As an occasional visitor to the sunshine city, I can only agree with Crispin. The idea of a riverside expressway seems very Joh. Isn’t about time you built NorthBank?

  11. There is indeed a plan for NothBank but it leaves the expressway in place (well, that was the plan, before the recent probs). So you could sip lattes under the exhaust fumes and noise. Intoxicating, no?

  12. Are the city retailers complaining?

    You bet-ya. There was a report on Channel 9 last night that showed the CBD (specifically the mall) practically empty. I didn’t realise that many people drove into town on the weekends.

    If there was less traffic on the roads, I for one would cycle to work every day (I currently use QR to get to work in the CBD). This idea that everyone has to have a car and must use it all the time is crazy. If you live within 20k of the city, there is no need for more than one car per family/household. Think about how much fitter we would all be, and how much less money we would be wasting on building freeways and parking lots.

    Smaller cities (I am quite sure) are much more sustainable. Would the current drought have been as much a worry if all of the immigration to SEQ in the last few years had been redirected to other major centres (such as Maryborough, Rockhampton/Gladstone, Mackay, Cairns and Townsville)? I don’t think so. And besides, all these places desperately need young workers.

    P.S. I am not a recent immigrant, I have lived here for the last 25 years (with the exception of 2004 and 2005, which I spent in Townsville). The only type of bridges that we might need over the upper Brisbane River now, are a few pedestrian/bicycle bridges. Anything else would be a waste of money (just like the tunnels built by Can-Do Campbell).

  13. Hey there’s an idea. What if Australia had a “one car policy”. Anymore than one car registered at an address (within 20k of a major centre) would be taxed at a higher rate.

    And if families need a spare car for holidays (dad or mum wants to work over the holidays), car rental for long trips could be subsidised. And to reduce the need to build 4 lane highways, why not stagger the school holidays. Schools on the south side could have their holidays in one week while schools on the north side have their holidays the next week.

    After all, there is more than one way to skin a cat.

  14. Re sipping lattes under the exhaust fumes: back in my government days, my dept moved into the then new Neville Bonner Building. Being highly important, I had a window – right under the freeway. So I had the constant motion of traffic passing by in the top half of my window and the grubby side and bottom of a suspended freeway in the rest. The feature of the building was an outdoor BBQ area on the top floor where you could sit and listen to the traffic noise – if you didn’t mind the fumes. I’m not sure Neville Bonner would have appreciated having that building named after him.

  15. In the theory of road supply its a well-known proposition that knocking out a link in a set of roads that leaves every point in the network connected can reduce congestion. For it to work road use must be unpriced so there are inefficient congestion costs. I don’t know enough about Brisbane but could this explain whats happened here?

    There is a good wikipedia entry on one of these paradoxes (there are many). They also arise in computer science. See:'_paradox

  16. “The idea of a riverside expressway seems very Joh.”

    I recall when the wretched thing was being built a famous urban planner came out from Europe or the US for a visit to Brisbane. At the time the gauleiters of Brisbane were ripping up the tram tracks as well. Misinterpreting what he was seeing (probably deliberately), he commented how Brisbane was at the cutting edge of global urban transport planning – putting in trams and ripping up freeways. The State and City political leaders were most put out.

  17. “hen how will senior administrators at UQ living in Dutton Park drive their Toyota Land Cruisers to uni every morning?’

    As with the Melbourne example, keeping administrators and academics on opposite sides of the river seems to have a lot going for it.

  18. Hal
    To give Joh his due wasn’t under his rein that the Brisbane surburban system was electrified? At least he balanced (to some extent) freeway building with improvements in public transport. His attitude in this regard appeared to be in total contrast to his counterpart here in the west, where fellow conservative Sir Charles Court closed the Perth to Fremantle line in 1979. Rumour had it Sir C wanted to build a freeway along the formation and he (or his administration )probably would have suceeded had there been a replacement rail link to the port built before the labor Burke government taken power in 1983.

    It is probably unlikely that WA will ever see a freeway closure. Our fair city has become too car dependant to allow such an eventuality. The best we can hope for is a re empthasis on public transport, which given the outlook of the present minister, seems a very distinct posibility.

  19. In Melbourne in the early 90s we used the Geelong Road all the time. It was very obvious as the recession came and went that the traffic died off, and then returned with a vengeance.

    We’ve had a period in the last few years in which the road was speed restricted for repairs. Did the traffic go up when the obstacles were removed? I guess it did.

    We have both forms of riverside despoilation at the same time. The South Eastern Arterial roars along the river, but the railway also separates the city from the river. As in many places, a river is an engineer’s easy through-way.

  20. “To give Joh his due wasn’t under his rein that the Brisbane surburban system was electrified?”

    Yes, it was, and the cross-river link from Sth Brisbane to Roma Street was also built while Bjelke-Petersen held the Premier’s commission. Both projects were 100% funded by the Commonwealth under Whitlam’s Better Cities scheme, although completed under Fraser. Bjelke-Petersen and the egregious Don Lane claimed 100% of the credit for a scheme that would never have happened if they’d been asked to pay.

    The ripping up of the tram tracks was a brainchild of Labor Lord Mayor Clem Jones, however, and he should be afforded full credit for destroying what had been the most extensive tram network in Australia, including the nation’s only trolleybuses (I recall the route from the City to New Farm via St Paul’s terrace and Brunswick St was a trolleybus route). He may well have been inspired by the demolition a few years earlier of the Brisbane-Gold Coast railway under Frank Nicklin and Gordon Chalk. Rumours of ministerial shareholdings in bus companies were never disproven. Yes, Queensland farsightedness in public transport has a long and inglorious history.

  21. As one who is in general opposed to car dependency, and who would have opposed the building of the Riverside Expressway in the first place, I am not convinced that closing the expressway now will not cause undue inconvenience to Brisbane residents. I can imagine many situations, where this would have been very inconvenient to myself.

    It seems counter-intuitive to me that closing down existing road infrustructure such as the Riverside Expressway will not make the problems of congestion worse, particularly if the Queensland Government persists with its insane plans to cram another 1.25 million people into South East Queensland by 2026.

    If this does happen (and God forbid that it does), we need to think carefully how to prevent congestion from becoming intolerable. We should think very carefully about what infrastructure to build, and how we make use of the existing infrastructure which has been built at such great expense in the past, no matter how misguided the building of the infrastructure was in the first place.

    We should not entirely rule out the possibility that if the Expressway was retained and used more effectively in conjunction with proper town planning and an expansion of public transport, that it may be possible to scrap the other abovementioned white elephants that Brisbane residents are now threatened with – the North South Bypass Tunnel, the Airport Link, the Hale Street Bridge, etc.

  22. I’m a student at Griffith uni who lives in Chapel Hill in the western suburbs.
    I’m from Armidale in regional N.S.W, and I grew up relying on the car to get just about everywhere. When I first came up here I was very keen on the bus. Public transport’s cheap, and it’s good for my eco-warrior conscience.. My enthusiasm was somewhat dampened when I realised that the 20min car trip to uni would take at least an hour on the bus (frequent stops and changing buses in the city), however, I bought myself an mp3 player and I persevered. No worries..

    What does grind my nerves though, is that the bus (which supposedly arrives every 1/2hr) is consistently late and sometimes doesn’t even come at all. Countless times I have sat at my local bus stop lamenting this fact with other uni students, school students and businessmen who work in the CBD.

    Finally, my proverbial camel’s back was broken when I was ridiculed by a lecturer in front of over 500 people after walking into the theatre late. I can understand a lecturer’s frustration at being interrupted, however minor.

    Now I use the car whenever I can, especially if I have an exam or an important tute, where arriving late can entail disastrous consequences. It’s sooo much easier just to drive (using the riverside expressway), and I have no intentions of reverting to my old ways.

    Now, I’m not at all sentimental about the riverside expressway, knock it down for all I care. But to all the politicians who harp on about their utopian public transport network: wake up to yourselves. The reason people drive their cars isn’t because they’re lazy, and it’s not because the buses are overcrowded, it’s because they have important places to be and they need a mode of transport which they can rely on. 😉

  23. James, you’ll never reduce Brisbane’s unaccountable desire to repeat the mistakes of other growing cities without making driving unpleasant for its idiot population. Increase in congestion (like increased fuel prices) is a good thing.

    Being a cyclist, I also like congestion for slowing traffic. It reduces the chance of homicidal UAV drivers’ daily attempts on my life being successful.

  24. Crispin,
    I found riding through London, with its really slow traffic, to be more dangerous than riding in Perth where there is more room on the roads – the number of times some ******* idiot tried to change lanes without looking for something as insigificant as a person on a bike was terrifying.

  25. Andrew, you might be right. I also rode in London, but was young and unterrifiable.

    Aside from the technical matters of vehicle type, road design etc, I tend to think there are cultural factors in these things. Brisbane drivers are relatively unaggressive (certainly compared to London), but are insouciant and vague, sometimes beyond belief. UAV drivers and middle-aged helmet-haired ladies in Mercedes’s (who rarely even notice when I yell at them after a near-tangle) seem to be the worst. How’s that for an empirically irresponsible generalisation.

  26. Disgruntled Commuter, Given the current state of the public transport system, of course it isn’t for everyone.

    But (a) “politicians” generally have a tendency, sometimes, to make priorities where their electorates do. Campbell Newman has engineered his rise by trading on Brisbanites belief in their God-given right to pollute. No doubt when the Pacific refugees start arriving some new guy will goad the electorate into voting for him on the basis of his rational hatred for the arriving hordes.

    And (b), it’s obvious to me that very large numbers of people who live in areas where public transport is good and effective are way too snobbish to use it. Have a look at the clueless yuppie-rednecks currently engaged in concreting and air-conditioning the entire area where I live (East Brisbane) and try entertaining the notion for a single moment that they’ve ever considered anything other than their own comfort and acquisition. It’s good for a cheap momentary laugh.

  27. Crispin,

    I can understand where you are coming from as cyclist. I myself cycle far more than I drive because I am lucky enough to live close to work.

    However, to advocate that we deliberately making life difficult for one group, even motorists, even if it is to achieve a worthy end, sets a dangerous precedent in a democracy.

    It’s easy if one is young fit, and can afford to live close to work and amenities to argue in favour of making life harder for all motorists. However, many simply have no choice but to use their cars. Take for example a perso who lives near me in a suburb on the northside not far from the CBD. She works in Woolloongabba and has to lug a heavy load including a laptop. She has lost the strength in her arms as a result of work related injuries, so riding a pushbike or or lugging her heavy load onto and off buses and trains each day is just not a practical option.

    I know many people who have to commute long distance eachday to work. As an example one women has to o commute all the way from Brown’s Plains to the northside each day for the afternoon shift. She also has a second job in the day in order to make ends meet. Could you imagine how much of her day is taken up with commuting? Do you think it fair that she should be made to meander through the congested streets of South Brisabane in order to cross the Grey Street Bridge each day?

    I am all in favour of using sticks against motorists, but only after, and not before, sufficient quantities of carrots have been provided. Thes carrots include, of course, massivley boosted public transport, and effective urban planning so that far fewer people would need to commute long distances in the first places. Even then, we may still need to allow a minority, whose needs may still not have been met, to use cars regularly.

  28. I tried to post on this once before but something happened and all my words were eaten by the ether.

    I actually commute 23km each day into the Brisbane CBD by bicycle. I also own 2 four-wheel drives, both diesels – one for about towning and one for serious offroading and for carting large heavy objects around. I need to have four wheel drives to negotiate the 2 km of dirt track between the house and the bitumen, incorporating 400m of one-in-four gradient. I also own 2 motorcycles – a postie bike for getting around the 15-acre property and a larger machine I’m preparing for a motorcycling holiday in NZ next year. But I commute by bicycle, primarily to keep fit, but also to save money, to save time in traffic (I _always_ beat the bus, even though it takes me an hour each way) and, yes, to make myself feel a bit virtuous. At any event, I like to think I use the various means of transport appropriately – doing what they’re good at. Of course, I’m fortunate in that my employers have provided showers and secure bicycle parking facilities – not everyone has that luxury, yet. My partner uses a combination of car and bus, on account of the infrequent bus service out to where we live militating against flexible employment hours. One last point – I’ve been living where I am now for 37 years.

    I say all this by way of indicating I have a foot in all Brisbane transport option camps, and to give my remarks some foundation in long experience.

    First – for all the talk, and indeed the urban mythology among exclusive car drivers, very little has in fact been spent on bicycle infrastructure. The “Bicentennial Bikeway” that runs along the river parallel to Coronation Drive was built with a Commonwealth grant for the 1988 shindig and is a ‘shared use’ facility where pedestrians have right of way. I have broken four ribs in two separate incidents caused by pedestrians suddenly deciding to hold a conference in the middle of the track. The ‘bikeway’ is so crowded with strollers on pleasant summer evenings that cycling along Coronation Drive is a serious option from a safety viewpoint. In the rain or during winter it’s just ok. The Western Freeway bikeway was built with some real investment under the (cyclist) Goss government’s bikeway program. It’s supposed to be a cycle-only facility but is used with increasing frequency by pedestrians, including children walking dogs on long leads. Cyclists hit over 60km/h on a number of downhill stretches, so serious or fatal injuries are a statistical certainty if they haven’t happened already. There’s no fine for pedestrians using it and zero policing, so this can be guaranteed to increase. The money wasn’t available for bridging Moggill Road, so all cyclists have to negotiate the freeway off-ramp and cross Moggill Road itself. Westwards from the freeway there is no bicycle infrastructure whatever to service the 30,000 residents of Kenmore/Moggill/Brookfield. Drivers exiting the freeway turning left into Moggill Road appear to suffer the mass delusion that give way signs and zebra crossing road markings do not require them to slow down – let alone give way – to cyclists. I have already witnessed one serious injury at this intersection, and although some reallignment work has improved the situation, more will follow. Elsewhere, as along Sylvan Road that connects the Western Freeway bike track to the Bicentennial Bikeway, Brisbane’s traffic gauleiters have managed to convince themselves that painting lines on the road equates to serious bicycle infrastructure. Cars are permitted to park in these ‘bicycle lanes’, forcing cyclists out into traffic at irregular intervals, with the obvious safety consequences. The policy and planning documents ergularly produced in lieu of actual investment by BCC and Queensland Government invariably include a section up the back recycling motherhood statements about bicycle infrastructure with the same comletely empty sincerity you’d expect in the safety section of a brochure for a 1961 Holden: lots of nice words, no actual hard dollars. Summary: cycle infrastructure is largely tokenistic, is invariably the lowest transport priority, and is constructed and maintained with minimal concern for cyclist safety.

    Which brings me to public transport. Other than the cross-river rail link, the Roma Street to Brunswick Street tunnel duplication and the airport link, not one metre of new rail has been added to the Brisbane suburban network in my 50-year lifetime. The electrification of the network gives commuters more comfortable, quieter and less smelly trains, but no more frequent services. A network that serviced the needs of a city of 250,000 reasonably well still serves what is now well under a quarter of Brisbane’s population. Bizarrely, a rail line goes right through the middle of the Browns Plains-Greenbank growth corridor but is unused for public transport – it’s the interstate standard gauge line. Apparently shared use is beyond the wit of QR’s planners. The rail line skirts the edge of the CBD, forcing a high percentage of rail commuters to walk over a kilometre across many intersections and get wet in the afternoon storms. In the frenzy of tunnel-building champtioned by can-do Campbell Newman, an underground rail loop through the CBD has never been mentioned.

    Some real money has been and is being spent on dedicated bus infrastructure, however in my view much of it is being squandered on facilities whose main purpose seems to be to make the CBD streets more amenable to cars. Anyone who has used the Queen St Mall underground bus station will attest to its claustrophobic public lavatory atmosphere and dysfunctionality. Every afternoon peak hour witnesses Dantesque scenes with a press of bodies resembling one of those European stadium disasters. Buses delayed by traffic arrive late, and find their ‘platforms’ occupied by succeeding buses. The mass of passengers waiting for the late bus compete for space and air with others hoping to catch a still-to-arrive bus. Sometimes the late bus is diverted to another ‘platform’ and its passengers have to form a flying rugby scrum to force their way up the packed tunnel to the new location. The disabled, children, the elderly are simply left behind in the fashion of a food distribution in some famine-stricken third world country. Claustrophobes are known to vomit on the tiled floor, adding safety issues as well as unpleasantness to the whole nasty scene. And yet the BCC and Queensland governments are to spend $400m on the Inner Northern Busway Project to expand this horrid mess, in order to completely remove buses from the relatively airy streets above, making way for – you guessed it – more cars. That $400m could have funded fare abolition for a decade, or expanded the bus fleet to make it actually convenient, or possible to make cross-town trips, or, well, anything else. All this has been done, in typically cover-your-*rse fashion, in order to justify past expenditure – none of it has been supported by proper user studies. I have my sources deep inside the bureaucracy responsible who are tearing their hair out over it all. But it’s a bonanza for the consultants and engineering firms who are building it – and the huge cost makes for a credible claim that the governments are doing something about public transport.

    But dwarfing the bus infrastructure fiasco, the provincial city rail network and the token investment in bicycle infrastructure is to be the road tunnel network, an investment of Snowy Mountains Scheme proportions and a public guaranteed profit stream for MacBank for the rest of my lifetime. It looks very much as though a cross-party delegation of BCC and Queensland Government politicians went on a tour of Los Angeles some time back. And really, really loved what they saw.

    End of rant.

  29. Sounds like you got lucky.

    A lot of people had a lot more trouble than you, turning up to work around 2 hours late was a common occurance during that time period.

  30. darryly rosin said: “You lucky Brisbanites. You can shut down a freeway and barely notice it. I shudder to think what the consquences of that happening in Sydney would be.â€?

    “You might be surprised.”

    Or not. Having lived in Sydney before the latest round of expressways, I can assure you the traffic was thicker and nastier than it currently is, on fewer roads. This is because Sydney’s public transport system is appalling, especially at the edges of the urban sprawl where it is most needed.

    Smiley said: “Hey there’s an idea. What if Australia had a “one car policyâ€?. Anymore than one car registered at an address (within 20k of a major centre) would be taxed at a higher rate.”

    Is this because you can easily walk to work? In Sydney, everywhere is within 20 kms of a major centre – but it’s hard to see it as practical to walk that far to and from work, rain hail or shine! It is very often impossible to catch public transport even between adjoining suburbs without travelling long and time consuming distances to some central point and then getting another bus or train backwards to reach the desired destination.

  31. I tried a bit of an experiment, instead of driving into the Sydney Olympic site I caught the train. Bad move! over 4.5 hours each way on the “flyer” for a 2 hour road trip – never again.

    Public transport might be OK for the few urbanites who have simple requirements and live close to services but it is inflexible and costly and in the main outside of most people’s activities.

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