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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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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