Sunday, March 07, 2010

Smart roads or dumb politicians?

After decades of far too little in investment in public transport, pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, our roads are now grindng to a halt.  Gridlock, or near gridlock, is choking Melbourne.  Short journeys that take 20 minutes in no traffic can now take over an hour.

VicRoads is part of the problem.  When you have a government department with a brief to build and manage roads that consume most of the transport budget, all you get is roads and freeways.

No one in transport or government seems to understand basic maths about how may cars it takes to move too few people - and when the system grinds to a halt.

So now "Smartroads" is announced.  While this seems to be step in the right direction - trying to optimise road use between multiple types of transport - in reality this is what VicRoads has been attempting to do unsuccessfully for the last decade and prior.

The basic assumption that roads - and shared usage - will solve transport needs in a big city is incorrect.

Trying to juggle usage patterns according to the time of day is futile too.  Peak hour used to be when everybody wants to travel, but now we have constant "peak hour" in many places over much of the day - including on weekends.  Cars and trucks get in the way of cyclists, trams and buses at all times.

The solutions we need are:
  • Convert Melbourne's tram network into a dedicated light rail metro, free from interference by cars and trucks
  • Provide safe dedicated cycling routes that allow commuters to travel up to 50km into and across Melbourne from all directions.  Bike lanes painted on lines  that cars drive across, or bike routes based on the "time of day" won't work
  • Build more heavy rail - Melbourne's population has increased by over 3 million people with no more rail infrastructure added to service new suburbs.
  • Introduce a congestion tax on cars travelling with less than two people in central Melbourne.
  • Genuine public consultation on transport options rather than government departments and politicians dressing up "business as usual" as something new.


pooru said...

RACV says average speed in Melbourne peak hour is less than 21km/hr ... same as a reasonably fit cyclist, obesity is rising. Go figure.

Rob Janson said...

We need a brand new class of paths, one dedicated to ZEV personal vehicles (bicycles and electric scooters). Speed limit of 40k, and there should be limits on vehicle width/length. It would start a brand new green industry personal transport industry, a would likely result in genuine opportunities for Australia.

Peter Campbell said...

Here is another ZEV personal vehicle - that folds away to a small size.

Grant said...

Evening Peter
I have read with interest your possible solutions, and am happy that I am not in Gov trying to sort out the mess. As far as I can see the Vic Gov is dammed if they try to ease congestion, and dammed if they do not. Various State and Fed Govs have looked at trying to get Australians out of their cars, and have found it would be political suicide if they try to force the issue.
With your solutions, the biggest problem I see is the costs that would be distributed between public transport users, as motorists would just sack the Gov if they tried to push additional costs onto them.
1. Convert to a light rail network would work if you removed the network from public roads, as the Gov has found out with trams that they just get jammed up with trucks and cars.
2. Cycle routes will work, but again only if you remove from major/busy roads. With cycling, I believe that this area will be the next major health problem in Australia, as cyclists in heavy traffic are breathing in copious amounts of possibly cancer causing diesel and car exhaust fumes. With the number of cyclist accidents with motor vehicles, I believe that it will only be a matter of time before cyclists are banned at times from major roads.
3. I agree that road painted bike lanes will not work, and in fact place cyclists in larger groups where trucks and cars may do greater damage.
4. Although they are definitely required, there is potentially major problems with building additional heavy rail. For example, in the South Eastern suburbs, there are major bottlenecks from Caulfield through to Sth Yarra, where additional tracks cannot be laid. The Gov could put heavy rail through all the new areas past Dandenong, or Frankston, but I believe that trains would just queue at Caulfield, with very extended delays getting to the city. There is also the delays caused by road/rail crossing, which forces a minimum time between trains, until the Gov can afford road/rail level splitting. I suggest that the only solution is to remove the requirement for people to go into the CBD, by building/allowing satellite business areas to be built in the outer suburbs.
In summary, I suspect that the Vic State Gov will never have the funds available to solve our transport problems, especially as it would be politically suicide impact motorists (remember 75+% of Victorians use the motor car to go to work, and as the last major survey found, over 80% of these people are not prepared to use public transport).

Ben Courtice said...

To put it in a nutshell, we need a government that aims to GET CARS OFF THE ROADS. This is the diametrical opposite of their current aim, which is increasing car use (and consequent boost to manufacturing, oil, road industries). This would necessitate alternatives like PT and cycling. It would mean no need to keep building new roads. It would mean those people whose needs were not (yet) serviced by expanded PT would have an easier run on the roads. Cyclists on roads would feel safer too. To say nothing of noise and air and climate pollution of course.

Getting cars off the roads is the linchpin; once that is the aim, then all the rest falls into place.