Benefits of a light rail system extend beyond direct financial return - Tony Trobe

The Canberra Times, August 31, 2014, p18

Tony Trobe talks to David Flannery, a Canberra architect and researcher at the University of Canberra

TT: Do Canberrans have a good understanding of the benefits of urban consolidation?
DF: The benefits of containing urban sprawl and concentrating development in the city and town centres are now being more widely embraced by Canberrans. A growing number of us appreciate that we cannot keep building a new suburb every year on the edge of the city, and at the same time expect our public transport system to cope. Moreover, people understand the resultant problems of increased traffic congestion and emission pollution. Building new and wider roads to solve traffic congestion is like loosening one's belt to solve an obesity issue.

TT: You are a researcher at Canberra Urban and Regional Futures (CURF). What is its take on this issue?
DF: Contemporarty urban planning theory and both national and international research is informing urban planning policy. In turn, the research is strongly highlighting the numerous benefits of aligning land-use planning with a transport-oriented approach to urban transformation. These principles are being put into practice with the design work on the first stage of the light-rail network.

TT: What can we learn from other Australian cities that have attempted light-rail networks?
DF: Recently constructed Australian transit networks - not only light-rail (for example at the Gold Coast) but also suburban trains (Perth) and rapid bus transit (Brisbane) - have revealed opportunities being considered in the ACT context. Other Australian cities, especially Sydney, are actively pursuing light-rail networks. Overall this recent experience has been very positive for inner-urban communities, providing a triple bottom line approach is taken, considering economic, social and environmental factors and providing there is a process for community engagement in sustainability solutions.

TT: Some vocal groups have suggested that the whole concept of light rail in Canberra is flawed.
DF: Most of the objection to the proposed light rail here is focused on the stated project budget, with opposition most frequently predicted on simplisitc cost-benefit-analysis that considers only the direct financial return. Real economic benefits will stem from increased productivity and increases in value of land immediately adjacent to public transport corridors and its node points.

TT: Can you summarise what you think the tangible benefits of the tangible benefits of the light rail initiative might be?.
DF: The development of public transport-oriented urban growth and the creation of more compact and walkable neighbourhoods can reduce car distances travelled, lower traffic emissions, improve population health and wellness, provide more liveable, sustainable and affordable housing and make a meaningful contribution to climate change mitigation.

September 2, 2014

Comment by John L Smith, Farrer

What is it about "transport-oriented urban growth and the creation of more compact and walkable neighbourhoods" that is dependent on having a light rail network? For Canberra, "the tangible benefits of the light rail initiative" quoted can be delivered more cheaply, more effectively and more harmoniously by alternative transport technology, including bus rapid transit in the medium term.

How we can improve our transport and make our city more liveable - Tony Trobe

The Canberra Times, August 10, 2014, p18

Tony Trobe talks to Tim Dyer, from Melinda Dodson Architects, a recent masters graduate of architecture and digital design

TT: What issues do you see with Canberra's public transport?
TD: Issues include city structure, low population density, growing regional population and dominant car infrastructure. This results in long bus journeys nearly empty between suburbs, losing out to the convenience and reliability of cars. The system struggles to meet the demands of the high-use peak times and low use but steady demand of the off-peak. Canberra needs a system with three layers; connect the region to the city, the city to the nodes, and the nodes to the suburbs.

TT: Will a light rail from nod to nod not solve the problem?
TD: Yes, but so can our buses. Canberra has brilliant road infrastructure and residents pay for this priivilage. So why pay for the installation and continual maintenance of light rail that will only benefit a small percentage of the population? Our garden city would be atrnished by removing trees along the proposed route, not to mention adding vehicles to the overcrowded and busy network of cars, motorcycles, buses, bicycles and pedestrians.

TT: So how can we use buses to improve our public transport?
TD: We can learn from examples such as Bogata's surface subway. By replacing light rail with a high-capacity nodal transit bus network and improving efficiency, it would improve development alonfg the nodal street, improving the connectivity between nodes. A low-capacity suburban transit network needs to be provided similar to the electric suburban Arriva buses in Britain, These networks provide consistent frequency and a modern user interface that indicates waiting times at stations. This approach would make use of the road infrastructure, exploit the city's design, influence its growth, create job opportunities, retain established trees and, most importantly create a reliable public transport system as an alternative to the car.

TT: How would this be implemented in Canberra?
TD: Take Northbourne Avenue for example. First, provide bike lanes down the grassed median strip among the trees. Install a kerb next to the central median strip to provide a dedicated bus lane and a place to collect passengers. This separates all the vehicles from onme aanother and injects people into the linear aprk that is the avenue's median strip. This could be achieved without losing trees, unearthing services or building expensive rail infrastructure.

TT: How do you address the transport needs of the growing regional population?
TD: By rejuvenating the rail infrastructure, Canberra could connect to the regional centres such as Yass, which are swelling with people who work and attend school in the city. Rural connectivity would provide opportunities for asalternative industries divorced from the rise and fall of the public service, and improve food security.