Why did I leave Sydney? Partly because of things like this …
TENS of thousands of bus commuters face hours of extra gridlock each week because traffic authorities have removed the requirement for an afternoon bus lane during widening of the M2 [the main radial freeway to the northwest suburbs of Sydney].
As part of the conditions attached to the $550 million M2 upgrade, Transurban [the toll road operator] was asked to set up a ''tidal flow'' bus lane to replace two bus lanes removed during construction. The flow of traffic on such a lane is reversed from morning to afternoon to match the heaviest traffic.
The Roads and Traffic Authority [RTA, the state highway agency] and the Department of Planning under the previous government dropped the requirement for a bus lane out of the city in the afternoon peak and agreed with Transurban the lane would be dangerous.
The idea that it's appropriate to remove transit lanes for a road construction project is backwards and upside-down. Construction inevitably constrains a highway's capacity. So if you want the economy to move, rather than just the cars, you go out of your way to attract more customers to transit during the construction period. Instead, customers are being encouraged to drive instead of take the bus, which will make the freeway even slower, thus obstructing all road users regardless of mode and thereby maximizing the construction's negative impact on the local economy.
And this is priceless!
According to the Planning Department, the RTA said it had since done more traffic modelling and the lack of a bus lane would not affect travel times much. The RTA could not provide any extra modelling yesterday.
In other words: "But mom! It's not my fault! Dad told me it was OK to destroy the bus lane!"
UPDATE: So I was glad to see this
today, the new government's much anticipated centralization of transit planning in Sydney that will strip RTA of much of its authority over public transport.
[New transport minister Duncan Gay] said the RTA knew the public thought it had a ''culture of arrogance'', and that the organisation needed to change. ''You will not see the RTA the same after this process,'' he said.
Could be promising!
More importantly, this is yet another in the long list of real-world (non-theoretical) reasons to support rail over bus even when the bus has its own lane.
Interestingly, this seems to be more or less the area where the northwest rail line was supposed to be built. That would have provided an effective alternative to this whole mess, but as it stands, the new traffic jam is directly on the way to the neared rail station at Epping.
I bet their models are based on existing traffic volumes (with the bus lane) instead of the higher volumes that will result when the bus lane is gone.
This is exactly how Brisbane’s Coronation Drive T2 bus lane was destroyed. They said that it would have no effect on travel times… rubbish.
“So if you want the economy to move, rather than just the cars, you go out of your way to attract more customers to transit during the construction period.”
While it wasn’t construction, the same principle was at work during the 2010 Winter Olympic lane closures in Vancouver. BC Transit piled on lots of extra transit service and was rewarded with record high ridership. At the same time car trips into the city dropped dramatically, and auto congestion didn’t seem to be an issue.
It really, truly does work just like Jarrett says…
I agree with the gist of this post – it’s silly, and a missed opportunity, not to provide a bus priority lane through a construction area if you can, even if it takes away from general purpose capacity. What a great opportunity to perform well for an audience that would not usually take transit!
But there is a technique I call the transportation demand management campaign of terror, which is fantastically effective at reducing construction impacts. If you blow a big enough horn about how gawd-awful the traffic will be during construction, that traffic will almost always not occur. People will rearrange their vacations and do whatever they need to do to avoid the problem area.
I don’t know how long this construction is supposed to continue, and the TDM campaign of terror can’t persist indefinitely, but if it’s only a few weeks it’s possible that the buses rerouted to local arterials will be a lot slower than those that brave the highway traffic if that traffic doesn’t show up!
Note that the TDM campaign of terror is different from the TDM nuclear accident, in which one destroys one’s economy, causing plummeting employment and related travel. That strategy has been very effectively applied over the past couple of years, reducing traffic volumes all over the world (with the unfortunate side effects of homelessness, despair and civil strife…) Fortunately, it seems governments around the world are establishing policies to continue this strategy for the foreseeable future, using anti-growth austerity programs. As a planner, I’m happy to be freed from the the endless cycle of growth, and to focus on a more environmentally sound steady state (though probably unemployed) future.
It gets worse. The existing dedicated bus route connecting the motorway’s “temporarily” disabled bus lanes with an important bus-rail interchange at Epping station, which will become even more important with the proposed development of new rail lines through Epping, is to be destroyed as part of the “upgrade” of the motorway, and the space it occupies within the motorway’s reservation will become additional car lanes.
This is not just during the construction period — it is a planned element of the “upgrade” itself, justified in planning approval documents on the basis that it makes it easier and cheaper for the private sector motorway operator to widen its motorway.
For reasons that can only be guessed at, the previous government’s public transport authorities in Sydney lodged no objections to this; the only comments and objections from within the government came from the EPA, and all were dismissed.
But best of all, the concept of extending the motorway’s bus lanes along the full length of the motorway as part of the “upgrade” — including the highly congested eastern section, where buses are currently utterly trapped in slow-moving general traffic during peak periods — was rejected because it “would have negligible benefits in terms of relieving congestion and improving the LoS [‘Level of Service’] for cars and trucks” (M2 Upgrade Project Submissions and Preferred Project Report, RTA, 23 August 2010, emphasis added).
Unfortunately all of this is now locked in under the planning approvals granted for the motorway upgrade, and seems unlikely to be able to be changed by the new governance arrangements, unless the new government is willing to renegotiate the RTA’s deal with the motorway operator and (presumably) cough up the cash.
Ah! I read too fast the first time. This is a toll road then. Then it goes beyond the normal bias towards moving cars instead of people. Toll road operators are focused on the revenue, and bus lanes are just a lost revenue opportunity. Really, the public sector client needs to be clear what the ground rules are that profit can be made within, and it sounds as though that hasn’t been done here…
Further to Syd’s comment:
The to-be-demolished bus only ramp connecting the motorway to Epping station was built in the expectation that many people from the motorway bus lane would take bus/train transfer trips to the city.
It has turned out more convenient to run most buses to the city direct by another route which is shorter in distance, and not much longer in time, than the railway. So the bus ramp has been little used. Not helped by the fact that there is no integrated bus/train ticketing.
Demolishing the bus ramp (as opposed to resuming a small strip of land to widen the total easement) will make it forever impossible to provide any efficient transfer between these two major crossing transit routes.
The fact that the bus ramp is little used at present was regarded as sufficient justification for this. Whether the bus ramp has ‘option value’ – is it worth preserving for possible greater use in future, if the network was managed competently to encourage interchange trips? – was not even discussed.
The needs of anyone other than city commuters (ie people who might want a bus/train transfer to go somewhere else on the train line) are ignored.
But it’s a tollway, so there’s a very obvious way of completely eliminating congestion so bus lanes will not even be necessary. And some of the extra revenue from that could be spent on improving the bus services.
No, it’s not a matter of shifting blame, it’s a matter of huge modelling errors. Presumably (from the size) these errors were caused by incorrect assumptions. Does anyone know what those assumptions were?
This is one of the reasons that rail is superior to bus. Whether the reason is misidentified or cultural, it is far too easy to eliminate or remove a bus lane. In our area it seems policy that when there’s an accident, then general traffic can use the HOV/transit lane, negating the transit advantage. Road lanes are road lanes. Rail is dedicated infrastructure.
What M1EK and Carl said.
This is why you build railway lines, not bus lanes. They turn the bus lanes into car lanes. Always always always.
It’s much much harder for them to turn the railway lines into car lanes (it involves actual construction work).