sydney: destroying the bus lane to save it

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!

conservatives commit to federal funding of transit (in australia)

US readers watching the Federal budget process, in which one major party is proposing Federal disinvestment in city-serving infrastructure, might note that Australia is moving the other way.  The Labor government created Infrastructure Australia in 2008 to be a conduit for federal funding of transit infrastructure, a role similar to that long played by the Federal Transit Administration in the US.  Now, the more conservative opposition — the "Coalition" of the Liberal and National parties — has endorsed the contination of that policy, signaling that this role is likely to continue regardless of who is in Government.  On his party website, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott states:

The Coalition supports Infrastructure Australia (IA) and in government will strengthen its role, creating a more transparent, accountable and effective adviser on infrastructure projects.

We’ll keep it, we’ll fund it and we’ll listen to it because important infrastructure decisions should be made on the basis of rational planning …

The Coalition will ensure that Infrastructure Australia has guaranteed ongoing funding. … The Coalition’s commitment means that IA will be provided with the resources necessary for it to do its job properly.

It's interesting to think about why urban issues that are bipartisan in Australia seem to become Democratic concerns in the US.   In both countries, most of the population lives in urban areas, but there is a crucial difference in language that creates a difference in habits of thought.  Americans think of big "cities" as separate from their "suburbs," and often use these terms as shorthand or euphemism for a range of other oppositions.  (Only in America, for example, would a style of music associated with black people be called "Urban.")  Americans also have the idea of a suburban center (what Joel Garreau calls an "Edge City') that clings to the outer orbit of a big city but can think of itself as unrelated to it.  Hence someone in Tyson's Corner, Virginia, say, may be happier thinking of their metro area as "Northern Virginia" rather than "greater Washington DC."   

Those word choices lead to a US political reality in which big cities — narrowly defined in exclusion of their suburbs — represent a minority of the population and thus attract the interest of only one side of the political divide. 

By contrast, when Australians say "Sydney" or "Melbourne" they usually mean the entire urban area — the continuous patch of lights that you see from an airplane.  So people who live in what Americans would call the suburbs of Sydney think of themselves as living in Sydney.  This way of speaking encourages them to accept that the problems of Sydney are their problems, whereas a resident of Tyson's Corner may feel quite removed from the problems of "Washington."  When cities are understood in that inclusive way, it follows that most Australians live in cities, so naturally both sides of the political divide must care about them.

sydney, call los angeles

In the Sydney Morning Herald today, I wonder out loud if Australian cities can move forward on public transport given the lack of a mechanism for local initiatives or referenda.  Based on our work last year on Sydney's Independent Public Inquiry, I compare Sydney's stasis with the aggressive building program in Los Angeles, and note that for better or worse, California's tradition of direct popular votes on spending plans makes it possible to lock those plans in for decades, providing the security that the private sector needs to do its part.  In Australia, where spending on big infrastructure happens through regular state budgets, nobody can make a commitment beyond the next election cycle, and nobody dares ask the public for a major new funding source.  So the Australian debate always seems to be about which one or two projects will be built in the current generation, and which will be left for our grandchildren to build.  My article is here.

sydney morning herald on congestion pricing

DSCN0718 (If you've found your way here from my article inside the Sydney Morning Herald's "debate" on congestion pricing, welcome!   There's a category of articles on Sydney here, but I hope you'll poke around more widely. The "about the blog" and "about the author" are the place to start.)

In the Herald's congestion pricing debate today, I tried to make the general case, but Professor David Henscher seemed to nail the policy angle that's needed, one that would respond even to the car advocate's complaints. 

Congestion pricing, if and when it happens in Sydney, needs to start by replacing other fees associated with driving, especially those that affect rural areas where there's no alternative to driving and never will be.  This won't be enough to build all the public transport that Sydney needs; we ran the numbers on that last year for the Herald inquiry.  But it makes both political and practical sense as a way to start.

The NRMA [Auto Club]'s line about needing better public transport before you charge for roads is one I agree with, but of course NRMA has no idea how to pay for that, nor is it really their priority.  Realistically, any congestion charging scheme would need to start with the places where public transport is already abundant, which means for travel into and out of the City of Sydney.  That's the one thing that seemed missing from the four articles. 

I certainly objected to the punitive tone of the framing question: "Should motorists pay for the congestion they cause?"  No, motorists should have the option to pay to get out of congestion. 

UPDATE:  By the way, One reason that the Sydney car vs transit debate is so polarized is that both have major projects in mind that require expensive tunnels.  NRMA (the auto club) recently proposed that they would support turning a surface street into a "transit boulevard" if transit advocates would just support a multi-billion dollar road tunnel underneath it.  I doubt there's a deal there.


london’s northern headache

London underground_map crop Commenter David M on what rivers teach about transit:

It's interesting to note that in London the newest Underground lines have no branches (Victoria, Jubilee). In fact, when Jubilee was originally opened it took over one of the Bakerloo Lines branches, reducing the Bakerloo to a branchless line also.

For real complications, look at Camden Town [top center] on the Northern Line [black on this classic map] in London, England. Just south of this station is a complex deep underground junction that lets trains from any two of the branches south of Camden to simultaneously run on any two of the branches to the north. It is a marvel of engineering, but it is also an operational nightmare with trains run from any branch to any branch – one train runs late and it can cause problems on all of the branches.

London has wanted to simplify the operations by spliting the line into two and requiring an interchange at Camden Town. There are four platforms at Camden Town but the interchange passages are insufficient to handle the expected interchange traffic – so for now, it is cheaper to suck it up and deal with the operational issues.

There is an interesting effect of this interchange. Going south, both branches serve Euston Station before heading off to cross London on two different lines serving different areas of the core. You can get on one train at Camden, stop at Mornington Crescent and at Euston. You could get on the following train at Camden and arrive at Euston without passing through Mornington Crescent. The reason is that Mornington Crescent is on only one of the two branches, the other just bypasses the station. It makes for fun time when trying to get to Mornington Crescent.

The other night a Sydney rail expert was telling me that when the North West line is built, creating a four-way junction at Epping similar to the one at Camden Town, they will spend a number extra millions on the tunnelling to create the ability to route trains from any segment to any other.  A similar decision has already been made about a similar junction at Glenfield in Sydney's southwest.  I wonder how much could be saved if we let lines cross without connecting track, and required connections, where that pattern makes sense as part of a larger grid.  It's not the right answer everywhere, certainly, but it sounds like London transit experts aren't very appreciative of all the flexibility that their great-grandparents gave them with the design of the Northern Line.

sydney: it’s 10 pm, do you know where your buses are?

This won't amaze readers in places like San Francisco or Boston, which have had for years. But it's an important step for Australia.  Realtime locations of Sydney's buses, via a new app by Flink Labs of Melbourne.

Syd buses realtime

Not sure what the colours mean.  They need to be colour-coded for inbound vs outbound, which otherwise can't be distinguished. 

Thanks to Chris Loader, who blogs about Australian public transport at Charting Transport, for the tip.

Connections vs Complexity

In my first “basics” post on connections, I explained why a network that requires connections (or as North Americans call them, “transfers”) can actually get people where they’re going faster than a network that tries to avoid them.

But there’s another important reason to plan for connections rather than direct service, one that should be important to anyone who wants transit to be broadly relevant to urban life: Unless you welcome and encourage connections, your network will become very, very complex. Continue Reading →

Connection Fare Penalties: Why They Happen

Is it fair to have to pay more if your trip requires a transfer or connection?  I’ve argued that it isn’t, but I also have an appreciation of the difficulty of eliminating these penalties.  So when complaining about a fare penalty, try to understand the situation from the transit agency’s point of view.  Not because they’re right and you’re wrong, but because you many need to help them solve the problem that it presents for themContinue Reading →

New York’s Broadway: Why Do the Cab Drivers Hate It?

New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan is here in Sydney, and spoke last night at the City of Sydney’s CityTalks series, hosted as always by Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore.  Sadik-Khan gave her standard presentation on her work in New York, with emphasis on the conversion of traffic and parking space to pedestrian and park spaces.  She also highlighted the new Bus Rapid Transit project, called Select Bus Service, clearly distinguishing between SBS projects that are still compromised, such as First/Second Avenue and Fordham Road, and those that really will be fully exclusive-lane and thus highly reliable, such as the 34th Street line now under development. Continue Reading →