Archive for the ‘Cities’ Category

High Density Emerging in the Suburbs: Woodville West

January 4, 2013

Over the past couple of years, a lot of former housing trust homes around metropolitan Adelaide have been torn down – and in some areas this is still happening. In many instances, these houses have simply been replaced by regular detached housing within the existing streets and infrastructure.

There have been a few cases where things have been taken a bit further. At Woodville West, in Adelaide’s north-western suburbs, the opportunity to leverage the location adjacent to Albert Park train station on the Grange Line is being leveraged and a new development created in the form of The Square. Some of the previous suburb has been rezoned to allow higher density housing – to a limit of a few levels, not high-rise – with adequate public and open space provided and provision for mixed-use and retail development in future stages.

As of January 2013, Stage 1 of The Square has been completed which consists of several townhouse and apartment complexes. I must say, this area now looks quite nice compared to the old tired looking area it used to be – ignoring the fact that it is still a long way from being complete.

The Square

The Square

The Square

The Square

The Square

The Square

 

Why South Australia should be reinstating regional rail

January 6, 2012

Few states in any country in the world are as close to being entirely based on one major urban area as South Australia is – the focus being on its capital, Adelaide. More than three quarters of South Australia’s population is based within Greater Adelaide. Everything that seems to happen in South Australia seems to be in Adelaide, at least from a development point of view, and even then Adelaide is one of the slowest growing major cities in Australia.

But this may well be about to change to some degree. With the anticipated mining boom set to begin within the next few years subject to certain approvals, towns such as Port Augusta and Whyalla in the state’s Northern region are set to grow and benefit from the spinoffs to industry that are expected to expand or relocate to these centres. And it’s more than reasonable to expect that the amount of traffic along the Princes Highway between Adelaide and these towns will grow as well.

On another point, there’s a lot of visible investment starting to take place in electrifying, upgrading and expanding the metropolitan rail network around Adelaide, a great thing of course. But look regional, and other than the odd Great Southern Railway service to Perth, Darwin, Sydney and Melbourne there’s no proper regional rail service between Adelaide and South Australia’s other major regional centres.

At one stage several decades ago there was a regional rail network around South Australia with Adelaide at the centre of the network. It has all but disappeared, however and Adelaide Station now only serves suburban rail.

The rail infrastructure between Adelaide and the towns of Port Augusta and Whyalla is almost complete as it is currently. However, a few upgrades to stations along the route are required, and several passing loops instated. At Adelaide Station, standard gauge tracks would need to be installed. A new service, let’s call it the Northerner, would be a daily service in each direction to and from Adelaide with stops at Salisbury, Virginia, Snowtown, Crystal Brook, Port Pirie, Port Augusta and Whyalla.

This rail service, The Northerner, would collectively serve an area with approximately 60,000 people and provide an end to end service taking under five hours while taking some traffic off the highways. It will also assists commuters who are unable to drive to commute to and from Adelaide. Over time this population is expected to grow significantly, particularly around Port Augusta and Whyalla.

It’s time for Adelaideans to realise that not everything in South Australia is about Adelaide.

Speeding up improvements to road safety

December 7, 2011

As a frequent motorist to Adelaide’s roads, I occasionally am confused as to the speed limit on the section of road on which I am driving. It seems to forever be changing – in both distance and time – and as more councils are taking speed limits into their own hands it only looks like becoming more confusing before the situation improves. Unley City Council is a good example of this where local speed limits have been reduced to 40km/h.

Speed limits can be confusing and frustrating for many motorists. (Source: AdelaideNow)

In the urban areas around Adelaide, there are large signs around in yellow notifying drivers that the speed limit is 50km/h unless otherwise sign posted. But if a driver has just turned onto an arterial or connector road from a local street how does a driver tell what the speed limit is, particularly if they aren’t familiar with the area? What happens if one of the 40km/h or 60km/h speed limit signs has been removed, knocked over, or vandalised?

I like the New South Wales approach to posting speed limits. The speed limits are painted on the roadway in addition to the signage. But where there’s no signage, the speed limits are often still painted on the road anyway such as on the entry to a local street. This approach communicates more clearly to drivers the speed limit of the road they are driving on.

But even this, I don’t think, is the be-all end-all solution to sorting out speed limits on Adelaide’s roads. There’s a lack of consistency across much of the metropolitan region. Some councils have local speed limits of 40km/h, others use 50km/h on local streets, whilst others such as the Adelaide City Council have widespread 50km/h speed limits with only a handful of exceptions. And then there’s the odd arterial road that has a speed limit that isn’t 60km/h such as The Parade in Norwood and some outer suburban roads such as Lonsdale Road.

However, are we asking ourselves the right questions when we consider speed limits to improve safety? So much of the media and public discussion in creating safer road and pedestrian environments revolves around speed limits. Purely focusing on this aspect alone ignores the bigger picture. An example of this is currently happening in discussions about Hutt Street and a number of other local streets in central Adelaide.

Hutt Street is a wide four lane road with median strip and dedicated right turn lanes as well as on-street parking. It is lined with a number of restaurants and bars and is a well regarded dining strip in Adelaide. Adelaide City Council proposes reducing the speed limit from 50km/h to 40km/h to “encourage an expansion of alfresco dining and encourage pedestrians to spend more time and money in the city”. No other changes are currently proposed for Hutt Street.

This solution is a bit short-sighted, although I can see how lowering speed limits fits into a bigger scheme as it has successfully been implemented in other cities including Swanston Street in Melbourne, which is now closed off to regular traffic except trams. Yes, lowering speed limits might slow down traffic but it doesn’t do anything to increase the appeal of the street and the street is currently not very pedestrian friendly, which is what Hutt Street needs. Other measures and planning are needed to transform Hutt Street into a place that people want to visit instead of changing a few rules and hoping.

Maybe the authorities and public have forgotten about one traffic calming solution that was implemented on King William Road in Hyde Park in the 1980s to slow traffic through the local shopping street (or high street as the English call them). The street is lined with bricks which causes vehicles to rumble as they drive over them, which encourages traffic to slow down as driving at high speed over them creates large vehicle vibrations.

Of course there’s other measures that could be considered for Hutt Street as well. Zebra crossings which prioritise pedestrian movements could be used at some locations. (For some reason that I can’t explain zebra crossings don’t seem to be in favour in planning across Adelaide.)  The angled parking that currently exists takes up an excessive amount of potential footpath and outdoor dining space and could be redesigned for parallel parking, allowing some of the space to be reallocated for outdoor space. As an aside, the existing City Loop Adelaide Metro bus route could be extended to include Hutt Street instead of Pulteney Street.

In discussions about improving safety in our road environments, we need to start looking at the bigger picture and stop imagining individual actions as be-all end-all solutions. There is no such thing as the perfect solution. However, there is always room for improvement and those safety improvements can take forms other than changing the speed limit.

Wastelands, or just a waste of space?

November 28, 2011

In the short space of a few years, the level of investment in major infrastructure projects into Adelaide’s public transport network has increased several-fold. This includes a $2.6 billion upgrade to Adelaide’s rail network which involves electrification to allow the operation of electric trains, sleeper and track replacement, signalling, station and crossing upgrades.

A number of stations have been rebuilt or upgraded across the network in the past few years – Oaklands has a brand new station and the stations at Blackwood and Hallett Cove have been tidied up and provided with proper shelters. Several more along the Gawler Line are presently in the process of being upgraded or rebuilt.

However, the vast majority of stations have missed out on funding for upgrade and remain little more than deteriorating shelters on platforms that would not even pass as being adequate for a bus stop, let alone a train station.

Understandably, government funding is limited and is usually directed to the most urgent of projects. A single station upgrade can easily cost up into the millions of dollars. But if the SA Government is serious about getting bums on seats – those of trains and buses preferably, not cars – it needs to provide better train stations in addition to the new trains and tracks that already have funding.

If the government can’t and won’t invest in the upgrade of stations, why not provide commercial opportunities and let the private sector invest in them? I can’t say that this is an idea that will work, but I believe that it is worth exploring.

The train stations on any network that are busiest are usually those that are within close proximity to major commercial areas or are major interchanges between different lines or modes of transport. But some stations on the Adelaide rail network serve next to nothing.

Islington Station in Adelaide’s northern suburbs is a great example of this. It is surrounded by empty fields and lands previously part of the Islington railyards that are no more. There is a new industrial park being developed to the north-east, but this by and large has it’s back turned to the train station and the other empty land is unused space begging to be developed.

Islington Station and surrounds - currently there are large empty tracts of land around the station. (Source: Nearmap)

Having just returned from Japan, the country with the mother of all large rail networks, there’s some clear patterns as to why the rail network is so busy and why the stations are as well – the railway companies often own the office, hotel and retail buildings surrounding the stations as well! In other words, the commercial operations surrounding the station draw people into using the system and the stations are true destinations in themselves.

There is a key difference between the Adelaide rail system and those in Japanese cities though. The Japanese systems are owned by their operators, whereas the Adelaide system is in government hands. And I don’t any commercial sense in the Adelaide rail system becoming privately owned.

However, I do believe that are opportunities for developers to be involved in the improvement of the rail system through better stations in the form of public private partnerships (PPP). In exchange for the rights to develop land around and above train stations, developers could also contribute to the upgrading of the train stations to make them safer and more user friendly facilities. The presence of more people using the train station resulting from increased development near stations also provides a form of passive surveillance.

Developing over train stations in this manner isn’t exactly new, it has been done before in both Melbourne and Sydney. At Chatswood in Sydney, the station was redeveloped to accommodate the new Epping to Chatswood rail link (ECRL) and includes a new shopping centre and (yet to be built) apartment towers. It also provided new public spaces in the area around the station.

Proposal for CTI - The new station and shopping centre have been completed, but the apartment towers remain to be built. (Source: InDesign)

The Chatswood example is a very large undertaking and is not of the scale I would imagine currently feasible in Adelaide. There are three proposed apartment buildings up to 42 levels tall at CTI which is excessive for any suburban train station in Adelaide considering that no buildings of this height currently exist even in the centre of Adelaide. It could work for smaller scale undertakings though such as smaller office and residential buildings with ground level retail.

Remember this idea?

November 22, 2011

Readers of this blog may recall a long term vision I imagined for bringing Adelaide’s suburban rail system into the heart of the city in the same way many of the rail systems in other Australian cities do.

Yesterday the SA Government announced investigations to undertake a study into a similar plan to the one I envisioned in linking the northern (Gawler) and southern (Noarlunga) lines of the network and providing a continuous north-south rail corridor across the city.

There are a few differences of course. The route would have new stations under Pulteney Street/Rundle Mall and Victoria Square (east-west) rather than Gawler Place/Grenfell Street, KWS South and Wayville as outlined in my version of this vision. The line would reconnect to the Noarlunga line north of Keswick rather than at Goodwood. Estimates of the cost of building the project are put at between $2 billion and $5 billion.

Also, it is worth noting that this would be a long term project, as it does not make sense in building it while the rest of the system continues to be improved and electrification completed, as it is not feasible to run diesel trains in deep level tunnels such as the ones discussed.

See the video below for more thoughts and details.

Ingenuity and rebuilding from disaster

November 3, 2011

On February 22 this year, Christchurch was hit by one of the closest earthquakes to hit a major city in history. Many of the city’s heritage structures were destroyed or damaged in the disaster, which resulted in the closure of much of the city centre including the City Mall at Cashel Street. The destruction has been widely reported in media, but what hasn’t been talked about is the rebuilding effort.

Amongst the recent rebuilding is an ingenious method of getting business back up and running. The City Mall recently reopened with many businesses set up in temporary structures made from old shipping containers. Here are a few photos from around the web highlighting this ingenious use of materials to get local business back up and running in central Christchurch.

(Photos were taken by the user nzbullet on Flickr)

On the topic of rebuilding efforts of cities from disasters such as earthquakes, I’m off to Japan for the next few weeks including the city of Kobe which itself has recovered from a major earthquake in 1995. I’m not heading north of Tokyo though, as that’s still an area I’ve been told to stay away from. Stay tuned.

A summary of The State of Australian Cities 2011 – part 1

October 21, 2011

On October 20, the Major Cities Unit of the Department of Infrastructure and Transport released a report called The State of Australian Cities 2011, which is a follow-on from the report with the same name released in 2010. It highlights some interesting growth and migration trends between Australia’s 18 major cities – defined as urban areas containing over 100000 people.

For those who don’t want to trawl through over 250 pages worth of reading, here are some of the interesting comparisons within the report.

How large are Australia’s biggest cities?

Australia has five major cities with populations of over 1 million people. They are Sydney (4.58 million), Melbourne (4.08 million), Brisbane (2.04 million), Perth (1.7 million) and Adelaide (1.2 million).

Other cities with over half a million people include the Gold Coast region and Newcastle. Australia’s biggest capital city – Sydney – has over 35 times as many people as Australia’s smallest capital city – Darwin.

Which cities are growing fastest?

The answer may surprise a few people. The fastest growing city in Australia in terms of people added is Melbourne, which added over 600000 in the decade to 2010. This compares with 450000 people added in Sydney.

In terms of growth rate, Perth is the fastest growing major city with an annual population growth of 2.2% per year in the same decade. Brisbane is the next fastest growing at 1.9% while Adelaide has a lower growth rate at 1.3%.

The four largest cities in Australia – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth – accounted for over 60% of the population growth in the decade, which highlights how important the major cities to Australia’s prosperity.

How far people live from the CBDs

Sydney has relatively even proportions of its population living at various distances from its CBD with many people living over 50 km from the heart of Sydney. Melbourne on the other hand has greater proportions of its population living in the more middle distance areas (5-30km away) and fewer living closer or further away. The trend observed in Melbourne is even more pronounced in Perth, where greater proportions live 5-30km from the Perth CBD and very few live more than 50 kilometres away.

Where the growth is occurring within the cities

In most Australian cities, the majority of the population growth has been accommodated on the urban fringes of our cities with greenfield development dominating the numbers in most places – Sydney being the notable exception.

Sydney has a greater proportion of its population accommodated within its existing urban footprint, with 20.5% moving to Sydney’s inner suburbs compared with 12.2% and 13% in Melbourne and Perth respectively. All of Australia’s five major cities have noted significant population growth near their city centres coming off a low base. This is a reversal of a trend that took place in the 1950s and 1960s that saw once high population numbers near the city centres fall as residents moved out into the suburbs – when the Great Australian Dream was well and truly alive.

In each of the three cities mentioned above, the outer suburbs still saw the majority of the population growth, with Melbourne and Perth have higher proportions of population growth in these areas than Sydney. This is reflected in some of the publicly discussed issues in each city, with Sydney media commonly referring to overcrowding in the city while Melbourne media often talk about Melbourne’s out of control urban sprawl.

Migration to and from the cities

Although Sydney is growing, there are more interstate and intrastate departures from Sydney than there are arrivals. Some suspect high property prices and congestion in Australia’s biggest city is driving people away. However, Sydney isn’t the only place with these problems and yet the same pattern of departures and arrivals is not observed in other states.

So how is Sydney growing then? The departures are more than made up by the number of international migrants moving to Sydney, with most international arrivals occurring through Sydney and Melbourne. Between 2001 and 2006, Sydney had 243000 departures with 366000 arrivals.

What’s interesting to note is where many migrants move when they arrive. Many international migrants eventually leave Sydney and Melbourne, bound for the third and fourth biggest cities where there are plentiful employment prospects – Brisbane and Perth.

To be continued

Sustainability is important – except when carparks are involved, it’s my right to park for free

September 18, 2011

There have been a couple of pieces of news that have been floating around in the past few days that really do highlight the backward attitude of South Australians (Adelaideans in particular) to driving and parking; the reactions to both Rod Hook’s view that parking prices in Adelaide’s city centre should be increased and the proposed introduction of parking fees at Westfield Marion.

In some aspects, Adelaide is getting better over time at being sustainable. We outlawed plastic bags at major retailers, we are increasingly capturing and making better use of our water supply and we’re amongst the leaders in recycling in Australia.

But we still think it’s our right to be able to drive everywhere and park wherever we like for free. We complain about petrol prices, we complain about having to pay for parking and we complain about not having enough parking spaces. We think road transport should be free. Hold on, doesn’t excessive driving go against the argument of sustainability?

And this is a problem we face, but continue to ignore or deny. When it comes to transport, one of the biggest contributors to global warming, Adelaideans are terrible in terms of how much they drive compared to other major cities. A big part of it comes down to our attitude. Another part of it comes from the fact that most Adelaideans don’t know anything better, and I don’t blame them since the substandard public transport system has never been taken seriously.

If Rod Hook thinks that decreasing the number of car parks or increasing parking prices in the city is the holy grail to dealing with peak hour congestion, then I think we need to consider a replacement for the chief executive of the Department for Energy, Transport and Infrastructure.

Adelaide City Council design guidelines in new developments plays a big contribution to the excessive number of car parks we have now. There are minimum requirements for car parks in residential developments instead of maximums and there have been numerous car park towers approved left, right and centre.

One only needs to look along Franklin Street to see how many car parks are being built, there are almost as many buildings for car parks being constructed as there are buildings for offices. The number of people who visit central Adelaide per day may be less than one-third of those in central Melbourne or Sydney, but there are more car parks than in either of these cities. Not car parks per capita, but total car parks. There are some 41000 car parks in central Adelaide versus 35000 and 30000 in Melbourne and Sydney respectively. Many of these are completely empty on weekends as they serve working commuters on weekdays.

Early bird all day parking in Adelaide typically costs anywhere between $11 and $15 in most places. Even if prices were jacked up to over $20 a day, most people would still drive because it’s easy to drive along Adelaide’s wide and straight streets and because the alternative – public transport – is still not good enough to make people consider it.

Hopefully the investment in public transport continues to pick up and Adelaide City Council eventually comes to its senses on the issue of the appropriate provision of car parks in the city. It may be challenging to get the two coordinated as one is a state government responsibility while the other is a local government responsibility.

On the issue of Westfield Marion charging for parking – the proposed system appears to be the same as what is currently in place in several car parks at Norwood. That is, two hours of parking for free and pay for anything more than this. And it works brilliantly, particularly in stopping the free-loaders who don’t actually go into the shopping centre or cinema that owns the car parks. We should be encouraging people to use buses and trains to get there, there’s plenty of routes that go to Marion. That is, if the government ever improves the system to the point where people consider public transport to Marion as a serious option.

The importance of effective communication in transport systems

August 31, 2011

I have just returned from Sydney a couple of days ago and have to share with the readers of this blog about an experience I had with the commuter rail system operated by CityRail. Locals in Sydney often complain about the rail system and how poorly it is run. I can now understand why.

On Monday I was waiting to take a train from Town Hall station in the Sydney CBD to Newtown several kilometres just west of the city centre. The indicator boards on the platform were showing that the approaching train was stopping at all stations to Strathfield (including Newtown). So I boarded the train.

As I boarded the train, the guard made an announcement: “Please disregard the indicator boards, this train will be terminating at Central”. Central is the next station along the line from Town Hall.

Upon arrival at Central station, it became apparent that the indicator boards at Central were still showing that the train was proceeding to Strathfield. As was the automated announcement: “The train on platform 19 goes to Strathfield…”

As I was disembarking from the service others were boarding the train unaware that the train was terminating. Then transit officers walked through the train and kicked everyone off on to the platform. The indicator board then changed and the automated announcement followed: “The train on platform 19 terminates here. Would all passengers please alight from the train. Please do not join this train”.

About a minute later, the indicator board changed yet again showing the train was heading to Strathfield. By now, even the train driver who was standing outside his cab looked confused as to what was happening. Then came an announcement, this time manual: “This train service has been altered and is now going to Strathfield.”

And so a few hundred angry passengers re-boarded the train which was already running late and holding up the train services which were queued up behind it.

Ideally, this should not have happened in the first place. Somewhere along the line, it’s obvious that someone responsible for monitoring train services made an error in telling or not telling someone about a change in the planned route of the train.

The overlooked potential bottleneck: Adelaide Railway Station

August 6, 2011

When the topic of congestion comes up, it is often in relation to congestion on packed trains and roads filled with vehicles. What doesn’t often come to mind are the footpaths and spaces that pedestrians use. To create user friendly environments, we must continue to create spaces that are easy for pedestrians to navigate, encourage social interaction and foster strengthening relationships.

In recent times there has been a lot of media coverage about bringing people to Adelaide’s river front on the Torrens and upgrading and building new facilities in the precinct. One space, however, continues to be overlooked by the media and is a key component of the precinct and I dare say, the most important. It is in relation to how foot traffic through Adelaide Railway Station will be affected with a number of projects and developments that are currently in planning or under construction which include:

  • The electrification of the commuter rail network
  • Extension of the Noarlunga Line to Seaford
  • Adelaide Oval Redevelopment
  • New Royal Adelaide Hospital
  • Health and Medical Research Institute
  • Adelaide Convention Centre upgrade
  • SkyCity Casino Redevelopment
  • Riverbank Redevelopment

All of these projects will contribute to growing patronage through Adelaide Railway Station, and this station is effectively the gateway to the precinct. This is the biggest and busiest station in South Australia and it only has one exit with some 14 turnstiles. Even in the current situation without the above projects completed there are already queues during peak periods for those entering and exiting the platform area of the station. Furthermore, having the only exit on the eastern end of the station means that commuters who are heading to Uni SA’s City West campus, the new RAH and the Health and Medical Research Institute – which are all west of the station – will have to continue exiting to the east and then taking a long walk back west again. A western exit is needed, a topic which has been of much discussion recently in the forums over at Sensational Adelaide.

Providing a western exit is easier said than done. There is currently space for an exit and concourse in the space between the Convention Centre and the Montefiore Road bridge which crosses the tracks west of the station. However, this space is currently planned for the extension of the Convention Centre and cannot be constructed at this location.

Aerial view of the Adelaide Convention Centre and the Montefiore Road bridge to its west. Adelaide Railway Station is hidden under the buildings to the east of the Convention Centre. (Source: Nearmap)

If a western exit cannot be provided in the space above the tracks, where else can it go? Providing access at ground level across the tracks could done, but there are a lot of trains arriving and departing from nine tracks so this probably is not the safest approach.

I believe that the best approach in the current circumstance would be construct a tunnel to provide a north-south passage under the western end of the platforms, with escalators and elevators providing links between the tunnel and the platforms. The tunnel would be more of an underground excavation under the platforms with a paid concourse area and a non-paid section to allow pedestrians from North Terrace to access the river precinct and vice-versa. The southern end of the tunnel would provide access to North Terrace with exits on both sides of North Terrace while the northern end would provide access to the river precinct.

A vision for a new entrance to Adelaide Railway Station and the creation of a new pedestrian link between the city and river precinct.

A more detailed concept of the tunnel and underground concourse.

This tunnel and underground concourse may also serve as a link to future underground platforms as discussed in a previous article here on Urban Rediscovery. In this case, the concourse would provide a interchange function to allow passengers to transfer between the existing terminating platforms and new underground platforms that would take commuters closer to their destinations in the city.

Other opportunities exist by providing this western pedestrian link. The access points down into the tunnel at both the North Terrace and Riverbank ends could be sheltered by interesting architecture in spaces that are currently blank and dull while the tunnel and underground concourse itself could provide retail opportunities and spaces for advertising. The greatest potential reaching effects go beyond the station and the river precinct, encouraging increased pedestrian activity in Adelaide’s west end and providing the catalyst for reviving the area and furthering its development which has often lacked behind the more developed east end of the city.

The tunnel may end up being an expensive investment and challenging on a technical level as the tunnel would pass directly under the foundations and pilings of the Adelaide Convention Centre, but it may become necessary to avoid creating a bottleneck if Adelaide Railway Station is to cope with growing passenger numbers.