Archive for the ‘Brisbane’ Category

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


Does Grenfell Street need to become an urban oasis?

April 2, 2011

On Tuesday evening, Adelaide Thinker in Residence Fred Hansen held a conference at the Adelaide Town Hall about improving transportation and its integration with land use. One of the key recommendations from his lecture was to convert Grenfell Street into a transit mall, allowing only bus traffic and widening the footpaths to improve pedestrian movements along the street.

Grenfell Street as it is today with vehicular traffic and an artists impression of Fred Hansen's plan. (Source: AdelaideNow)

This recommendation in itself is a great one to ponder about, considering that Grenfell Street is one of Adelaide’s most important streets for bus movements. More than 30 bus routes use Grenfell Street during peak hours, and the combination of buses pulling in and out combined with private vehicle use makes for a lot of conflicting movements and congestion. To allow the buses to move through the city with minimal delay would be a big boost to encouraging city commuters to go by bus instead of by car.

What’s missing from Fred Hansen’s suggestion though is that altering Grenfell Street won’t just affect traffic on Grenfell Street itself, but will force a major shift in the traffic movement patterns in the central business district. What has not been mentioned or clearly thought about are the following:

  • How will delivery vehicles continue to access loading docks such as at Harris Scarfe (which is currently being rebuilt)?
  • What will happen to the car parks that currently rely on Grenfell Street for access?
  • Is closing Grenfell Street to all but public transport the only way of improving street quality and pedestrian accessibility?
  • How will Pirie Street and Gawler Place need to be altered to account for changes on Grenfell Street?
  • How will the public transport system need to change to make converting Grenfell Street to a transit mall feasible?

I have a few extras to add to Fred Hansen’s suggestion based on the points I have just mentioned. During the 1990s, Swanston Street in central Melbourne was closed to regular traffic except trams. It has successfully made its transition from auto-alley to a user friendly street in a short period of time. However, there are times of the day when it is opened up for delivery vehicles to allow goods to be delivered. This could also be done on Grenfell Street to allow some key retailers such as Harris Scarfe and Harvey Norman to maintain their access to goods and keep the retailers happy rather than creating a blanket ban on all vehicles that aren’t public transport.

Adelaide City Council’s Grenfell Street car park is a key component that cannot be overlooked. Access will need to be maintained either through the section of Grenfell Street leading to Hindmarsh Square or via the laneways to Pirie Street. Either that, or it would need to be closed, an option that probably would not make the council happy considering the issues it faced over the use of the car park when the redevelopment of Harris Scarfe was announced.

Brisbane has a very different solution to Melbourne with a similar issue of improving pedestrian and vehicle movements along Queen Street in its central business district. Instead of maintaining the street only to pedestrians and public transport as Melbourne did with Swanston Street, Brisbane has constructed tunnels under Queen Street for buses as part of a greater plan to provide busways around inner Brisbane. This is a more expensive solution than Melbourne’s solution, but one worth thinking about when you consider that it completely removes all vehicular transport movements at street level leaving extra space for more activity on the street itself. In Adelaide’s case, tunnels could potentially form part of an underground extension to the O-Bahn at Gilberton, as the majority of the bus routes along Grenfell Street also use to O-Bahn.

There was also a few extra components suggested by Fred Hansen to upgrading Grenfell Street that seem inappropriate or out of place. The one that really got to me was the suggestion of cafes and alfresco dining along the footpaths on Grenfell Street. As nice as it sounds, Grenfell Street has never struck me as the right place for this type of function on a large scale. Sure, a few here and there is great for those who work in the area and adds diversity to the street, but Grenfell Street is not a major dining strip like Gouger Street, nor is it a cultural strip like North Terrace. Grenfell Street is part of the commercial and financial heart of Adelaide. You only need to look up to see this. If we really want to make the most of upgrading Grenfell Street, then I would say that the laneways connecting into Grenfell Street would be better places to encourage restaurants, cafes and bars. This would also complement activity in the adjacent Rundle Mall area, but I won’t delve into this in this post. Besides, who wants to be enjoying a coffee next to the sound of buses thundering by?

That doesn’t necessarily have to be the case though where small cafes already exist. Some appropriate placement of benches, plants and scrubs and possibly interesting sculptures along widened footpaths could create some great gathering spots to encourage social interaction outside of the office buildings instead of providing the footpaths simply as the means of keeping people moving. Simply widening the footpaths with little regard to their use beyond pedestrian movement runs the risk of leaving the street dead outside working hours. A few shops and cafes would assist in preventing this situation from occurring, but they should not be the main focus on Grenfell Street.

There’s plenty of factors that need to be considered in upgrading Grenfell Street, some of them conflicting, but any design scheme would need to consider the bigger picture on its impact on the surrounding area rather than only on Grenfell Street itself. Keeping Grenfell Street open only to public transport is one option, but there are other plausible options that need to be considered as well.

I thought I ordered standard brakes and air conditioners with my new trains and trams…

March 15, 2011

In our modern day and age where technology advances as quickly as the bullet train flies, you would think that working brakes and functional air conditioning systems would be the norm on any new vehicles being delivered on our public transport systems.

Not so.

As Australia’s public transport systems and associated infrastructure undergo their biggest investment in many decades, the largest number of new trains and trams have entered service in the past decade than in any decade previously. With more vehicles entering service, it seems that an increasing number of them have technical difficulties or faults. Sydney’s Millennium trains were plagued with electrical and mechanical difficulties for several years following their introduction in 2002. Melbourne’s Siemens trains, also delivered in 2002, continue to have braking problems while Adelaide’s Flexity trams (2006) have inadequate air conditioning systems.

Sydney's energy thirsty Millennium trains.

Siemens train overshoots the end of the line at Sandringham, Melbourne. (Source: Herald Sun)

Getting quality trams on Australia’s light rail systems has been an issue since we stopped manufacturing trams after World War II. All of the new trams operating in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney are European built, and have been built to European standards rather than Australian standards as a result. Adelaide’s Flexity trams are built with the same air conditioning systems as those built for Frankfurt, which has a colder and milder climate than Adelaide does, clearly not the same operating conditions!

It seems that Australia has lost its ability to manufacture rail vehicles of a decent standard.

Actually, that’s not completely true. The Millennium trains were manufactured in Australia. They function properly now, but only after many years of causing frustration to Sydney commuters. The narrow gauge systems in Brisbane and Perth are supplied by mostly trouble-free trains built in Maryborough, Queensland. However, the notorious Siemens trains were manufactured in Austria while the Flexity trams were built as a piggyback order along with new trams in Frankfurt, Germany which have the exact same design specifications. The issue relates more to the lack of proper due diligence in the design of the vehicles rather than poor quality construction. Of course, when politics comes into the picture getting brand new glamorous looking vehicles on to the system as quickly as possible takes precedence over getting the important basics in the vehicle design right.

The other problem is that the quality of Australia’s rail infrastructure is still substandard due to the lack of proper maintenance and investment in the systems between World War II and the turn of the 21st century. Some Melbourne train drivers have described the Siemens trains operating on Melbourne’s rail network as “space-age technology on caveman infrastructure”. They continue to face speed restrictions while a growing number of them overshoot the end of train lines such as the incident at Sandringham on Wednesday the 9th of March where a Siemens set crashed into a Bendigo Bank branch. In Sydney, the new Millennium trains continued to break down as the existing electrical systems could not cope with the high electrical demand of the trains and eventually needed to be upgraded. With lagging investment from decades of neglect and growing passenger demands, upgrading rail infrastructure in Australia to meet the needs of today and tomorrow has become a game of catch up.

And so we as travelling commuters continue pay the price for unreliable vehicles in the form of delays, cancellations and uncomfortable trips, time that could have been used more productively but we cannot gain back. As great as it is to have governments investing in new trains and trams, more attention needs to be paid beyond simply dumping shiny new multi-million dollar chunks of metal on our tracks to other things that are expected by commuters. We need to demand that our governments give us more than just new vehicles, but vehicles that are adapted and suitable for the conditions that they will operate in and the infrastructure that will support the reliable operation of these vehicles.


Herald Sun – Spaceships on Chariot Wheels

The Age – Metro Train Crashes Off Rails into Bendigo Bank

Why relying on Google Maps is sometimes a bad idea

January 28, 2011

Recently, there have been a few interesting cases where people have been overly reliant on Google Maps for driving and walking directions. Those include a woman who was hit when she was walking along a highway with no sidewalk (or footpath as we call it here in Australia), and a family who was trapped in snow after following a hazardous rural road that Google Maps suggested as a shortcut.

In addition to following Google Maps for directions, sometimes people use Google Maps in order to assess what property and the surrounding neighborhood look like from above. The problem is that some of the satellite photos that currently appear are more than 4 years old! As we all know, a lot can happen in a short period of time and this is certainly true in some fast changing cities.

Here are two sets of before and after photos below.

1st set:

Before: Google Maps shows a satelite photo of a rather decent looking neighbourhood...

After: A more up to date satelite photo from other sources paints a completely different picture.

2nd set:

Before: Another innocent looking suburban area.

After: ...not any more!

By the way, in case you were wondering, the two sets of photos are taken from the city of Brisbane in Queensland, Australia – the 1st set of photos is from Bowen Hills and the 2nd set from Clayfield. Both sets are of tunnel entrances to the city’s latest tunneling project, the Airport Link and Northern Busway project, which will be Australia’s longest tunnel on completion. The after photos are courtesy of Nearmap, a company which regularly updates its satellite photos of Australia’s cities every couple of months or so.

Finally, to finish off this post I will conclude with a photo that demonstrates again why Google Maps is not always reliable. I’m yet to see anyone that keen or naive to attempt anything this ambitious.

Kayaking from Japan to Australia... would you do it?