Is The Age providing fair comment on transport issues?

Prospective corridors for road tunnel (Eddington Report)

I take an agnostic view of freeway proposals – I don’t assume apriori that they’re all bad or all good. I prefer to look at the evidence first before deciding if a proposal has merit or is a poor idea. But it seems there are some who will overlook evidence to the contrary if it undermines their ideological view.

Like Kenneth Davidson in his column in The Age on Monday, Why the east-west road tunnel is a stinker, I have some misgivings about the tunnel proposed to connect Melbourne’s Eastern Freeway with the Western Ring Road. The Victorian Government has just submitted a proposal to Infrastructure Australia, seeking funding to develop the tunnel idea further.

My key concern is the anaemic benefit-cost ratio. But Mr Davidson, who’s a senior columnist at The Age, goes further. He reckons the proposed tunnel recommended in 2008 in the Eddington Report is a “stinker” and a “confidence trick”.

That’s because an earlier study undertaken for the Bracks government in 2004, the Northern Central City Corridor strategy (NCCC), found most of the traffic coming off the Eastern Freeway heads into central Melbourne. It found only 15% is bound for the northern or western suburbs. “In other words”, Mr Davidson says:

the public justification for the east-west link – that it would take traffic away from the central business district – was a confidence trick……The first question (Eddington) should have asked was where did the 2004 study go wrong.

I don’t think anyone disputes the NCCC study was negative about the case for the tunnel. Nor is Mr Davidson the first to raise this objection. The “gotcha” Mr Davidson seizes on with such alacrity is that Sir Rod Eddington apparently ignored the NCCC study’s key finding.

But it seems it’s Mr Davidson who’s doing the ignoring. The Eddington Report actually does consider the NCCC study. Moreover it deals with it in a way that is prominent and impossible to miss by anyone with their eyes open (read it – Chapter 5, page 129).

The Report argues it’s a myth that nearly all Eastern Freeway traffic is destined for the inner city. It says the NCCC produced diagrams that present “a distorted view of traffic distribution (and further NCCC modelling for a future link would have identified and addressed this issue)”.

In a section titled, ‘Myth 2: nearly all the Eastern Freeway traffic is destined for the inner city’, It argues the NCCC study didn’t look beyond the capacity of existing roads or the ultimate destination of traffic once it left the NCCC study area.

First, given the roads in question, the traffic distribution (identified in the NCCC study) is not surprising: at the end of the freeway, there are ten freeway standard traffic lanes (five each way). By the time traffic reaches Macarthur Avenue in Royal Park, the corresponding ‘connection’ is a two-lane road (one lane each way). The traffic distribution is as much a function of the roads available, which progressively reduce in capacity towards the west, as it is a reflection of the demand for a particular direction of travel.

Secondly, when the (Eddington) Study Team analysed how traffic from the Eastern Freeway is distributed (with the analysis closely matching the NCCC distribution), it revealed that around 40 per cent of the daily traffic from the freeway travels beyond the central city area – to the south and the west. That is the case with the current network: in the future, EastLink will add a new dimension.

The Eddington Report also argues (page 137) the NCCC study focussed on Eastern Freeway traffic and didn’t fully consider traffic using adjacent streets instead. Moreover, it didn’t recommend against the tunnel because insufficient vehicles would use it, but rather because the high cost of construction yielded an inadequate benefit-cost ratio. Read the rest of this entry »


Is this story a beat-up?

A great song that really is about public transport (click to play)

Kenneth Davidson reckons the Regional Rail Link (RRL) is a “wasteful infrastructure investment” that hopefully will be cancelled in its entirety as a result of the Federal Government’s flood reconstruction cutbacks.

He bases this argument largely on a review prepared for the Government in 2008 by consultant transport planner Edward Dotson, who formerly worked for Melbourne’s public transport authority from 1983 to 1991.

Mr Dotson was commissioned to review four of the recommendations of the East West Link Needs Assessment study undertaken by Sir Rod Eddington. One of those recommendations relates directly to the RRL, a planned new rail line from West Werribee via Tarneit to Southern Cross Station (a.k.a the Tarneit Link).

Referring to Mr Dotson’s report, Mr Davidson says “his report was scathing. He described (the Eddington report) as a ‘pre-feasibility study’ whereas what was required was a full study that included engineering analysis, service planning (including timetabling), costing and public consultation”.

He says Dotson also recommended the examination of alternatives to the RRL, including using the existing Bunbury Street tunnel and running a new set of tracks alongside the existing line to Werribee rather than a new route through Tarneit. He goes on:

The RRL proposal looked as if it was set up to fail in the first place. On the basis of what the transport expert Dotson said, the Eddington report was a pre-feasibility study that hadn’t done the engineering studies in sufficient detail to come with cost estimates in the first place.

I hadn’t heard of the Dotson report so I tracked it down and had a look – you can read it too, here (It would also be a good idea to have a look at the Eddington report, here). There’re three things that struck me about this report. Read the rest of this entry »


What’s the angle with Fishermans Bend?

LA Live entertainment complex

The Minister for Planning, Matthew Guy, is reported as saying that rather than “sprinkle high density housing across Melbourne”, the new Government will give priority to strategic developments on specific sites close to the CBD.

Mr Guy has already moved to water down the former government’s planning laws encouraging higher density residential developments (i.e. over three storeys) along public transport corridors.

He says the focus of urban renewal in future will be on locations like Fishermans Bend, the 20 hectare E-Gate site just off Footscray Road, and the area around Richmond station.

This is surprisingly reminiscent of Kenneth Davidson’s prescription for Melbourne. However unlike the Minister, who is moving to increase land supply in the Growth Areas as well, Mr Davidson sees major urban renewal projects as providing enough land to obviate the need for further fringe development.

Facilitating urban renewal in areas close to the city centre is a good thing. But it’s a big call to put all your higher density eggs in one basket when Melbourne’s population is projected to grow by 1.8 million between 2006 and 2036. According to The Age, Mr Guy doesn’t want higher density development in that part of the city that lies beyond the city centre i.e. virtually all of Melbourne*.

I’m not sure the potential of the brownfields basket is as great as Messrs Guy and Davidson imagine. Here are some constraints that individually might be a mere difficulty but collectively amount to a major impediment. Read the rest of this entry »


Will Melbourne be like Watts (L.A.) in 1965?

What if the geographically most extensive countries had the biggest populations?

Journalist Kenneth Davidson is often quite sensible so I’m astonished to see him arguing that Melbourne’s planning system is creating a potentially explosive situation like the 1965 riots in Watts, Los Angeles.

In fact there are a number of contentious propositions and assumptions in his column in The Age (6/12/10), Planning must be for people not developers.

He argues that Victoria’s planning system is dominated by developers and is effectively creating two cities in Melbourne – the inner city and the fringe suburbs – with citizens divided by geography as well as class.

Now there’s no doubt there are clear geographical differences by social class across Melbourne – there’s nothing new about that – but invoking the spectre of the Watts riots of 1965 seems a bit excessive. They were a reaction by the black community to racial injustices, including severe police brutality and entrenched job and housing discrimination. More than a thousand people were injured and 34 died. The Watts riots were different by orders of magnitude to Sydney’s 2005 Macquarie Fields riots or the 2004 Redfern riots.

Mr Davidson seems intent on sheeting home almost every planning issue in Melbourne to greedy developers. I accept the argument that speculation and lack of competition are issues in the Growth Areas, but there’s much more to the “two cities” phenomenon than that. Read the rest of this entry »


How dense are Melbourne’s outer suburbs?

Kenneth Davidson claimed in The Age yesterday that Melbourne has 15 years’ supply of outer suburban land zoned for urban development at the world’s lowest residential densities of 12.5 to 15 houses per hectare.

Lowest in the world? I think that’s possibly a little harsh when Melbourne is compared with the outer suburbs of US cities. However what I’m really interested in looking at is what Melbourne’s supposed “lowest residential densities” actually look like. What does 15 dwellings per hectare mean on the ground?

An ideal case study is the new mixed use development planned for Toolern, near Melton. According to the Precinct Structure Plan, when fully developed it is expected to cover 24 sq km, house an estimated 55,000 residents and host businesses that provide 28,000 jobs.

This is an enormous project, covering an area around a fifth larger than the entire inner city municipality of Yarra. It is equivalent in area to a 2.8-kilometre radius circle – if the centre were Melbourne Town Hall, it would extend to Richmond Station in the east, Alexandra Parade in the north, Bolte Bridge in the west and Albert Park in the south.

The minimum average density set down for Toolern is 15 dwellings (per net developable hectare), the same as the target minimum for the growth areas set out in Melbourne @ 5 Million and its predecessor, Melbourne 2030. Read the rest of this entry »