Charting Australian Sprawl…

Data and metrics are wonderful things.  They allow us to bend and warp stats to create profiles and trends.

Of particular interest to me is how our cities are changing.  There is a lot of noise about inner, middle and outer ‘density’ (which in this context is the number of people who inhabit a square hectare) in all our major cities.

This excellent piece of data analysis demonstrates some trends in an upward fashion for most of our cities.

Adelaide: static and sprawling?

Picking on Adelaide, it shows that using weighted averages (and I’m no statitician…) we have not moved much since 1981.  Ironically that is over 30 years ago, so what does that mean for the recently launched 30 Year Plan for Greater Adelaide, and by implication, the recent 30 Year Transport Plan?  Both are well crafted, well intentioned documents, wondering if these trends were assessed and analysed on why? I assume yes, but it makes for sober reading. Turning density around is a slow process, so perhaps more intensity in density is required to change the graph and make a real difference to our cities?

Whilst the average is across the entire metropolitan area, it shows an average Adelaidian density of just 12 persons per hectare.  Compare this with Sydney which is double, still low on world standards. The trends show the curves dropping to their lowest densities in the 1980s – which probably reflects one of the many sprawling housing booms Australian Cities have had over the decades. 

graph density Australian Capital cities

However measuring this on an international scale is a bit more difficult, according to ‘Charting Transport’, as the stats and comparable data dont match.  A very interesting read.

Image: Doug Barton

A ‘new’ plan for Adelaide’s transport future?

Yesterday the South Australian Government released a new transport master plan they said last year was not required…however this is an important initiative, and deserves our attention.

Master plans are great tools – and the very good ones are strategic, allow flexibility and are not overly prescriptive. A comprehensive transport master plan is an essential part of a city’s collateral as part of shaping great cities.

Adelaide has arguably a good precedent: the MATS plan of the 1960’s.  The MATS plan was comprehensive, and proposed an Adelaide city rail underground metro as well….so some thing don’t change!

These plans are important for many reasons: forward city planning, funding and forward estimates, developing feasible projects, allowing for corridor reservation (and acquisition if required), integrating land use planning, developing and fostering good city design principles, and allowing debate on the city’s general future direction.

So, a big tick for the Government for releasing a comprehensive transport plan. This is supported.

However, a couple of fundamental questions on the new transport master plan:

  • is the transport plan closely aligned and informed by Adelaide’s much valued and vaunted 30 Year Plan for Greater Adelaide?  has this informed the transport blueprints in the new master plan?
  • has there been any feasibility on the proposed public transport initiatives? for example, what is the viability of a tram service to Outer Harbour?  Is this a wise use of the mode vs heavy rail?
  • who was consulted on the plan to inform it? were economists, constructors, planners, urban designers, etc asked to provide ‘testing’ of the initiatives?
  • has the plan been focused on people – i.e. where they are, where they work, where they play, and where they want to go?
  • is there a quantifiable patronage model that all initiatives can be measured against?
  • have measurable objectives been considered for each initiative (i.e., to ensure they are not only viable, but worthwhile??)

Only 12 months ago we were told an integrated plan was not required.  I am scratching my head a little – as basic integrated thinking would ask for exactly such a thing for the 30 Year Plan for Greater Adelaide, informing where intensity needs to occur, and where modes of travel and transport need to be focused.

The full PDF of the plan can be found here:–transport.pdf

I commend the South Australian Government on the overall approach to creating a strategy, now the devil is in the detail, and well done for such a comprehensive set of initiatives.  There are more questions to answer, however it is firmly a step in the right direction.

So, over to testing them…..

Bordeaux's integrated light rail system is customer and place focused. A good model for Adelaide.

Bordeaux’s integrated light rail system is customer and place focused. A good model for Adelaide.

Should we make cars in Australia – or is it too much of an ‘uphill battle’?

 holdenelizabeth_35An uphill battle lays ahead for one of Australia’s last remaining car manufacturing plants – Holden (in Adelaide’s working northern suburbs).  Holden has manufactured Australian designed cars like Kingswood, Torana, Commodore and others for over 50 years and is under pressure to economise and make more for less, according to a great story in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Weekend magazine.

The story highlights the increasing pressures on making things in Australia, and goes beyond creating jobs.  What is often forgotten in the press, as Federal Industry Minister Senator Kim Carr has often pointed out, are the plethora of allied and supporting suppliers, in South Australia and further afield, who supply Holden and Toyota (as the other last remaining plant, in Altona, Victoria) with the thousands of components that make up the modern car.    

Ford Australia, who announced recently they will pull up stumps in 2016, will end a long history of also designing, tooling, manufacturing and selling Australian made and designed cars – the Falcon nameplate is the world’s third oldest! Like Geelong in Victoria, where the Falcon and its derivatives were made for many decades, Elizabeth is part of Holden’s heritage in Australia – a shining beacon to the past, when northern Adelaide shone bright with new industry and innovation in a part of Australia that was far removed from it. 

What will the future hold for this vital industry? Can we sustain making things beyond just pulling raw material out of the ground? As an owner of European made cars, I am probably part of the reason, however I dont need a ute nor a sedan that can cover country kilometres, nor do I need a big car. However plenty of people do, or did.

After all, mining is still a big part of Australia’s economy, so is there an alternative to making consumer cars, to light industrial utes, trucks and vans? Why make ubiquitous cars we can import from Thailand or India or Japan where they are vastly cheaper to make? Or is it merely a sign of a mature, small, western economy with a highly skilled workforce, and our strength is our Intellectual property, not our masses of workers?? Should we export our intellect instead of competing with countries where labour is vastly cheaper?  It is a devastating impact when a factory closes, beyond the loss of jobs and impacts on our economy, it also damages our ‘psyche’; our collective national narrative of being able to ‘stand on our own two feet’.

On a positive note, the story talks about the diversification many component suppliers have undertaken to survive, and those companies need to be congratulated, who, linked to supplying Holden, have diversified…amazing innovation!

Images: Holden’s factory in Elizabeth, South Australia

Dealing with contra flows: Copenhagen

Our cities create challenges all the time. Some of our beloved authorities deal with the challenges fruitfully whilst other don’t.

Consider bike lanes. Often our street networks favour the car. Hard to believe isn’t it! Often a city’s bike network was created long after the street network. There are almost always challenges with one way streets, disrupting cycle connectivity. Contra flow is never an easy solution. Interesting to see how Copenhagen are trying.

Adelaide: Bordeaux of the South?


Opinion: Daniel Bennett, Indaily, May 20, 2013

WE’RE closer to Bordeaux than you think, figuratively speaking.

We have some of the most beautiful wine and food regions in Australia, if not the world. We have a kind, semi-arid, semi-Mediterranean climate. We also have trams, like Bordeaux. The cities are similar in population (Adelaide’s population is 1.2 million, Bordeaux’s is 1.1 million) and size (Adelaide covers 1700sqkm, Bordeaux’s urban area is 1100sqkm).

But more importantly – and here we reach the focus of this column – Bordeaux has one of the most well-designed tram systems in the world. This is an obvious system to benchmark against Adelaide, due to its successful integration within the city.

The Bordeaux network is also a very successful reintroduction of light rail into an older, established city centre, and was one of the first systems to use a subterranean, electricity-conducting “third rail” as a power supply, negating the need for an overhead wire system. Now, think of King William Street. Currently our premier civic street is a sea of (albeit well-designed) poles and wires. Now imagine that street with the trams but not the wires…

It is worth explaining why light rail, in particular, could offer not only better public transport for Adelaide, but also significant city shaping and defining benefits far beyond the provision of tracks and trams. This is where the overseas experience in places like Bordeaux is relevant.

Firstly, consider the hip-pocket benefits. If you could walk less than five minutes to a tram stop, wait no longer than five minutes for a tram at a pleasant, shaded stop, and arrive at your city destination within 20 minutes, would you take this option? This

This benefits your hip pocket through not using your car, as well as creating at least 20 minutes of walking which is, on average, only 10 minutes less than you need each day for a healthy life, according to current health guidelines.

According to the Royal Automobile Association, a Suzuki Alto is the cheapest car to own and run, at $121 per week, and costs around $12,000 to buy. With our rush towards medium-sized 4WDs such as a Holden Captiva or Ford Territory, the average weekly costs increase to around $250 per week, excluding the cost of the car. Even Australia’s best-selling private car, the Mazda3, has running costs of around $170 per week and costs on average $25,000 to buy. In comparison, an Adelaide Metro ticket currently costs around $30 per week, with no running or capital costs.

So – $30 on average a week for tram travel, with the added health benefits, versus upwards of $250 per week for an average car, including running costs (petrol, maintenance, parking, etc). Light rail: good for your health, good for your wallet.

Secondly, to ensure more of us can leave the car comfortably at home, we need more people to live within five minutes’ walk, or a comfortable distance up or down hill, of a transport corridor. This is a real humdinger in Adelaide now, and the key differentiator missing in the discussion is effective public transport. This means not waiting 20 minutes or more for a bus, but instead creating a networked, integrated and beautiful light rail solution which creates reliability through fixed and dedicated infrastructure.

We live in an extremely liveable city – this is not in doubt. However, it is arguable that not all of us desire a quarter of a hectare on the fringe or even in the middle ring. Some of us might be attracted to higher-density living options, with good transport and access to good-quality parks and shops.

Understanding the benefits of a light rail system starts with the right transport questions. Who will use it? Where does it need to go? Where is the evidence to support it in the long term? Does it have bipartisan political support? Will it outlast the political cycle? Will it provide urban renewal opportunities?

Light rail has a large initial capital cost. It requires track, stops, power, poles and wires, tram vehicles and people to maintain it. On its own, it is a huge investment. However, the metrics used to assess the cost need to go far beyond basic and narrow capital costs, operations and maintenance.

There are many worthwhile opportunities beyond the transport benefits light rail can provide. Light rail is best suited to using existing streets or dedicated corridors or a combination of both. Some of the world’s best systems are integrated within existing streets, with dedicated light rail lanes, which exclude private vehicles. This approach provides reliability of service without mixed uses, including buses. The light rail stops are also key components – they’re typically between 250-500 metres apart, depending on surrounding uses and intensity. The stops provide one of the best opportunities for intensification and beacons for activity – street life, commerce, daily life….a real focus for each locale along the routes. There are real benefits to cities from light rail.

Think about the comparison with Bordeaux. I am not suggesting the usual hyperbole of “we can be like…” Instead, I’m suggesting that we need to be thinking in a different way about how our city can become a better, more sustainable and beautiful city; how it can become a model for the larger Australian cities to copy. Let’s reverse the current urban planning paradigm in which Adelaide tries to become more like Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane. Pah to that. What about the “Bordeaux of the south”?